Rebel Comes to Gov Battle

Malachy McCourt is bearer of the Greens

Originally published on June 19, 2006

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Malachy McCourt's résumé hardly screams governor.

He's an actor, activist, author, and radio show host who is more comfortable reciting James Joyce in tiny theaters than giving speeches at big campaign fund-raisers.

Yet the 74-year-old New Yorker is the Green Party's colorful candidate for governor, and his proposals -- from making it a crime to smoke around children to declaring sugar a controlled substance -- would be considered career suicide by most politicians' standards.

"We may not win the election, but we shall triumph in principle," McCourt brags in his lilting Irish brogue.

And if he does win, he said, "I will demand a recount."

His aim is to pump fresh ideas into a political landscape where Republican and Democratic policies are indistinguishable, he said, suggesting they run as "Republicrats."

A longtime Democrat (he campaigned for John Kerry for President) and a well-known anti-war activist, McCourt converted to Green this spring when a caller to his WBAI radio show urged him to run for governor.

"I laughed," he recalled.

But ultimately the Green Party swayed him to run in the hopes that his celebritylike status -- his brother is Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Frank McCourt -- would make it easy to secure the 50,000 signatures from voters needed to run on its ticket.

[Actually 15,000 signatures are needed on petitions to run; the ultimate goal is to get 50,000 VOTES in the general election to regain party ballot status for the Green Party of New York State. -- ed. note]

McCourt wants to demilitarize the National Guard into a team of local rescue workers rather than soldiers in Iraq, and says all state vehicles should operate on alternative fuel.

He wants schools to serve only organic food, teachers to get $50,000 raises, and the state's Taylor Law repealed so all union workers have a right to strike.

And New York's nickname, "the Empire State," should be changed because "empires should have emperors, and we did away with that with the Brits."

Unlike his main rivals in the race, Democrat Eliot Spitzer and Republican John Faso, who hold daily news conferences and nightly fund-raisers, McCourt admits his life has remained unchanged since he announced his candidacy in April.

A typical day includes picking up his 9-year-old granddaughter from school near their upper West Side apartment, grabbing lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, and attending a book reading in the evening.

His slogan is blunt: "Don't waste your vote, give it to me."

The Brooklyn-born, Ireland-raised jack-of-all trades explains, "It's a waste to vote when you are going to give it to someone who will do the same thing over and over."

As the author of eight books, he compares campaigning across the state with book tours: "I'm selling something different now, persuading people to buy my principles and promoting peace."