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50,000 or bust

by Craig Seeman
Boog City, Issue 3
February 25-March 10, 2002

Blogwriter’s note:  Craig Seeman is now former chair of Green Party of New York State (GPNYS).  In 2002, GPNYS chose Stanley Aronowitz as its govenor candidate.   GPNYS did not pass 50,000 vote mark in 2002 for its governor candidate.  Though 4 years old, this articles is of interest because GPNYS faces the same challeneges again this year in trying to regain ballot status.  Some of the candidates in contention for the 2006 Governor spot are:  Alice Green, Malachy McCourt, and Jeff Peress

In a culture driven by MTV slick thirty-second ad spots, and five-second sound bites on the evening news, New York’s Green Party must catch the attention of 50,000 voters for it’s gubernatorial candidate to keep its ballot line for the next four years. State Law mandates this requirement.

If the Green Party, which I chair, loses its line, the party will disappear off the voter registration forms. Greens would lose their party enrollment and the board of elections would stop keeping Green Party records. Those enrollment lists are key to outreach, not only for elections, but to mobilize activists. Green Party candidates, who now need only a few signatures from party enrollees to run for office, would find it virtually impossible to get the thousands of independent signatures necessary on the ballot with no pre_existing line (see “Run Run For Your Life”, p.1).

Just as the media ignored the World Economic Forum protests, alternative political candidates are usually slighted no matter how potent or popular the message could be; that is, unless a celebrity runs for office. The Green Party is faced with a candidate search for a person with the ability to attract media attention and articulate the Green message.

The Green Party found such a Gubernatorial candidate in 1998 in actor/activist Al Lewis, who was well known for his role as “Grampa” in the ’60s TV series, The Munsters, as well as Officer Schnauzer in Car 54, Where Are You? Lewis had a political track record ranging from union organizer and Black Panther Party supporter, his public affairs show on radio station WBAI, and his recent work to overturn the Rockefeller Drug Laws. He garnered enough media attention to bring the Green Party into existence on the ballot with about 54,000 votes, even though the media focused on “Grampa” the actor rather than Lewis the activist.

Many celebrities have the qualities needed to run for public office. When one reporter sarcastically commented that, “the Green Party is running Al Lewis simply because he’s famous,” I responded that it takes someone with the ability to speak in public, articulate a message that can make a poignant sound bite on the evening news, and handle the critics’ attacks, as well as a passion to express their politics. The same skills that make for a good entertainer work in politics. It certainly helped the political career of the man who co_starred with a chimp in the “Bedtime for Bonzo” movies, actor Ronald Reagan, and the late congressman Sonny Bono of Sonny and Cher fame.

Celebrities, though, often are not willing to run for public office. They must measure time commitment and whether such political outspokenness can cost them future gigs. The celebrities more likely to run are either past the primary peak in their careers or have established themselves as independent of the corporate entertainment industry.

With the Ralph Nader presidential campaign came a bevy of celebrities willing to publicly support a celebrity activist lawyer delivering a Green message. Since state law requires a five_year New York State residency to run for Governor, the field narrows.

Some of the people the Greens have considered include:

•Susan Sarandon, a past Nader supporter and an advocate for a host of issues, including human rights, ending hunger, and UNICEF.

•Tim Robbins, Sarandon’s longtime partner, continues to show support for Nader with a sharp article explaining why in a recent issue of The Nation. His movie Bob Roberts showed that he could be fearlessly political in his films. Neither may want to risk seriously impacting their acting/producing careers at this point.•Patti Smith, Poet, Singer/Songwriter is still a stalwart Nader supporter as she delivers poems and songs to motivate activists at many of Nader’s “Democracy Rising” rallies.

•Andre Gregory, a theatrical actor known for the insightful cult film, My Dinner With Andre offered significant support to Nader’s presidential effort. The additional publicity can actually broaden Smith’s and Gregory’s visibility as entertainer/activists.

Other potential candidates are celebrities of sorts in more intellectual academic circles rather than in the entertainment field. Manning Marable, a professor of African-American studies, history, and political science at Columbia University, has authored many books on race, politics, and economics.

Already running to get the Green Party line for governor are Stanley Aronowitz, a sociology professor at City University of New York (CUNY) and union negotiator for the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, who has written numerous books and articles on politics and labor, and whose writing’s occasionally appear in The Nation and Don Hassig, a cancer prevention activist from St. Lawrence county, who has received significant attention in that area.

Whether the Green Party runs a capable celebrity candidate to break through a media more interested in fame than issues or runs a lesser-known activist, it’s important to understand that voting for the Green Party gubernatorial candidate is the only way to keep the party legally alive so it may empower people to help change the political landscape.

Craig Seeman is the chair of the Green Party of NY. A former City Council candidate, he works as a video editor and co-managed Al Lewis’s 1998 Green Party gubernatorial campaign.

2 Responses

  1. […] The Green Party of New York State needs to collect a minumum of 15,000 signatures to get Malachy and the rest of the Peace Slate on the statewide ballot. Submitting these signatures has the additional benefit of allowing us to stay enrolled as Greens. If we fail to do this, the Board of Elections will change everyone’s enrollment from "Green" to "Blank."We also need to get 50,000 votes for Governor in order to regain automatic ballot status. Being a ballot status party allows us to run many more candidates. With ballot status in 2001, we ran over 200 candidates. Without ballot status in 2005, we ran only 20 candidates. […]

  2. […] Monkeywrenching with Minnie the Cat Jump to Comments Blogwriters note: The crux of this story is only a problem when a third party has automatic ballot access. Hopefully GPNYS will regain ballot status this November by getting 50,000 votes for our governor candidate and be back to a fairer system of ballot access. See 50,000 or Bust. […]

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