It is unsurprising to see the return of the Women’s Equality Party this January. The party made its presence known to do the most shocking of things–support its creator, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Yes, the WEP was created by a male politician in an election year like this one, in what many see as a naked attempt to co-opt a movement and placate female voters.
“The Women’s Equality Party is a ballot line that prioritizes the needs of women and their children and supports policies that serve those needs. We are delighted at the focus Governor Cuomo is giving to the legal quest for protection and equality for women,” said the party’s acting chairwoman, Susan Zimet in a statement after Cuomo’s State on the State Speech on Jan. 3.
In 2014, Cuomo was still touting the 10-point Women’s Equality Agenda–a list of policy proposals that should have been an easy lift for a Democratic Governor and a Democratic legislature except that…whoops, Cuomo ensured during his time in office that Democrats don’t control the Senate.
The state party he controls has done almost nothing to help Democrats pick up seats in the Senate, and he has only personally endorsed a handful of them (stumping for them is basically unheard of).
Rather than simply proposing the WEA and passing it, Cuomo turned it into a useful political campaign–stumping for it in his reelection bid, shaming Republicans for not supporting it and, in the end, failing to enact the 10th measure due to Republican opposition.
That final item was no simple matter: It encoded a woman’s right to abortion in NY law—and Cuomo’s Republican allies in the Senate didn’t like that. They gave him other wins so he didn’t need that one. Members of the group of renegade Democrats called the Independent Democratic Conference who empower Republicans with Cuomo’s blessing shrugged off attacks that they were preventing the 10th measure from becoming law by pointing out that not all Democratic Senators at the time actually supported a woman’s right to choose. Of course, things have changed since then, yet a vote has not been held.
Another commonality between 2014 and 2017? Cuomo was facing a rebellion from progressive Democrats–many of them tuned in to the politics of the Working Families Party. It just so happens their initials look quite similar to the Women’s Equality Party on a ballot. Who’da thunk?
“One of the great ironies here is that Cuomo’s feud with the Working Families Party stems, in part, from his refusal to do enough for women in New York, despite his staunch support for reproductive rights. Like many on the left, the WFP, a coalition of unions, activists and community organizers, was incensed by Cuomo’s tacit support of a weird alliance in the New York State Senate, in which the Republican minority teamed up with a small faction of breakaway Democrats to wrest control from the Democratic majority,” wrote Michelle Goldberg for The Nation in an article titled “The Women’s Equality Party is Joke.”
“That’s a big reason why Cuomo’s vaunted Women’s Equality Agenda, a 2013 legislative package that’s now a centerpiece of his campaign, never went anywhere,” Goldberg concluded.
Perhaps the greatest audacity, or insult, of Cuomo’s use of the WEP in 2014 is that he was running against Zephyr Teachout (a woman). Teachout, a Fordham professor who specializes in studying political corruption, was ignored by Cuomo at every turn. During a parade in NYC Cuomo even hid behind New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his now-indicted political enforcer Joseph Percoco, to avoid shaking Teachout’s hand. To combat Teachout, Cuomo made Kathy Hochul, his running mate, the unofficial face of the party.
What has the WEP been up to since 2014? In 2015 the group reported having $13,487 on hand. It reported spending $6,656. It reported a debt of over $40,000 to various consulting companies. By 201 6 the party reported having $1,631 on hand. In 2017, the group filed two “no activity” reports with the BOE. They party hasn’t exactly been busy during years Cuomo wouldn’t personally benefit from their existence
This time around it’s going to be a lot harder to get the public to see the WEP as anything other than a shameful pander.
Cuomo hasn’t exactly been ahead of the sexual harassment issue. In 2013, during the height of a sexual harassment scandal in the legislature, Cuomo dismissed the need for more ways for victims to report bad behavior.
“People have different avenues and they have options,” Cuomo told Curtis Schick of WCNY-TV. “They can go to the legislative ethics committee, or whatever you call it, or the legislative leadership. They can talk to a private attorney. They can go to a district attorney. They can call a police officer, right? 911 is an option so all those options are available to a person.”
In State of the State earlier this month Cuomo proposed a new set of rules for the executive and legislative chambers as well as a new whistleblower process to combat sexual harassment.
Cuomo has also come under fire for naming former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt as regional leader of Empire State Development despite the fact Hoyt was disciplined during his time in the Assembly for carrying on a relationship with an intern. Hoyt resigned his position with ESD in October after it was revealed he was being investigated for a claim of sexual harassment made by a non-state employee.
Cuomo was pressed by reporters on the Hoyt situation in December and asked by reporter Karen DeWitt what state government could do differently to deal with sexual harassment. Instead of answering thoughtfully Cuomo pointed the finger elsewhere. “Look, you have it going on in journalism,” Cuomo told DeWitt. “What are you going to do differently?”
He added: “We will have policies in state government, obviously, that affect state government, but I think you miss the point. When you say it’s state government, you do a disservice to women, with all due respect, even though you’re a woman.”
That is why I say this to Governor Andrew Cuomo: With all due respect when you use the Women’s Equality Party, you do a disservice to women. You do a disservice to New Yorkers.