Buckel & Working Families Party Share Many Views


Livable wages. Affordable housing. More educational opportunities.

These are key concerns that convinced the Working Families Party to endorse Democratic candidate Tom Buckel for the Onondaga County Legislature.

“Tom seemed to have a great handle on a lot of our issues,” said Rick Oppedisano, chair of  the Working Families Party of Central New York.

Buckel is challenging four-term Republican incumbent James DiBlasi for the Onondaga County Legislature’s  7th District seat in Tuesday’s election.

Buckel added the Working Families Party endorsement to his Democratic nomination because New York election law allows candidates to run on multiple party lines. Buckel, for example, also has the endorsement of the Veterans Party. And the incumbent, DiBlasi, also has triple endorsements: Republican, Conservative and Independence Parties.

With the Working Families’ endorsement, Buckel likely gains more in allying himself with the group’s liberal views than its number of  members, says political scientist Jeff Stonecash of Syracuse University. Stonecash specializes in New York State politics. He likens the Working Families Party to the now-defunct Liberal Party.

Now, said Stonecash, the Working Families Party “is the new liberal label in the state.” And that’s the real value in the endorsement, said Stonecash. “It’s very helpful if you are trying to send a message to a liberal side,” he said. “It’s the label that matters, not the number of people enrolled.”

That number, reports the Onondaga County Board of Elections reports: 1,073 registered members of the Working Families Party in Onondaga County as of 2006.

As its Web site and local party chair Oppedisano explain it, the party was formed in New York in 1998 as a coalition between labor unions, community groups and activists. Now it has 20 New York chapters and clubs.

The party has two kinds of members: Those who register with an election board as an enrolled Working Families Party voter. Or a dues-paying member of  the local chapter who’s registered to vote with another party.  The dues are $30 for union members and $60 for non-union members.

The party has about 120 dues paying members in Onondaga County, party chair Oppedisano said. And they have special clout: Choosing which candidates get the party’s endorsement. In other parties, all registered members can sign petitions to endorse candidates or vote in the party’s primary.

In endorsing Buckel for the county District 7 seat, party chair Oppedisano singled out Buckel’s support of a county-wide living wage, home-improvement grants and expanded public-school programs. The city has already enacted a living-wage law guaranteeing workers $10.01 an hour if the company provides health benefits and $11.91 if it does not. This law applies to all city contractors with five or more employees doing business of at least $20,000 with the city.

In supporting the living wage,  Buckel criticized payscales that keep families on the edge of poverty. “ It is shameful that somebody works full time and still is at the federal poverty level,” Buckel said. He did not provide a monetary value for a livable wage other than that it is above minimum wage of $7.15 an hour in New York. But he described it as an income that allows families to pay for the basics of living, raising and educating children and paying for health care.

To encourage employers to pay a living wage, Buckel suggested giving government tax incentives to only those local businesses providing their workers with adequate wages.

For education, Buckel advocates the creation of pre-kindergarten and more after school activities for public school students. “We need to focus on opportunity and activities for all students,” he said.

With the Working Families endorsement, Buckel is returning to some of his political roots. He was once a dues-paying member of the local chapter. Now, he said, “I’m trying to reach into that tradition of progressivism in New York, as a part of my support for and with the Working Families Party.”

(Melanie Hicken is a junior in newspaper journalism.)


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