Green Party reframes local, state debate
this is the cover story of this weeks New York Blade a NYC LGBT newpaper with a 100,000 distribution
Why Green Is Good for Gays
Green Party reframes local, state debate
By KERRY ELEVELD
Monday, October 23, 2006
Alison Duncan is the other openly gay candidate seeking statewide office—running for Lt. Governor on the Green Party ticket. The Green Party does not receive as much attention as the Democrats or Republicans nor does it boast the money, but it may have claim as the party that has done the most to advance same-sex marriage in New York State to date.
The Green Party’s Jason West, Mayor of New Paltz, began performing same-sex weddings in February of 2004. He completed 25 before a judge issued a court order to stop him that eventually became a permanent injunction.
What most people don’t know about the Green Party is that local politicians like West are one of the most important reasons the party runs a statewide ticket. New York State law requires political parties to get at least 50,000 votes in the gubernatorial election in order to have a ballot line for the next four years.
That allows a party to run candidates in elections without having to gather 15,000 signatures in order to get them on the ballot—an effort Duncan said is nearly impossible to fund at the local level.
"That’s entirely the goal—to make it possible for people to win local offices," said Duncan. "Because once a Green candidate wins a local office, they really do start to make changes in their municipalities."
In New Paltz, West and his deputy mayor, Rebecca Rotzler, put in an artificial wetlands to process their sewage, which both saves money and is more environmentally friendly, Duncan said. They also got a grant to put in solar panels on the town hall, which powers the hall when it’s in use but sends energy back into the town grid then when they’re not using the building, thereby reducing energy costs for the town.
Across the board, Green Party candidates oppose the war in Iraq and they support universal health care, same-sex marriage, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and renewable energy sources.
But Duncan said the main thing that differentiates them from other candidates is they don’t take any corporate contributions, which also puts them at an intense funding disadvantage.
In the 32-day pre-general election filing for gubernatorial candidates, Democratic frontrunner Eliot Spitzer had about $8.6 million cash on hand, Republican John Faso had $970,000 cash on hand, and the Green Party’s Malachy McCourt had $1,123 in the bank.
Duncan said one of the things that has crystalized for her in this campaign, "is the real travesty of campaign financing both in our state and in our the country." This became abundantly clear to her as she was reading over the campaign finance filings of other candidates.
"Anyone who looks at that and sees the amount of money that comes from wealthy individuals and from corporations into a campaign, it really gives you a perspective on where the average voter is to a corporate candidate," said Duncan.
Duncan said the reason they don’t take corporate contributions is so they aren’t beholden to anyone’s special interests. "We can take much braver stances on issues," she said.
If elected, for instance, Duncan and McCourt would refuse to enforce Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the New York National Guard. "Lesbian, gay and trans and bisexual members of our National Guard should be able to serve openly and with dignity," Duncan said.
An even more unprecedented part of their platform includes bringing the New York National Guard home from Iraq and putting them to work cleaning up the state’s environment. "We’ve done a lot of research on how legally we would be able to do that," Duncan said. "The governor actually has a lot of control over the National Guard contrary to popular belief."
Getting a ballot line
The Green Party lost their ballot line in 2002 when they fell just short of 50,000 votes in the gubernatorial race. In order to get their candidates on the statewide ballot this year, they collected 30,000 signatures, twice the amount required.
They are also poised to get their ballot line back on November 7—a recent Zogby poll shows them polling at 5 percent statewide, which equates to about 200,000 votes. Duncan said her running mate for governor, Malachy McCourt, has been a big help in raising the profile of the campaign. McCourt is a well-known actor and the brother of writer Frank McCourt.
"It’s important for us to run a candidate with name recognition, because we need the 50,000 votes, and we don’t have a lot of money," Duncan said.
McCourt’s stage prowess has also been helpful on the trail, as he and Duncan teamed up for a statewide tour of his show "You Don’t Have to be Irish to Vote for Me." Duncan said she sings, McCourt does a standup routine, and people get to see a show and hear about politics when they might not otherwise be motivated to seek out third-party candidates talking about the issues.
"It’s been a good vehicle for bringing crowds to us by slightly less traditional means," Duncan said.
Despite some successes, Green Party candidates have not been allowed to participate in any of the major debates or televised debates.
Duncan said that given their huge volunteer effort to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot and the media attention they have received, they should be allowed to participate in the debates, most of which are sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
"It does no service to our democracy to freeze out legitimate voices," she said. "Given our poll numbers, we are a very legitimate voice and we will be representing over 200,000 New Yorkers who should get the opportunity to see their candidate in a debate."
Though Duncan and her Green Party colleagues would rather have been included in the debates, she said traveling the state, attending candidate forums, handing out literature and speaking to reporters has still given them a chance to change the discourse.
"For me, a lot of this campaign has been about trying to illustrate what is possible and what New Yorkers should expect from anyone who’s governor," she said. "Every voter that I talk to is an opportunity to frame the debate."