Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hawkins going for Walsh's seat as Green Party Candidate

Hawkins going for Walsh's seat as Green Party Candidate
Thursday, September 11, 2008
By Mike McAndrew
Staff writer

The 25th Congressional District race is dominated by a Democrat with three Ivy League degrees and a Republican who touts his background as a farmer.

But there's a third candidate in the race with an Ivy League education and a blue-collar job Howie Hawkins.

Last night, Hawkins worked the graveyard shift at UPS, unloading tractor-trailers full of 150-pound packages until 3 a.m.

Today, the Dartmouth College-educated activist will be researching court decisions to prepare for an upcoming hearing before state election commissioners. Those state officials will decide whether Hawkins can appear on the Nov. 4 ballot as the Green Populist Party's candidate for Congress.

Hawkins collected about 6,300 signatures on petitions nominating him as a candidate for the seat being vacated by 10-term incumbent Rep. James Walsh, R-Onondaga. That's more than the 3,500 signatures required.

But the validity of about half the signatures is being challenged by Dustin Czarny, a Syracuse Democratic ward chairman.

Hawkins, 55, of Warner Avenue, Syracuse, said he's confident he'll win the petition challenge.

He is less sure he'll win the election.

Since 1993, Hawkins has appeared on the ballot in Onondaga County every year except in 1996 and 2003. He has run for everything from Syracuse Common Council to U.S. Senate.

In 2004, when he ran against Walsh for Congress, Hawkins collected 10 percent of the vote, the largest percentage he's received in 13 elections.

This year, he's running against Democrat Dan Maffei, whose campaign has raised $1.5 million, and Republican Dale Sweetland, who has raised $193,564. Hawkins said he's collected about $1,000 in donations.

But he's undeterred because he said the policies he supports are supported by most Americans.

"I think the majority of people want a single-payer health care system," he says. "The majority of them don't want us stationing our troops in 740 foreign military bases and trying to occupy the whole Middle East and Central Asia for oil. They agree we need to go on a serious program of building a clean, renewable energy infrastructure."

Hawkins conceded that his plan to cut $500 billion a year from the nation's military spending and invest it in solar-powered infrastructure may not be mainstream thinking.

He also calls for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hawkins has to convince Central New Yorkers that voting for him is not throwing away their vote, said Hawkins' friend Ron Ehrenreich, who ran for U.S. vice president in 1988 on the Socialist Party line.

"Whether or not he gets elected has less to do with his ideas, or his ability to govern, than it does with people's view of whether they can effect change with their vote," Ehrenreich said. "If the illusion that you can't make a change is broken, even for a moment, then things can change."

He noted that Bernie Sanders, an independent, was elected in 2006 as a U.S. senator from Vermont after serving 16 years in Congress.

"I don't know if Howie will get elected. But more and more he is getting respect. His ideas are getting currency," Ehrenreich said.

Going green

Hawkins was raised in San Francisco, where he idolized Giants center fielder Willie Mays and planned to pursue a professional baseball career. But with the Vietnam War raging, he enrolled in Dartmouth College in 1971 to secure a student deferment from the draft.

Hawkins left Dartmouth in 1977 without receiving a bachelor's degree because, he said, he lacked the required foreign language credits.

During the 1980s, he worked in Vermont as a construction worker, apple picker and carpenter.

He was one of about 60 people to attend the first national convention of Green Party organizers in 1984 in St. Paul, Minn.

In 1991, he was one of four people chosen to announce the formation of a new political party, Green Party-USA which he cites as the biggest achievement of his life.

"My role was going to the first convention. I was invited because I was involved in the anti-nuclear movement," Hawkins said. "What was missing in American politics was a progressive third party that was not controlled by corporate interests. The major parties were bought and paid for."

"If I have a biggest achievement, it is contributing to what hopefully will become a viable opposition party," he said.

Hawkins came to Syracuse in 1991 after he was hired as executive director of CommonWorks, an association of local cooperatives.

When CommonWorks ran out of funds, he took the night job at the UPS facility on Northern Boulevard.

But he spends his days reading about American politics and history.

"He's a very down-to-earth guy. He gets along with all kinds of people in all walks of life," Ehrenreich said. "The other side of it is he is quite bright. He's brilliant. He studies on many issues. He has an understanding of how communities really work."

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