for a Two-Party System?
some in the suburbs of Saratoga County might disagree, I don’t
think of Albany as a particular bastion of liberal politics.
It does however, have an active, sordid political landscape,
marked, of course, by its famously long Democratic Party dominance.
So it was interesting to realize that given the results of
this year’s election, one wouldn’t be crazy to surmise that
if Albany does break into a true multiparty give-and-take
some time soon, it may not be the Republicans, the country’s
presumed “second party,” who take us there.
Granted, if parties had to earn their ballot line separately
in Albany, rather than just getting 50,000 votes for their
gubernatorial candidate on your line—which in 2002 worked
out to about 1.1 percent of the total votes cast—then Republicans,
with 6.5 percent of the vote for mayor, would not be in immediate
danger of going the way of the Liberals or the Right-to-Life
Party. (Or, yes, the Greens, who lost their state ballot line
in 2002; they just seem to have managed to stay active as
a party despite that, which the other two have not.)
The Republicans also fielded some interesting and committed
candidates this year. I suspect that in at least some races
their poor showing had less to do with them, and more to do
with the legacy of Democratic Party dominance—when you have
one party for so long, it becomes a very large tent. There’s
little to stop fairly conservatively leaning folks from ending
up running on the Democratic line—that’s how one gets elected
after all—and therefore getting used to voting on the Democratic
This is not an intractable problem, but it doesn’t seem like
Albany’s Republicans—who also have been needing to spend some
attention trying not to lose ground in the rapidly Democratizing
Albany County suburbs—have yet hit on the formula to draw
On the other hand, the results, not to mention the buzz and
the attention, of this November’s election point to the fact
that in the city of Albany, the Working Families Party and
the Green Party are perhaps closer to that formula. They’ve
both been working very hard to build their bases and be a
presence on local and regional issues outside of elections.
The Working Families Party, of course, has the immense strategic
advantage of retaining its ballot line and being willing,
usually, to use it to support candidates also running on major
party lines (though not in Albany, it should be noted that
they have in fact cross-endorsed Republicans). The Greens
have their own strength, however, because they are not afraid
to stand completely independent, rather than aiming at mostly
shifting the Democratic Party in one direction or another.
Especially after conflicts over last year’s district attorney
primary, the WFP is careful not to be seen as trying to influence
Democratic Party primaries. (The same cannot be said, for
example, of the Conservative Party and its mailings about
city treasurer Betty Barnette.) Still, the WFP does seem to
have gained enough influence and respect that merely making
its endorsements for its own line before the Democratic primary
carries some weight with voters. Shawn Morris, the WFP candidate
for Common Council president, sailed to victory despite her
history of being willing to confront the mayor, and ended
up getting more total votes in the general election than Jennings
And for its part, when the Green Party fields candidates like
Alice Green and David Lussier who are willing to do the legwork,
they can get impressive results. Alice Green got nearly 25
percent of the vote. She may still be an underdog, but that’s
not a dismissible number.
WFP and the Greens endorsed two candidates in common this
year—David Lussier in Ward 11 and Russell Ziemba (who also
had the Democratic line) in Troy. Reportedly, if Alice Green
hadn’t held back on her campaign announcement in order to
not steal Archie Goodbee’s thunder, she may have had a chance
at the WFP line for mayor as well—and we can all only wonder
what might have happened then.
Karen Scharf, chair of the local WFP, and Mark Dunlea, state
Green Party chair, both are interested in collaborating more
in the future. The two parties are planning to meet and talk
about how to follow up on some of the key issues locally.
This sounds incredibly promising.
Here’s what I would love to see—I’d love to see the Green
Party get their ballot line back in next year’s gubernatorial
election, and then locally I’d like to see the two parties
more frequently cross-endorse candidates, pooling their strengths
and similar commitments to democratic process and reform.
But I’d also like to see them maintain their independence,
each sometimes taking risks or making commitments to candidates
when the other won’t, and generally providing an opportunity
for the voters to indicate their support for specific agendas
That could bring Albany the power of a viable second party,
with the variety and protection against calcification provided
by active third parties. Who knows, it might even provide
the climate for the Republicans to get back in the game.