Labor’s Election Day Loss

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The working families party was determined to make its mark in this year’s primary election. But on September 25, an election day delayed two weeks by the World Trade Center disaster, it ended up with both well-earned victories–including the city comptroller’s seat and the borough halls of the Bronx and Queens–and some stinging losses. A few losing candidates insist that history helped deal them their defeats.

Contenders relying heavily on labor support had the hardest time. Arthur Cheliotes, a candidate for council in Queens, was running with the support of unions representing the Fire Department, police officers, detectives and sergeants, and EMS workers. He lost by 8 percent of the vote.

“We were ready for the 11th,” Cheliotes says. “Everything was running like clockwork…. Then 8:45 came.” On September 25, a big part of his team was either working at Ground Zero, or no longer around. One important supporter was his friend Father Mychal Judge, the Fire Department pastor who died at the Trade Center. For the Working Families Party, says executive director Dan Cantor, Cheliotes’ loss is their biggest disappointment.

Ydanis Rodriguez, a teacher and council hopeful in Washington Heights, said he had volunteers from janitors’ union 32B-J and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100 lined up to help on the morning of September 11. After both unions suffered tremendous losses in the Trade Center, however, getting them out for the election two weeks later was next to impossible, Rodriguez says. “We had to pull out,” says Michelle Travis of the hotel union, noting that most of her members who’d planned to campaign for Rodriguez instead were helping union families that had lost loved ones. The young candidate lost by 8 points, too.

The party isn’t strictly pointing to recent events for explanations. In Flatbush, Jean Vernet, a Haitian rights advocate with support from Local 1199 and other unions, lost his council race to Yvette Clarke, daughter of outgoing Councilmember Una Clarke, by 24 points. On that one, says Cantor, “We just never got our shit together,” and never found a WFP staff member to devote to that campaign.

Some party members are also reeling from maverick former police officer James E. Davis’ defeat of Tish James, former staffer to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Assemblymember Al Vann, by about 800 votes.

Despite September 25’s disappointments, all of these candidates will appear on the WFP line on the ballot for the general election in November. As for whether they will actively campaign against the Democratic nominees in their districts, James, for one, plans to push ahead on the third party’s line.