Tish James could become the first Black woman to win statewide elected office in New York. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to block her path to power unless she submits to his will.
To those of us who’ve known Tish for years, this threat is an outrage.
I was there with Tish James in 2003 when she was first elected to the City Council—not as a Democrat, but on the Working Families Party line.
I’ve known Tish and have supported her in every electoral run she has made since, and we’ve won all of them. But it was her progressive base and the WFP that first put her on her historic path.
Tish has been an ardent activist and independent voice for women across the city for decades, building up a political base of support on the progressive left. That base won her the race for public advocate as the first Black woman elected to citywide office. Her supporters included a diverse cross-section of the progressive movement from the WFP to unions to community organizations and online groups. They did not include Gov. Cuomo.
Now, after the shocking resignation of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for physically abusing women, Tish has quickly emerged as the frontrunner for both the Working Families Party and Democratic Party nominations—making her a favorite to make history once again.
Enter Andrew Cuomo.
You see, Cuomo is pushing her to reject the Working Families Party nomination, or risk losing his support, and the support of the state Democratic Party he controls. All because of his own personal vendetta against the Working Families Party, because they decided not to endorse him this year.
It is shocking to see Gov. Cuomo treating Tish like nothing more than a pawn in his war with the WFP. Worse, his push to try force Tish to turn her back on her progressive roots is weakening her coalition.
Pressuring Tish to choose between her loyal progressive base and his own endorsement is wrong, and Andrew Cuomo needs to account for it.
He is undercutting one of the leading Black women in New York politics. His thirst for power knows no bounds as he seeks to meddle in the race for attorney general.
This interference is not the first time Cuomo has meddled in a historic campaign by a Black politician for statewide office. He first ran for governor in 2002—as though he was owed the statehouse because he was a Cuomo—against Carl McCall, who would have been the first Black governor of New York. Ultimately, McCall lost in his historic run—in part because he was undermined by Andrew Cuomo.
And let’s not forget how he belittled Barack Obama’s historic run for president in 2008 by claiming that he tried to “shuck and jive” with the press.
Andrew Cuomo is not to be trusted. How can we possibly trust someone who formed a phony women’s equality party created and led by men? He does not have Tish’s best interests at heart, and he certainly does not have the best interests of Black people at heart.
Cuomo takes the Black vote for granted. He better wake up, because Black voters are not just pawns in the cynical power game of a governor who thinks New York State is his personal fiefdom.
So, back off Andrew. Run your own race, and leave Black voters to decide who they want to vote for.
Enough is enough. Tish should go win this thing without him. Her same progressive coalition will carry her to victory and leave Cuomo in the dust.
Bertha Lewis is executive director of The Black Institute.