American politics are often referred to with scorn for being a "two-party system." But unlike in other states, the "third parties" of New York can actually play an influential role in local and state elections, mostly because New York allows "fusion voting." This means major candidates can run simultaneously on several different party lines, as seen in Michael Bloomberg's successful 2001 mayoral bid in which he ran on both the Republican and Independent lines.
On today's Brian Lehrer Show, the heads of New York's biggest "third" parties talked about their election goals: Dan Cantor, Executive Director of the Working Families Party (WFP); Michael Long, Conservative Party of New York State chairman; and Frank MacKay, Chairman of the Independence Party of New York State.
Each of them said a vote for an alternative party packs a symbolic punch. Cantor says New Yorkers should vote on the WFP line if they voted for Obama but want to see more progressive change, while Long wants voters to look to the Conservative line to send a message of disappointment to Washington. MacKay says the Independence Party line is the place for voters to show they want a third major party in national politics that is not concerned with social issues.
That's right, no social issues. The Chairman of the Independence party seemed more concerned with paving a path for a future leader than promoting any particular political agenda:
We need a candidate. We have to call it what it is—without a national candidate we don't have a national party. So until that happens, we need to develop ballot access, a ballot access plan, for whenever he or she may come up. And when people say, well does it have to be a billionaire? Does it have to be a celebrity? I say quite frankly, it helps.
You might think that the Conservative and Independent lines would have more agreement than the Conservative and the Working Families Party, but Long seemed more concerned about Mackay's lack of a platform than Cantor's progressive platform:
I just want to make mention of the fact I believe—and I guess this makes a little disagreement from Frank—how important it is that parties really stand for something. Not only on the social issues, on the economic issues, that you have to have a platform, and you have to represent what people are thinking. And I think the Democratic Party nationwide represents clearly the left, and I think the Republican party nationwide clearly represents the right, both on economic and social issues. And I think it's important not to be vanilla. You can't just be vanilla in this world and political parties have a responsibility to speak out both on economic and social issues.
Maybe it's human nature, but even in this three-way conversation with third party leaders, two seemed to gang up against one. Cantor had the last word:
Minor parties allow voters to say more than what they would otherwise say without throwing their vote away, ala Nader. If you're a Democrat who likes the party of Bobby Kennedy and Paul Wilson and Gloria Steinem, you vote Working Families. If you're a Republican who thinks Barry Goldwater right, you vote for Mike Long. If you think the landlords have it right, you vote Independents."
Listen to the whole conversation on The Brian Lehrer Show: