Person

Dan Cantor

Nationality:

American

Occupation:

Labor Union Organizer

Community Organizer

National Committee Chair, Working Families Party

Executive Director, Working Families Organization

Dan Cantor is a co-founder and former national director of the Working Families Party (WFP), a far-left political party with chapters throughout the United States that is most influential in New York City and New York State politics due to New York’s electoral fusion voting system.

Cantor worked as a labor union organizer and an aide to Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign prior to founding the WFP in 1998. He also previously was the national organizer for the New Party, a predecessor to the WFP that supported future President Barack Obama early in his political career. Under Cantor’s leadership, the WFP exerted significant influence in New York politics with the goal of using its ballot line and connections to organized labor to push Democratic candidates further to the left. In 2018, Cantor stepped down as national director of the New York-centric WFP and was replaced by Maurice Mitchell. He has since held the position of chair of the WFP national committee. [1] [2] [3]

Early Career and Education

Daniel (Dan) Cantor was born and raised in Levittown on Long Island and attended General Douglas MacArthur High School followed by Wesleyan University. While in school, Cantor took an interest in leftist ideology and decided to become a community organizer following graduation. In 1977, he went to work for the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) as a community organizer. At the time ACORN was known as a group founded by “New Leftists seeking to mobilize the rural and urban poor,” and Cantor was interested in the organization’s work due to his professed admiration of “the writings of radical sociologists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, who argued that the power of the poor was the power to disrupt, which would cause the state to respond with greater social provision.” [4]

While working for ACORN, Cantor worked in Arkansas; Detroit, Michigan; and St. Louis, Missouri, where he led several organizing campaigns and helped organize a fast-food workers union that won a representation election at a McDonald’s location before later failing. [5]

In 1983, Cantor left ACORN to join the staff of the National Labor Committee on Central America, where he was tasked with mobilizing labor opposition to the historically liberal but anti-Communist AFL-CIO for not supporting the Cuban-backed Communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. While many individual unions supported such efforts, Cantor and the committee were stymied by the leaders of the national AFL-CIO at the time. [6]

In the late 1980s, Cantor moved back home to Long Island to take a job as a program officer at the local Veatch Foundation, which funded a range of left-of-center organizations. While in New York, Cantor and others on the far-left grew frustrated over the third-party Liberal Party’s endorsement of Republican mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani (R) and began discussing creating an alternative third party with several activists including University of Wisconsin professor Joel Rogers. [7]

The New Party

Cantor and Rogers co-authored a paper titled “Party Time” in 1990 in which they laid out a vision that they believed could “revive the left.” The strategic vision for a new political party centered around the idea of creating a third-party that would not take away votes from Democratic candidates but create a hybrid model using the third-party’s voting line to pressure Democrats to move the party to the left. In circulating their paper, the two raised $300,000 in 1990 to launch the “New Party” and Cantor left his job at the Veatch Foundation to run the new organization. [8]

The success of the New Party hinged on increasing the number of states that allowed fusion voting—the ability of a candidate to run on more than one party’s ballot line. The party began running candidates in nonpartisan races in targeted states to lay the groundwork for legal challenges to state laws that banned fusion voting. In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the ability to ban fusion voting and the New Party folded soon after. [9]

While the New Party was short lived, it was active in the politics of Chicago in the 1990s and helped launch the career of Barack Obama, endorsing his candidacy for the state senate in 1996. Obama’s affiliation with the New Party was criticized by the right during his presidency over its ties to socialist-aligned organizers. [10]

Working Families Party

Following the dissolution of the New Party, Cantor was dispirited and living away from New York in Ann Arbor, Michigan due to his wife Laura Markham’s job as owner of the Detroit Metro Times. Ahead of the 1998 election, however, he came up with an idea to form a third party in New York State that could benefit from that state’s voting laws to endorse the Democratic challenger to Governor George Pataki (R) and secure ballot access in future elections. [11]

Along with ACORN, Citizen Action, and local unions of the Communications Workers of America, Cantor founded the Working Families Party and began urging union members and other voters to vote for the Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee under the Working Families ballot line. The party needed at least 50,000 votes for a candidate on its ballot line to gain ballot access in future elections and just barely crossed the threshold in 1998 amid an unsuccessful Democratic challenge to Governor George Pataki (R). [12]

Cantor soon after moved back to New York full time and began to build the influence of the Working Families Party in subsequent elections. The party was instrumental in assisting the campaigns of many far-left Democrats such as former Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who was first elected to the New York City Council solely on the WFP ballot line. [13]

Cantor led the party in supporting many left-of-center policies and labor-union priorities including the $15 minimum wage, relaxing drug laws, and increased public transit subsidies. [14]

He also led the party to expand into other states, particularly Connecticut and Pennsylvania. [15]

In 2018, Cantor stepped down as national director of the WFP citing a need for a new generation of leaders and was replaced by Maurice Mitchell, a community activist, political operative, and Black Lives Matter organizer. Cantor took the position of chair of the WFP national committee. [16]

References

  1. “Dan Cantor.” Action Lab NY. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.actionlabny.org/person/dan-cantor/ ^
  2. Cantor, Dan. “Passing the Torch.” Working Families Party. April 10, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://workingfamilies.org/2018/04/passing-the-torch/ ^
  3. Erickson, Erick. “Barack Obama sought the New Party’s endorsement knowing it was a radical left organization.” 2008. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20130829134528/http://archive.redstate.com/stories/elections/2008/barack_obama_sought_the_new_partys_endorsement_knowing_it_was_a_radical_left_organization ^
  4. Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  5.   Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  6. Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  7.  Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  8. Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  9. Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  10. Erickson, Erick. “Barack Obama sought the New Party’s endorsement knowing it was a radical left organization.” 2008. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20130829134528/http://archive.redstate.com/stories/elections/2008/barack_obama_sought_the_new_partys_endorsement_knowing_it_was_a_radical_left_organization ^
  11. Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  12. Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  13.  Meyerson, Harold. “Dan Cantor’s Machine.” The American Prospect. January 6, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://prospect.org/power/dan-cantor-s-machine/ ^
  14. Dan Cantor.” Action Lab NY. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.actionlabny.org/person/dan-cantor/ ^
  15. Barkan, Ross. “Is the Working Families Party Running Out of Juice?” Village Voice. June 15, 2016. Accessed December 9, 2022. http://www.villagevoice.com/news/is-the-working-families-party-running-out-of-juice-8734613 ^
  16. Cantor, Dan. “Passing the Torch.” Working Families Party. April 10, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://workingfamilies.org/2018/04/passing-the-torch/ ^

Connected Organizations

  1. Democracy Alliance Conferences (Other Group)
    Participant, Spring 2014; Spring 2016; Fall 2016
  2. Working Families Organization (WFO) (Non-profit)
    Executive Director
  3. Working Families Party (WFP) (Political Party/527)
    Founder, National Committee Chair
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