There's a new political party in the Empire State, and its agenda seems pretty simple: stand up for women in New York. Dubbing itself the Women's Equality Party (WEP), the idea is to strengthen reproductive rights and prohibitions against harassment, human trafficking, and pay discrimniation—basically, the group wants to push back against the fucked-up things men do to women. But the seemingly laudible motives obscure a darker reality: Governor Andrew Cuomo is apparently worried that a combination of corruption allegations (which have been swirling for months now) and a female primary challenger could take some of the luster out what was supposed to be a cruise to re-election this fall. So the WEP is really just his way of putting out a (small) fire as he looks ahead to a career on the national stage—and maybe even a run for president.
Cuomo is nothing if not concerned with his image. After the Women's Equality Act went up in smoke in Albany this spring, the governor chose a conservative former congresswoman as his running mate, a transparent attempt to boost his support among the fairer sex before next week's Democratic gubenatorial primary. What's funny about all of this is that almost no one thinks Cuomo, whose approval ratings remain high, is in danger of actually losing to his challenger, Fordham Law Professor and anti-corruption zealot Zephyr Teachout. But the man whose presidential aspirations have been taken for granted practically since he was a teenager is clearly worried about siphoning off female voters to the professor who (literally) wrote the book on corruption in America. Cuomo on the other hand, is easily right up there among the least accessible politicians in the country—a man whose wall of isolation from the masses has reached the point of absurdity since he took power in 2011.
The cynicism of Cuomo's plan to maintain his grip on the throne is rendered all the more glaring when you take a quick glance at the slate of politicians his pro-woman party is running: According to New York State's Board of Elections, eight of the ten WEP candidates are men.
Despite outmaneuvering Teachout and claiming the union-backed Working Families Party's ballot line for himself and his running mate, Kathy Hochul, Cuomo is acting like a politician whose days are numbered. He refuses to debate Teachout, tried repeatedly to get her kicked off the ballot in court, and is now planning for the very real possibility that her running mate and fellow law professor Tim Wu—the guy who coined the term net neutrality and just won the endorsement of the New York Times—might beat Hochul. In that case, according to Cuomo ally-turned-gadfly Fred Dicker at the New York Post, Cuomo might drop her from his ticket, which would leave his WEP with exactly one woman running in the entire state. (Some reports have suggested there are a few more female candidates on the Women's Equality Line, but the Board of Elections doesn't seem to be aware of them, and Cuomo's campaign—true to form—did not return a request for comment for this story.)
"You really can't make this stuff up," Teachout said in a statement. "The governor is the number one reason the Women's Equality Act failed. His Republican allies were the ones who blocked it, the Republican allies he supported over their Democratic counterparts. Most women, like me, probably find the whole thing offensive."
As Blake Zeff just reported for Capital New York, Cuomo actively played a role in handing over control of the State Senate to Republicans by dividing his own Democrats after they won elections in 2012. So not only is the governor shamelessly conjuring up a new party just in time to fend off Teachout's primary challenge, but the very premise of this pro-women party is based on a lie: The Women's Equality Act never had a chance given Cuomo's insistence on letting upstate Republicans (rather than New York City Democrats) run the show.
"The whole thing is a sham," said Jeanne Wilcke, president of the Downtown Independent Democrats, who endorsed Teachout. Her group passed a resolution opposing the new party last week, which reads in part: "This new party is not for women, instead it is using women for political play."
In addition to playing a (weird) form of identity politics, Cuomo's new party is also about getting back at the left, which tends to find his fondness for the rich and antagonism toward New York City to be grating as all hell. If Cuomo gets 50,000 votes on the Women's Equality line, the party will be guaranteed a place on printed ballots in the future, while the Working Families Party (which helped Bill de Blasio get elected mayor last year and has an awfully-similar acronym—WFP—to the new party) could lose its spot. All for the glory of some guy who would never be where he is in life if his dad hadn't been governor before him.
Acccording to Liz Benjamin, host of Capital Tonight on Time Warner Cable News, Cuomo mulled pro-immigrant and education reform parties before settling on the pro-lady tactic. So we can't discount the possibility that the governor is simply trying to increase his profile among the women of America in anticipation of taking on Hillary Clinton in the presidential primaries a couple of years from now.
Teachout is still a longshot in next week's primary thanks to Cuomo's massive war chest and advantage in name recognition. But given the abundance of men on the new party's slate and his running mate Hochul's retrograde stances on issues like illegal immigration, let's just hope this foray into the gender wars blows up in his face—and soon.
Follow Matt Taylor on Twitter.
Topics: Andrew Cuomo, corruption, Women's Equality Party, New York, empire state, New York State, politics, Zephyr Teachout, Tim Wu, net neutrality, Moreland Commission, women's rights, domestic violence, sexual harassment, Abortion rights, Reproductive Rights