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An Update on the New York Working Families Party with State Director Sochie Nnaemeka

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Dan Clark: Turning now to New York politics. When you head to the polls each November, you might notice that a candidate's name is on multiple party lines. Republicans will often also be on the Conservative line and Democrats will sometimes also run on the Working Families Party line. It's a national party, but it was founded right here in New York in 1998 and since then, progressives have found a home in the WFP. Fast forward to today and the WFP holds a lot of power in New York, especially among Democrats. So it was no surprise that the party played a big role in this year's elections. Organizing around progressive democrats in key races. For more on that, we caught up this week with Sochie Nnaekmeka, the state director of the New York Working Families Party.  Sochie, thank you so much for coming back. I appreciate it.

Sochie Nnaemeka: So glad to be on with you, Dan.

DC: I want to start with last month's elections. You had a really big turnout last month in the race for governor specifically. Looking at 2018, Andrew Cuomo got about 114,000 votes on the WFP line. This year, Governor Kathy Hochul got 250,000 votes, more than double. Why do you think that is?

SN: Well, we’ve been proud to hit the ground running with a coalition of Democrats up and down the state that speak to the values of working families, and this year with Governor Hochul, at the top of the ticket, we got the opportunity to talk to voters about what mattered most to them. Increased housing affordability, investing in public education, taking on the climate crisis head-on, and we find that when people are connected to the values behind their vote, they're more persuaded to come out and vote. So that's been our strategy the past couple of years. We're glad that we're increasing the number of people who vote on the Working Families Party line, whether they're Democrats, working families, or other unaffiliated voters, and we look forward to continuing to see those totals get bigger over the years ahead.

DC: You know, at the same time, Republicans did make some ground in some key areas of the state like Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley, along with some other areas. I'm wondering because I think your party's probably the furthest away from their ideology, and values, does it concern you at all that we see this Republican surge in those areas?

SN: What was clear is that Republicans fought tooth and nail for their votes. They came out organized and quite rabid honestly in this political moment, determined to pull people toward their program. Unfortunately, their program is one of fear-mongering without many solutions but we know that there are real visceral responses that voter does come out, whether it is crime, whether it is rising costs, there are those kinds of gut responses that do move voters. And what Democrats need to do, and what working families Democrats, in particular, need to do in response is put out a vision and a program that, if we want to address public safety, know that safe housing, youth programs, and accessible transit also address public safety, and so we have to ensure that we're not seeding the ground to fear-mongering and dog whistles that do bring a base out, but then often leave people feeling more cynical, less trustful and more alienated from their communities.

DC: Yeah. It does feel like there is sort of a divide on messaging between a lot of different parties, and a lot of different individuals. I think Republicans did, as you said, a very, very good job campaigning. I think they did a great job getting to the people who they thought would vote for them. Whereas, Democrats, I think, took some of their races for granted. Two years from now when we don't have a race for governor, but we have a race for president, what does your strategy look like then? How do you get to these voters that just don't seem to want to budge on certain issues?

SN: What we feel good about is that the Democratic campaign, thankfully, was not a monolith. So you see people, for example, like Leo Webb, who is a new state senator, joining a coalition of working families and Democrats from the Binghamton/Ithaca area, who really had an organizing first strategy talking to voters in very different parts of her district, about shared messaging, about shared values. Sarahana Shrestha, who also won an assembly seat in the Hudson Valley did it by knocking on every single door in her district, which spans from rural areas, to Kingston, and places in between. We're gonna hit the ground running starting on, January 1st, 2023 for those 2024 congressional seats. We have to ensure that we're sending a New York state delegation that has working people's interest front and center, and that means flipping those seats that were lost in this cycle, because this cycle was a fluke. We’re sure about it, and we have to be organized to ensure that fluke does not lead to long-term disastrous policies for working people in New York state.

DC: So as we mentioned the votes for your party just keep going up. That means you have more power in elections. It also means that you have more power at the state capitol as more Democrats get onto your line, as more people recognize that your line exists. What do you want to see lawmakers do with these big wins that your party organized and helped deliver?

SN: I definitely see power coming from our membership. We are grounded and anchored in the fact that we know that working people share a common agenda and it's the government that has to meet the people where they're at. We're hitting the floor in Albany to push for ‘Invest In Our New York’, raising taxes on the wealthy, investing in the common good to fully fund education, investing in CUNY and SUNY, addressing the climate crisis head-on through the ‘Build Public Renewables Act’ and other big climate measures, and to raise the wage for all working people including home health workers. So with a broad popular working peoples agenda, we want to build the power that reflects what communities want up and down the state and deliver for them in New York. Especially in this moment when at the national level, we're assuming Republicans are going to be pretty obstructionist in the House of Representatives. New York has to lead the way.

DC: Do you see the legislature moving more towards the priorities that are aligned with the WFP rather than more establishment positions especially as you win more races with candidates that, I think, were more focused on the WFP than being on the Democratic line?

SN: I believe the energy has been growing and mounting and the cries have been louder. We've all been saying that the housing crisis must be top on the list. That's what voters are saying and really affects people across all lines of geography, race, age, and we're seeing Governor Hochul saying on day one, we're going to have to be talking about the housing crisis. We're seeing the call for greater investments. We're recognizing that two years after raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy there have not been any of the right-wing talking points about billionaire flight and economic crumble. Right? None of those things have happened. Every year as progress gets made, our agendas become more popular, we see the coalition get bigger and we start to deliver more, and so that's what we're focused on next year, delivering more with and for working people.

DC: Well, we will see how it shakes out when the session starts in January. Sochie Nnaekmeka, the state director of the New York Working Families Party, thank you so much.

SN: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Dan.



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