The decision on May 31 by the Working Families Party to endorse the reelection bid of Governor Andrew Cuomo sent shockwaves through the state of New York. Ten days later, the dust is still far from settled. Old alliances have been broken, new enemies created, strange bedfellows made. The pace at which events have unfolded has been simply breathtaking. I have been in the (un?)fortunate position of playing first-hand witness to all of this.
I was in the convention hall vocally supporting the candidacy of Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout. In fact, that night at the Desmond will not soon be forgotten. How could I forget the makeshift "war room" for Teachout, a converted billiards parlor? Or the orange "I Am A Non-Believer" sign taped to my back questioning the reported deal with Governor Cuomo? Or the emotional Citizen Action staff meeting in the parking lot right before the second plenary? Or the Albany Common Council members who came up to me to shake my hand? Or the scene in hall itself, with the signs and chants, hissing and booing at the very mention of Cuomo's name, Teachout supporters who couldn't even pronounce her name, and to top it all off, the absolute euphoria that surged through the crowd when the progressive Messiah himself, Bill De Blasio, marched his way to the podium? It was all a fascinatingly bewildering sight as I, truly the proverbial "fly on the wall", took it all in. How else could I possibly have justified missing my senior prom that night?
As exhilarating as the 31st of May was, it did night take long for the cold, hard reality to set in. Indeed, not 24 hours after this already controversial "deal" had been struck did Cuomo already appear to begin the process of backtracking, first on local minimum wage and then on what exactly he meant by taking back control of the Senate. Bill Lipton's infuriatingly pragmatic olive branch e-mail message did little to assuage my feelings; in fact, by midnight of the 2nd I was in a rage unparalleled in my history. The events of the following fews days failed to help the situation, as pundits from all across the spectrum came out of the wordworks to expound their "pearls of wisdom". (I would like to say, at this point, that I can independently confirm the New York Times report of June 2 that the cash bar did do a "brisk business".)
The intervening week did manage to reestablish a relative normalcy on my end, as I found myself fumbling with contributions records and airfare to Dallas while practicing the politics of oil-by-rail transportation following a high school awards ceremony. As a matter of fact, by Friday morning I was looking forward to a quiet weekend accompanying myself with the thoughts of Kolko, Reich and Klein. As luck would turn out, I was badly mistaken.
Sitting in my group e-mail inbox was an invitation sent by a staffer to go to a house-party on behalf of the Green Party nominee for governor Howie Hawkins. Naturally, the only thing to do was to wander over to this backyard garden over on North Pine on Saturday night to see what this pariah to some, hero to others was really all about. And let me tell you the group of people that was there: socialists, blacklistees, Peace Corps building occupiers, a self-described "Palestinian queer". Yet somehow I felt so at home. These people shared my views, supported by principles, were "fighting the good fight." (I was needless to say bemused when Howie himself said he got his info on oil-by-rail from the PAUSE website, which I run.) Hawkins and Theresa Portelli, real New York citizens, were standing there offering an irresistible vision of the future. Even Jill Stein herself showed up, practically sending my mind into a frenzy.
And then the realities of the Green Party set in. I attempted to attend a regional planning meeting the following afternoon (Sunday). Only no one was there. The event (which I had heard about the night before) was still listed there on the website. But no one had RSVPed, and so there I was, looking like a fool standing in front of the Social Justice Center on Central Avenue. After 15 minutes had elapsed, I gave up and ended up buying some Chomsky and Zinn, and a book on Thorstein Veblen for an AP Econ presentation the following morning. (I was later to discover that the meeting was now to be held on June 22.)
More fun was to follow. That night, I attended a "debriefing" on the previous weekend's WFP convention. I was a little surprised to see Karen Scharff herself there, but I held nothing back as I expressed my feelings of a missed opportunity. While I recognized the (significant) immediate benefits the endorsement would likely produce, I voiced my opinion that an opening to build a true, popular progressive movement had just passed by. Given my lowly status at the meeting (I'm neither a dues-paying nor registered WFP member but rather a Democrat) I was clearly playing with fire, but while others obviously disagreed with me I stuck to my guns. I had nothing to lose, no obligations to anyone; I am my own person.
Even tonight proved no less interesting, An otherwise benign neighborhood association meeting turned interesting upon news of Eric Cantor's shocking primary defeat. With the discussion inextricably turned toward politics, the night settled into a debate as to the merits of a certain local elected official spurning the WFP and ripping the party on social media upon the renomination of Cuomo. This was in addition to discussions of Cuomo's intentions: would he really screw over the Left if he has ambitions for higher office (in a Clinton Administration, perhaps?). Even on the front lawns of Manning Boulevard one cannot avoid the wretched stench of New York politics.
So over the past few weeks I have rubbed elbows with the best (and the worst) of them: presidential and gubernatorial candidates, attorneys general and comptrollers, district attorneys and county legislators, common council members and millionaire donors, mayors and mayoral candidates, organization directors and party hacks, community activists and labor leaders. But all I am left with are questions: do I volunteer for a potential Teachout primary challenge? What about Hawkins? Do I take the plunge with Oliver Koppell in my first weeks adjusting to the Bronx? Does any of this even matter at this point? Do I really care? Only time will tell.