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0-for-23: An Undeterred Green Party Candidate on His Long Losing Streak
New York Times: October 19, 2018
Howie Hawkins, who is running for governor of New York, has run for an elective office 24 times. He has lost 23 times. Despite his losing record, he doesn’t get discouraged.
By Jesse McKinley
Howie Hawkins has a perfect record.
Mr. Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for governor, has run for elective office 23 times and has never won. He has run for the House of Representatives and the Senate. He has run for Syracuse Common Council, Syracuse mayor and Syracuse auditor. He has run for state comptroller and Onondaga county executive. Two campaigns ended when he was kicked off the ballot.
He is undaunted: His current bid for governor of New York is his third for that office, and 24th overall.
Yet while his challenge to defeat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is similarly quixotic, Mr. Hawkins is nonetheless the most successful Green Party candidate for governor in state history, having received nearly 5 percent — some 184,000 votes — in the 2014 general election. He received nearly 125,000 more votes than he had in 2010, and far more than previous candidates like the writer Malachy McCourt and the actor Al Lewis, of “Munsters” fame.
He was one of the founders of the national Green Party in 1984, and his résumé reads like a field guide to third parties: over the last four decades, Mr. Hawkins has been involved with the Peace and Freedom Party, the People’s Party, and the Citizens Party. As such, he is a quick-talking encyclopedia of progressive talking points, effortlessly outlining the core issues of Green politics: environmental care, economic and social justice, electoral reform and peace on Earth.
That many of those issues have made their way into Democratic Party platforms is no accident, he says. “I think Greens improve elections because we bring issues to the table that otherwise wouldn’t be discussed,” he said.
Mr. Hawkins, 65, also has the distinction of being the only candidate living near the poverty line. A longtime construction worker and a U.P.S. employee, he retired last year on a couple of small pensions totaling $1,260 a month. He is single, childless, and lives alone in a two-bedroom apartment in Syracuse. If he’s not elected governor, he says he’d like to pick up some holiday shifts with U.P.S., though he notes he’ll only make $10.40 an hour.
Until then, he’ll be campaigning, driving around the state in a used Hyundai. (He’s put about 25,000 miles on it during this race). Earlier this month, he spoke with The New York Times about his latest bid, his competition, and why third parties matter.
The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.
Q. You grew up in California, but you sound like you’re from the South. Where’s your accent from?
A. During World War II and immediately after, a lot of southern blacks and whites came up from Mississippi Delta to work at Hunters Point shipyard [in San Francisco]. So I speak like the kids I came up with. It’s just muscle memory now.
What was your political upbringing? Were your parents third-party fans?
They were Midwestern Republicans: Stay out of stupid foreign wars, watch the public money, civil rights, and otherwise leave us alone. All of their descendants have left the Republican Party. I left in the ’60s, I think most of them left in the ’80s. Some became Perot and Nader followers, and some became Democrats and a few became Greens.
When did you become politically active?
I was 12. My party was the Peace and Freedom Party. And when I was 14, turning 15, I’m telling adults you got to register in this party so people can vote against the war.
But you served in the military, right?
I was drafted in June 1972. I was 19. When my number came up, I enlisted in the Marine Corps, but they never ordered me to active duty. They knew about my antiwar activity before I went in the Marine Corps, they had a little file and they had little pictures of me at demonstrations. They said, ‘Why do you want to be a Marine?’ I said, ‘My draft number came up and you’re the best.’ That was my story and I stuck to it.
So how and when did you go Green?
I had been involved in Clamshell Alliance. We occupied the Seabrook nuclear power plant site. We got 1,414 people arrested. That kind of put the antinuclear movement on the map. We had people come from all over the country and it’s right after the Vietnam War movement — a lot of activists looking for something to do. A woman named Charlene Spretnak and a physicist named Fritjof Capra wrote a book called “Green Politics,” which really didn’t capture the German Greens — it was kind of her new-age take on it — but then people said you’ve got to start a party. So they invited people and I was one of the people who got invited. That was in St. Paul, Minn., in August 1984.
You first ran for office in 1993, for Syracuse Common Council. Why did you run?
The Syracuse Green Party chapter already existed when I got to Syracuse in 1991. In 1993, it decided it was time to run in local elections. They figured their work on the issues they were concerned about in the city was being taken for granted by the elected officials, who gave them lip service but no action.
So they asked me to run for councilor-at-large. Then every year, the local Greens would ask me to run again. Running every year was never a plan, it just evolved.
And you’ve run 23 times total and you’ve never won.
No. I came close: 48 percent for one City Council race in 2011. And the vote keeps growing.
Does losing get you down?
No, you can be in the minority but when you’re out there talking to people you’re persuading, you’re getting positive response from a lot of people. So I don’t get discouraged. Wherever we are, I say, ‘What’s the next best move?”
Let’s say you broke the streak. What would a Hawkins administration look like?
I would sign the single-payer bill. I would really push the Legislature to adopt the New-York off-fossil-fuels bill, which is for 100 percent clean energy by 2030. And I would push for a more progressive tax system. The top one percent in the state’s share of income has gone from 12 percent in 1980 to 31 percent today. That’s $375 billion going to 90,000 taxpayers. If they paid 10 percent more than would be $37.5 billion for the state budget. And we need that.
A lot of what the Greens are talking about for a long time — income inequality, for example — has recently become fashionable in the Democratic Party. Is that annoying?
That’s been the historic role of third parties in this country. The Liberty Party put the slavery issue on the public agenda. Greenback Labor and the People’s Party put the whole money question, during the post Civil War Gilded Age, and the issue of monopolies. And the Socialists put the social insurance programs that F.D.R. eventually adopted on the public agenda. So what did we put on? In New York, it was a Green mayor and deputy mayor that were doing gay marriagesuntil Spitzer got an injunction on them. That was 2004. And seven years later, Cuomo is saying, ‘I did it!’ The $15 minimum wage: We haven’t got there yet but Cuomo wants to say he did it.
What do you think of the governor’s job performance?
He moves to the socially liberal positions when the polls move there, like gay marriage. He never leads on any of those. This is the most segregated state in the country in housing, and schools, in our cities. He’s never said a peep about that. So I don’t think he’s a leader on the social issues, although when pushed, he’ll take a liberal position. On the economics, I still see the same Cuomo that ran in 2010: freeze public salaries, get a new pension tier, cap on taxes. I think that’s because he’s funded by a lot of people on Wall Street, and big real estate. They don’t want their taxes raised. And I haven’t heard any new initiatives. I mean, what’s he going to do? His agenda is basically cleaning up the stuff that the State Senate blocked. Maybe the Dream Act, getting that Women’s Reproductive Health Act passed, get Roe v. Wade in the penal code? Which are good reforms but it’s not like he’s really been out front really pushing them.
Do you like life as a candidate?
Well, its better than unloading freight at UPS. Which I don't even mind doing; it’s just the long hours. This is more fun. I like talking about public policy. I like talking to people. There are frustrations, you know: I think we've earned better attention than we're getting. But I guess you could say I enjoy it.