Person

Bill Lipton

Location:

New York, NY

Occupation:

Former New York state director, Working Families Party

 

Bill Lipton is a left-of-center political organizer and activist who co-founded and was the New York state director for the Working Families Party (WFP) until 2020. WFP is a New York-based political party that utilizes New York’s electoral fusion voting system which allows multiple parties to nominate candidates and pool votes cast. Lipton and the WFP have used the party’s endorsement and ballot line to pressure Democratic Party candidates to take union-friendly stands on economic issues.

Lipton’s tenure leading the party in New York was also marked by often endorsing primary challengers to Democratic incumbents from the left, making him and the WFP unpopular with many in the state’s Democratic establishment, particularly former Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), whom the party opposed in 2018. In 2020, Lipton was replaced in his role within the state party but announced plans to remain active within the national Working Families Party, which has a few other much smaller state-level parties outside New York. [1] [2]

Background

Bill Lipton is a co-founder of the Working Families Party, which has had status as an official political party in New York state since 1998. Lipton lives in New York City, was the New York state director, and was sometimes referred to as the political director for the party from 1998 until 2020. Lipton was quoted as saying they formed the WFP to challenge the notion that “you can’t have a fight between the left and Democrats with Republicans in control,” alluding to the fact that he co-founded the party at a time when many Republicans such as former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and Governor George Pataki (R), held office in the state. [3]

Political Activity

Lipton was involved in hundreds of notable elections in New York since the late 1990s. The efforts of the party began in earnest in 2001 to support farther-left Democrats running for New York City Council. He and the party played a hand in the rise of future Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and current state Attorney General Letitia James (D), both of whom began their political careers by being elected to the New York City Council with the backing of Lipton and the Working Families Party. James won election to the council on the WFP ballot line, a rarity for the third party. Lipton also led the WFP through support of left-wing candidates outside New York City including a notable 2004 election for Albany County District Attorney which centered on the WFP’s opposition to drug laws. [4]

The Working Families Party benefitted from New York’s fusion voting system which gave Lipton outsized influence within the New York Democratic Party due to him using the party to endorse farther-left candidates in Democratic primaries. Endorsements from the WFP usually came with a validating quote from Lipton supporting the candidate’s far-left bona fides. [5]

Lipton also led the WFP in a push to target moderate Democrats in the New York State Senate who caucused with Republicans during the 2018 election, leading Democrats to gain control of the chamber. [6]

Data and Field Services Scandal

Under Lipton’s leadership, the Working Families Party was legally able to spend “virtually unlimited” amounts of money on behalf of its preferred candidates and for a while operated a for-profit canvassing operation called Data and Field Services, which generated controversy after an investigative report on the company and party that led to a lawsuit alleging that the party offered the company’s services to its endorsed candidates at illegally reduced rates, leading to a settlement of $100,000 and a shuttering of the firm in 2011. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York also investigated the WFP and Data and Field Services but did not file charges. Lipton was subpoenaed in the lawsuit, which was launched by attorney Randy Mastro and centered on the campaign of New York City Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-Staten Island). [7] [8]

Cuomo Feud

Bill Lipton and the Working Families Party were described as the “mortal enemy” of disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) during his decade-long tenure as Governor of New York. The WFP leadership had long viewed Cuomo as not far enough to the left of the Democratic Party and credited itself with pushing Cuomo to take more liberal positions such as his early embrace of a $15 minimum wage. [9]

In 2014, the WFP’s leadership entertained the idea of endorsing left-wing candidate and activist Zephyr Teachout in the Democratic Primary while Cuomo was seeking a second term. The WFT ultimately endorsed Cuomo both to guarantee the party’s continued ballot access and due to a deal brokered by New York City Mayor and WFP ally Bill de Blasio wherein Cuomo would endorse some of the WFP’s priorities including a higher minimum wage and campaigning against moderate state senate Democrats. [10]

In 2018, the Working Families Party voted to endorse “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary for governor in a move that led Cuomo to take retaliatory measures against the WFP. When the WFP ultimately endorsed Cuomo in the general election rather than give its ballot line to Nixon, who could have drained votes from Cuomo and risked a Republican upset, Bill Lipton stated that Cuomo was at least “better than a Republican.” In a leaked recording Cuomo could be heard telling Lipton “If you ever say, ‘Well he’s better than a Republican’ again, then I’m going to say, ‘You’re better than a child rapist,’ ‘How about that?’” [11]

