“The Long Game”—a Socialist Party’s Struggle for Signatures

Updated March 25, 2021 at 9:17 p.m.

With enough New York City ballot petition signatures potentially out of reach, the declared candidates from the city’s Socialist Workers Party said it will continue to maintain focus on the New Jersey gubernatorial election where the ballot is more accessible to third parties.

The party describes itself as a voice for the working class and celebrates the 1959 Cuban Revolution as a victory for working people and an example for other countries to follow. The party has also been a perennial player in local, state, and national politics, but often overlooked by the voters. It’s nominee for in the 2020 presidential election, Alyson Kennedy, secured only 6,791 popular votes, next in line under the American Solidarity Party’s candidate ,who got 35,261 votes. This time around, the party’s hopefuls in the city included Roger Calero for Mayor, Willie Cotton for Public Advocate, and Sara Lobman for Manhattan Borough President. They contend that increasingly burdensome requirements for nominating third party candidates are a concerning trend in several states across the country.

As a result, Calero argues, “There is no working-class voice. There is no working-class party. And it is one of the primary things that we’ve been talking about: the necessity for a party of the working class. A labor party that is independent of the Democrats and Republicans. The rules are aimed to maintain it that way—to make it seem as the only two choices you have are the Democrats and Republicans.”

Recent changes to the New York State election laws came under fire from third parties, including the Green Party of New York and Libertarian Party of New York. Third parties filed a joint lawsuit last December in objection to a rider attached to the 2021 New York State Budget that increased the number of votes for third parties to remain on the ballot—from 50,000 to 130,000 votes or 2% of the total vote, whichever is greater. Those parties that do not maintain certification from votes cast are required to re-certify through petition. In the same measure, the commission raised the number of signatures required for parties to re-certify from 15,000 to 45,000.

But, bowing to the complications of gathering signatures during a pandemic, Governor Cuomo signed a bill in January temporarily reducing the signature requirements by 70% for the 2021 election cycle.

Still, Cotton acknowledged that The Socialist Worker’s Party may not meet the requirement before the late May deadline. The party’s New York candidates have begun focusing their efforts on supporting the party’s candidates for New Jersey Governor and Lieutenant Governor—Joanne Kuniansky and Candace Wagner, respectively, who, as of mid-March, had obtained more than half of the 800 signatures required to get on the ballot in that state by the April 5 deadline. The candidates are also hoping for write-in votes in the New York City election, despite not being formally on the ballot.

Cotton and Calero are both long-term members of the Socialist Workers Party, which has a more than 80-year history in the United States. Cotton ran for New York State Comptroller in 2006 and lost with 14,745 votes, 0.4% of total votes, to the incumbent at the time, Alan Hevesi. In 2020, Cotton declared candidacy for New York’s 9th Congressional District, but was not formally included on the ballot. Calero ran for President of the United States in 2004 and 2008, United States Senate in 2006, and Bronx Borough President in 2013. Calero received a total of 3,689 and 7,209 votes during his presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008 respectively.

Their campaigns are not conventional. Neither Cotton or Calero operate a Twitter account, for example. Their New York campaign headquarters is co-located with the newsroom for The Militant, a socialist weekly for which Calero volunteers as an editor. They hand out copies of the paper while they canvas, rather than glossy brochures or bumper stickers. They do not target specific voters on their neighborhood walks. They said they are just as likely to approach households flying Trump flags as they are to knock the doors of Biden-Harris supporters. They concede that their odds are not good, but say that their election bid presents an opportunity to convey the party’s message.

It is a long game, they said. “Our participation in the election is not a gimmick,” Mr. Calero said. “The most important thing is an independent working-class party. That’s what we need.”

A previous version of this article stated that petition signatures were due on March 25. The Socialist Workers Party candidates in New York are petitioning for independent nomination for which signatures are due on May 25.