Thursday, December 10, 2009

Political and Family Ties

In the Observer this week, Eliot Brown reports on the efforts by landlord and other real estate groups to counteract the influence of the Working Families Party-something that we have commented on in the past-here, here, and here. The effort has generated some skepticism in the camp of the designated target: "Leaders of the WFP laugh off the effort, suggesting that a party built on contributions from landlords—who, as a group, are widely unpopular with voters—will fall flat in its attempts to become a viable adversary."

And the WFP has a point. We agree that any effort that can be tar babied as a "landlord-inspired," one is going to have some problems gaining the right kind of political traction. As we have pointed out: "There is nothing wrong with a coalition of interests-one that includes businesses both small and large-but there needs to be more of an effort, if the campaign is to really gain traction, to build the coalition from the ground up. It needs to be more tea party than tea room-and it needs to utilize a more populist (dare we say, Alinsky-style) approach."

And this is not an unreachable goal; but the initial effort doesn't appear headed in the right direction. As Brown tells us, the current coalition is relying on the Independence Party as a political vehicle-not a bad idea, but there is little creative ideological foundation building that goes beyond a pro-business mantra: "After the fall’s trial run, the industry—led by its main advocacy group, the Real Estate Board of New York—is expecting to expand its efforts in 2010, according to numerous executives involved with and informed of the effort. A greater partnership is being formed with the Independence Party, using it as a vehicle to create a ground organization to rival the WFP and elect candidates who support the real estate industry’s key issues: containing spending, fighting off new taxes and blocking a significant expansion of rent regulations."

In our view, the effort is being hamstrung by its limited political world view and narrow coalition. There is a groundswell of opposition to WFP policies that is ready to be mobilized. By it needs to get out of the streets and into the streets. The power of the Tea Party movement has devolved from its anti-elitism and genuine grass roots base. It is this vein that needs to be tapped-one that is genuinely populist and small business oriented as well.

If it doesn't move in that direction, the WFP derision is well founded: "Of course, there’s good reason for skepticism that any of the business efforts will attract any sort of competitive following. Aside from the poor showing in the primaries—real estate executives counter that it takes years to build a successful party, as it did for the Working Families Party—it would be easy to paint the Independence Party as a microphone for landlords and corporations."

But the left leaning party is profoundly wrong in one crucial matter-the folks, the real working families, are fed up with an out of control, big spending government Leviathan. If this discontent is creatively tapped, than the following WFP observation will be effectively debunked: "And if it and the WFP are simply competing over who can have a more populist message, public benefits and a safety net have historically played better than a government-wary, anti-tax platform in New York, particularly in the city. This is the view and hope of the WFP, which, for candidates it opposed, repeatedly highlighted campaign contributions from landlords, often a liability in Council races."

And while the city's politics is a more difficult arena to influence from the right side of the populist fence, state politics is another matter altogether-and the pro tax payer, business-friendly message we heard from Andrew Cuomo the other day underscores the point. It all comes down to effective strategies, grass roots organizing and, of course, enough resources.