Following his 2018 reelection, Cuomo reportedly pressured many powerful labor unions in New York to cease support of the Working Families Party and led a push to end fusion voting in the state which would have severely undercut the WFP’s influence. [12]

Replacement

During the 2020 election cycle, Bill Lipton was replaced as head of the Working Families Party in New York State by Sochie Nnaemeka, a Black activist whose ascension to the role was described as part of the WFP’s stated desire to portray more diverse leadership and move the party to align closely with the democratic socialist politics of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), whom the party opposed in her 2018 upset of then-Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY). Lipton stated that he would continue working on the WFP’s New York-based campaigns through the 2020 election, after which he stated plans to work with the WFP, which has much smaller chapters in a handful of other states, to push far-left climate policies on the national level of the party. [13] [14]

References

  1. Coltin, Jeff. “WFPs New leader for a New Age.” City and Stgate New York., June 1, 2020. Accessed February 25, 2022. https://www.cityandstateny.com/personality/2020/06/wfps-new-leader-for-a-new-age/175937/ ^
  2. Raskin, Sam. “Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth. Gotham Gazette.n September 25, 2018. Accessed February 25, 2022. https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7954-cuomo-and-his-progressive-critics-face-moment-of-truth ^
  3. Barkan, Ross. “The WFP Won. That’s Why It Could Go Extinct.” City and State New York. October 21, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2019/10/the-wfp-won-thats-why-it-could-go-extinct/176806/ ^
  4. Barkan, Ross. “The WFP Won. That’s Why It Could Go Extinct.” City and State New York. October 21, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2019/10/the-wfp-won-thats-why-it-could-go-extinct/176806/ ^
  5. Barkan, Ross. “The WFP Won. That’s Why It Could Go Extinct.” City and State New York. October 21, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2019/10/the-wfp-won-thats-why-it-could-go-extinct/176806/ ^
  6. Mays, Jeffrey. “A Political Party Aligns Itself with Ocasio-Cortez.” New York Times. December 6, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/06/nyregion/aoc-working-families-party-ny.html ^
  7. Goldenberg, Sally.”Subpoenas handed out in Working Family suit.” New York Post. January 12, 2010. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://nypost.com/2010/01/12/subpoenas-handed-out-in-working-family-suit/ ^
  8. Barkan, Ross. “The WFP Won. That’s Why It Could Go Extinct.” City and State New York. October 21, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2019/10/the-wfp-won-thats-why-it-could-go-extinct/176806/ ^
  9. Barkan, Ross. “The WFP Won. That’s Why It Could Go Extinct.” City and State New York. October 21, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2019/10/the-wfp-won-thats-why-it-could-go-extinct/176806/ ^
  10. Barkan, Ross. “The WFP Won. That’s Why It Could Go Extinct.” City and State New York. October 21, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2019/10/the-wfp-won-thats-why-it-could-go-extinct/176806/ ^
  11. Tahir, Tariq. “CHILLING WARNING Cuomo threatened to brand opponents who backed Cynthia Nixon’s campaign as ‘better than a child rapist,’ leak reveals.” The U.S. Sun. March 20, 2021. Accessed February 25, 2022. https://www.the-sun.com/news/2549213/cuomo-opponents-cynthia-nixon-child-rapist/ ^
  12. Barkan, Ross. “The WFP Won. That’s Why It Could Go Extinct.” City and State New York. October 21, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2019/10/the-wfp-won-thats-why-it-could-go-extinct/176806/ ^
  13. Mays, Jeffrey. “A Political Party Aligns Itself with Ocasio-Cortez.” New York Times. December 6, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/06/nyregion/aoc-working-families-party-ny.html ^
  14. Barkan, Ross. “The WFP Won. That’s Why It Could Go Extinct.” City and State New York. October 21, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2022.  https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2019/10/the-wfp-won-thats-why-it-could-go-extinct/176806/ ^

Connected Organizations

  1. Echoing Green (Non-profit)
    1996 Global Fellow
  2. Working Families Party (WFP) (Political Party/527)
    Founder, New York State Director
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