It's surprising, I guess, that the state's largest healthcare union and a political group that calls itself the "Working Familes Party" would step up to keep right-wing political boss Joe Bruno in charge of the Republican-dominated New York State Senate - otherwise known around the state as the chamber where progressive ideas go to die.
But such is the state of dry-rot in day-to-day New York politics - even on the erstwhile left - that 1199 and its 300,000 "union" members have endorsed Republican bigshot Nick Spano for the Westchester seat he hung onto by 18 votes last time out, over the impressive and progressive Andrea Stewart-Cousins. And such is the state of the would-be "working families" party that its leadership would "vote" no endorsement in race, after it endorsed Spano last time and clearly with the idea of denying any edge to the Democratic challenger. [Indeed, Spano proclaimed himself "very satisfied with the support I have from the party."]
For you out-of-staters, here's the elevator speech on the New York State Legislature. It's controlled by two men, Manhattanite Sheldon Silver in the Democratic Assembly, and upstater Joe Bruno in the Republican Senate. Both chambers have been heavily gerrymandered to remain the way they are, and neither party has made a serious move on the other in decades. Both chambers negotiate with the most powerful man in the state - whoever happens to be Governor. It's the way things work. No choice equals retention of power.
The problem is, the Republicans have been slipping badly. Screwing up. Dropping out. The longtime GOP machine on Long Island has lost power, and it was always the second pillar of Republican power in New York, teaming with the upstate farmbelt to keep the Senate Republican. Al D'Amato's a consultant now. The state's moving blue. Both U.S. Senators have been Democrats now for six years, and the Governor's Mansion is being measured for deep blue curtains for at least the next eight years. And so the State Senate, and its current eight-seat Republican majority, may well be in play for the first time in anyone's living memory.
And the State Senate is run by Joe Bruno, who has been moving steadily leftward in direct proportion to thin width of Republican control over the upper chamber. And with Bruno's support for the state's minimum wage legislation - over a Pataki veto - the Republican solidified his deals with several big unions, including 1199. This despite, as Wayne Barrett put it: "Bruno's long-term hostility to abortion and gay rights, rent stabilization, gun control, welfare benefits, and a host of other liberal causes."
This despite the solid grade of "D" Bruno received in the Drum Major Institute's legislative scorecard of middle class issues, like the outsourcing of jobs beyond the state, the extraordinary cost of health insurance and the state’s compliance with the court mandate in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. And this despite being the same Joe Bruno who said this about welfare reform:
"It is the low-income people. It's the blacks, the Hispanics, and I only say that because look at the numbers.... Ninety percent of those people support [the Democrats].... Why? Because they are the people that got their hand out. They are the ones fighting for welfare."
A real union man, friend to the common fellow. When 1199 endorses Spano and the WFP stays "neutral" in the race, they're working to keep their political partner Joe Bruno in power. I was thinking about this after chatting briefly with Andrea Stewart-Cousins at the train station the other morning, as the morning chill frosted our breath and pointed toward November polls. I found her impressive, as I did the last time she ran - and I think it's time for Democrats to actually govern in New York, rather than cutting cynical deals.
That urge was validated by what the Bruno-Spano team pulled the same week I shook Stewart-Cousins' hand in Bronxville: a naked attempt at voter intimidation aimed at keeping minority voters from the polls. His campaign actually asked that a court order police officers to appear at more than 6,000 voters' homes to check on their registrations. As the Times put it:
One of the most deplorable political tactics — trying to suppress the votes of poor or minority citizens by raising the specter of voter fraud — is playing out this week in the city of Yonkers. Republican Party lawyers are calling for an 11th-hour purge of voter rolls in a clear effort to help their endangered state senator, Nicholas Spano.
This is the team of Joe Bruno, of 1199, of the Working Families Party. It's not exactly a noble effort. It's the kind of thing I hope (but don't necessarily expect, given my native political cynicism) that Governor Eliot Spitzer will sweep away in New York. But if he won't, we will.
And we should start with organizations that defame their progressive charters.