The Working Families Party asserted itself as a growing political force last week — flexing its muscles during New York City’s Democratic primaries and building on its record of electoral success in Albany.
In an election marred by record lows for voter turnout — the four-way comptroller race led in votes cast with only 352,000 citywide — the party boasted of more than 230,000 homes visited by field operatives in the weeks leading up to the primaries. Thousands more were solicited by powerful unions closely affiliated with the party, including SEIU 1199.
In Queens, the results were apparent — eight out of 10 WFP endorsed council candidates were elected. The remaining two candidates came within a few hundred votes of victory.
“When you do that and when you do that for progressive candidates, you can make a huge impact — and I think we did,” said Dan Levitan, a WFP spokesman. “The truth is that nothing but knocking on doors and talking to people truly increases turnout in a statistically significant way. When you have somebody who comes to your door and has a real conversation with you about who the progressive candidate is, why they’re running, what they want to do and the issues that really matter in that community — it’s enormously powerful. It just goes so much further than a phone call or a piece of mail or a TV commercial.”
Also contributing to their electoral success was a more rigorous endorsement process, which balanced candidates’ capacity to win with their ideological alignment to the party’s core principals, according to Levitan.
He said all the door-to-door canvassing operations were staffed by Data and Field Services, the party’s for-profit consulting firm, and were fully paid for by the respective candidates.
And despite lingering questions about whether the firm skirted the city’s campaign finance laws and ongoing audits by the Campaign Finance Board that could result in thousands of dollars in penalties against their clients — candidates who contracted DFS were singing the group’s praises.
Some saw the party’s efforts as a much needed check on the Democratic Party’s various county establishments — who have long reigned over the city’s political landscape — despite the parties’ common interests and ideologies.
“When you’re running in a borough that has a very active Democratic Party, you need to do whatever you can to level the playing field,” said Lynn Schulman, a candidate in District 29 who lost by a slim margin to former councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, who was backed by the Queens County Democrats. “They certainly leveled the playing field for me.”
Schulman believes that WFP is beginning to fill the vacuum left in the wake of the Republican Party’s collapse as a citywide political force.
“They’ve become very sophisticated. They’re very helpful to candidates who want to make a difference and don’t have the mechanism with which to do that and were not part of the system,” Schulman said. “They open up the process to people who might not have been able to do it before — and that’s a big deal.”