New Orleans Luckily we were able to catch up with Dan Cantor on Wade’s World this week. Dan is the national director of Working Families now after spending most of the last fifteen years as executive director of the Working Families Party of New York. The WFP, as it’s known, garnered a lot of attention recently for its role not only in supporting the game changing victory of Bill DeBlasio as New York’s new mayor with his “tale of cities,” but also in doing the hard work to get City Council members elected in a number of the boroughs to bring the Progressive Caucus up to a majority of the large 51-member body.
Talking to Cantor there is obvious excitement over what the coming years may hold for New York City paving the way for a progressive future with DeBlasio unabashedly refusing to simply cater to the middle of the road but instead proudly embracing the importance of change in politics and governance. He described the inaugural speech of newly elected Leticia James as Public Advocate as moving for its articulate analysis of the divided city that must now be bridged. No doubt it was moving for Cantor and the members of the Working Families Party to also reflect on the fact that James had been initially elected to the City Council herself on the ballot line of the WFP itself in a rare exception for the party, which normally practices fusion with other parties almost religiously. Fusion was the common practice of cross endorsement by different political parties of candidates which was the norm in the United States until the watershed 1896 election prompting many states, though not New York and a handful of others, to ban fusion over the first decade of the 20th century.
Not surprisingly with the victory and attention in New York City and the fact that the eyes of progressives all over the country are on the mayor now with hope for his new programs to reduce inequality, Cantor’s phone has been ringing and emails have been beeping with interest to expand Working Families into additional states. That’s hardly a new idea, since Working Families is already in six states in addition to New York including Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, where the successes have been significant even if less well publicized.
In Bridgeport, in a bitter battle, the Working Family Party of Connecticut was able to elect the majority of members on the school committee, showing well-traveled school superintendent, Paul Vallas, the door and beating back a privatization effort. I especially enjoyed that news remembering when ACORN members in Bridgeport were elected to the majority of seats in that same school committee 30 years or so ago signaling the first time Puerto Ricans won places in public office there.
The Working Families success is not just in elections and in fact part of what distinguishes the party’s work is its ability to unite people around issues, rather than just candidates, which could also make the transition to successful governance easier for the party, since they are more committed to policies than politics. In Oregon, Cantor explained that they have been instrumental in pushing forward a novel, first-in-the-nation effort to turn higher education funding upside down, by having students of the state’s universities start paying reasonable percentages of the cost AFTER they graduate according to their paychecks, rather than in big burdensome loans on the front end saddling them with debt for decades.
If progressives and our principles are going to prevail, we need to make sure the “long game,” as the New York Daily News called the strategy of the Working Families Party, is supported and sustained, so this kind of critical political capacity is able to fuel the kinds of changes we need across the country to create equality and justice.