Greens Focus on War, Government

Greens focus on war, government
By Nick Reisman
Gannett News Service

[Original article here]

ALBANY — Actor, saloonkeeper and best-selling writer Malachy McCourt is serious about his long-shot bid for the governor's mansion as the Green Party candidate. But he's still trying to have fun.

“Some people say to me strange things like, is this a joke?” said McCourt, author of “A Monk Swimming” and brother of “Angela's Ashes” author Frank McCourt. “There was a senator who said if you want to be successful in American politics never make the populace laugh, be solemn. I don't intend to be solemn, but I intend to be serious.”

McCourt, 74, is headlining the Green ticket that also includes anti-war candidate Howie Hawkins in a bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton. Brooklyn-born and Ireland-raised, McCourt speaks in an Irish brogue and is ruffled when asked what he would do “if” elected governor.

“You mean, when I'm elected governor,” he said.

A more pragmatic goal would be to get at least 50,000 votes. That's the threshold needed to earn the Green Party recognition as an official party with an automatic spot on the ballot every election. The Greens made the mark in 1998 but missed it in 2002 when college professor Stanley Aronowitz got 41,797 votes.

McCourt said he expects to meet the 50,000-vote threshold this time around — although some analysts say he has a slim chance because the party's popularity might have peaked.

“I'm not sure if McCourt and the Greens have a sufficient organizational base to get the votes,” said Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz. “His visibility is not as great as perhaps as someone who was star athlete or known outside of being a politician. It's problematic that they'd be able to reach that level.”

But with Democratic candidate Attorney General Eliot Spitzer ahead by as much as 40 percentage points in most polls, Benjamin said that it's possible some progressive voters might feel free to safely vote Green.

Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi is also vying for the Democratic nomination. Former state Assemblyman John Faso of Columbia County is the Republican candidate.

Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland (no relation to the attorney general) said that the Democratic frontrunner is too popular among liberals and independents for McCourt to draw any votes away.

“I just think there's a lot of positive feeling around Eliot Spitzer among liberals and left-wing people around the state that I don't think there will be a successful effort to peel support away from Spitzer to the Green Party challengers,” he said.

Even though the Greens lost their official status in 2002, the party is still able to sign up members. Perhaps surprisingly, they've grown during that time.

In 2002, 29,528 voters were registered in the party. As of April this year, their ranks swelled to 36,141, according to the state Board of Elections.

“There are campus Greens chapters all over the state that are popping up,” said Sally Kim, who is managing Howie Hawkins' U.S. Senate campaign. “People started organizing in their cities and became interested in working for living-wage issues in their cities.”

McCourt, who has a long list of movie and television credits, may have enough name recognition to get noticed, Kim said.

He's not the first actor to run for governor on the Green ticket. The late Al Lewis, who was famous for playing “Grandpa” on the 1960s sitcom “The Munsters,” as well as a prominent political advocate, was the party's 1998 gubernatorial candidate.

Hawkins, 53 and a Syracuse resident, is portraying himself as an anti-war alternative to Clinton, D-Chappaqua, Westchester County.

He said voters don't have much of a choice when deciding between the junior senator and her Republican opponents, former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer and Kathleen “KT” McFarland, a former Reagan administration official.

“Anti-war issues resonate with a lot of people,” said Hawkins, who organized a Green Party protest Friday in Utica when Vice President Dick Cheney visited. “They don't have a party that voices their opinion.”

As an anti-war candidate, Hawkins said he hopes to receive a few votes form disenchanted, liberal Democrats as well as moderate Republicans. Clinton's stance on Iraq has drawn critics from the liberal wing of the party.

“There is some kind of emerging skepticism on the extreme left of the Democratic Party because of the positions she's taking,” said Benjamin, the New Paltz professor.

McCourt, along with other Greens, believes that progressive stance on issues would be a welcomed change for New York.

“Our political system is totally corrupted by corporate money and corporate power,” McCourt said. “I would make sure there would be no more private meetings between legislators and the public.”

He generously suggested that as governor, he would find jobs for his two opponents, Republican Faso and Democrat Spitzer; poking fun at the former's interest in curtailing social spending and the latter's support of the death penalty.

“I'm going to give Faso a job — finding homes for unwanted children,” McCourt said. “And Eliot, I'm going to make him the chief executioner. So they'll all be happy and they'll get paid.”


McCourt's plans:

Green Party gubernatorial candidate Malachy McCourt has big changes planned if elected to the governor's mansion in November. His platform includes:

* Pull New York National Guard troops out of Iraq and having them on stand-by for emergencies in the state.

* Make higher education in all public colleges and universities free.

* Provide universal healthcare for children and adults

* Abolish the death penalty in the state, which is currently in legal limbo

* Legalize same-sex marriages, which the state's highest court recently rejected.

* Repeal laws that require long prison sentences for drug offenses, also known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

(Originally published July 15, 2006)