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Green party gubernatorial candidates talks state, local policy in Watertown visit
by Abraham Kenmore
WATERTOWN — Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for governor, said it was the party members’ idea, not his, to run again.
“I couldn’t have stopped it if I wanted to,” he said. “It was never my plan to run for all these offices ... I don’t know how many, it’s like 21 times I’ve run. Only one time did I push it, the other times they pushed me.”
Mr. Hawkins’s reluctance is not a mark of a lack of enthusiasm for the party he helped found. If anything, his status as perpetual, if occasionally reluctant, candidate is a mark of dedication.
“I’ve been for a third party since I was 12 years old,” the self-described democratic ecological socialist told the Times during a recent visit to Watertown.
Mr. Hawkins had come to Watertown to appear on former Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham’s radio show, and he met the Times reporter at a small gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts where he was sitting alone, catching up on computer work.
“Of course, we want to win,” Mr. Hawkins said. “We want more than piecemeal, we want system reform.”
The system reform he envisions encompasses two main issues; climate change and inequality.
“We’re just accelerating over this climate cliff faster than the climate scientists predicted,” he said. As for inequality, “poverty kills — people of color have lower life expectations because they’re lower down on the economic chain.”
That being said, Mr. Hawkins is also realistic about the party — on his palm card, it proudly proclaims he received 5 percent of the vote for governor in 2014 running against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
That 5 percent “made Cuomo have to compete for those votes,” Mr. Hawkins said.
Rather than acting as a spoiler, Mr. Hawkins says Green candidates make Democrats better, forcing them to address issues they might not otherwise. After 2014, for example, Mr. Cuomo implemented some of the Green Party’s platform, including a ban on fracking for natural gas extraction and paid family leave, and partially implemented other parts, like a $15 per hour minimum wage and tuition free college.
Mr. Hawkins is also supporting single payer health care for the state, which a recent Rand Corporation study said would be feasible but require increased taxes and complicated coordination with the federal government.
“Even though we pay more in taxes, overall we’re paying less in taxes,” he said. “The biggest problem is will the Trump administration give us the waivers.”
And like virtually every gubernatorial candidate other than Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Hawkins is running to clean up corruption in Albany.
“All the people close to Cuomo, they’re going to prison,” he said.
Beyond these statewide issues, Mr. Hawkins — a retired teamster from Syracuse — says he has a more granular understanding of the local issues affecting upstate than some of the downstate candidates.
“I know how cities and towns and counties are suffering under the fact that revenue in the state has been cut from 8 percent in the 1970s to four tenths of one percent now,” Mr. Hawkins said. “Meanwhile, they’ve put a tax cap (on property tax levies) — our local governments are being squeezed.”
Mr. Hawkins says that the lack of funding is causing local municipalities to cut services.
“The cap is not lowering property taxes,” he said. “Our position is restore the revenue sharing, pay for your state mandate, use a more progressive income tax, which has been flattened since the ‘70’s as well.”
Asked about another local issue — wind turbines affecting Fort Drum weather radar and flight paths — Mr. Hawkin was dismissive.
“I don’t believe (the military) can’t figure out where a wind turbine is,” he said.
He was more sympathetic to local communities worried about the impact of industrial wind on quality of life.
“I think it’s a legitimate issue,” he said.
Instead of 500-foot turbines, he advocated for smaller scale wind — small turbines in every yard or attached to every house, not unlike solar panels. He also said the state could get 40 percent of its energy from offshore wind.
This is not to say Mr. Hawkins is a gradualist when it comes to renewable energy. He criticized Working Families Party gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon for backing a bill in the Assembly that would make the state carbon neutral by 2050.
“It’s not a bill that’s serious about dealing with climate change in the time frame we need to,” he said.
He backs the NY Off Fossil Fuels Act, which would move to make the state carbon neutral by 2030 — the deadline, according to Mr. Hawkins, for avoiding catastrophic climate change.
Mr. Hawkins is also opposed to Ms. Nixon in part because he doesn’t trust the Working Families Party to follow through and run her in November if she loses in the September Democratic primary to Mr. Cuomo. The party tries to elect progressive candidates, but often defers to Democratic nominees to avoid splitting votes.
“They’re not an alternative, they’re basically a political club with a ballot line,” he said. “We’re really a third party.”
He is equally dismissive of fellow long-shot gubernatorial candidate and former Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner, whose run is supported by the center-right Serve America Movement line.
“(They think) they can do the military corporate agenda better than the incompetent Republicans,” Mr. Hawkins said.
If Mr. Hawkins is, as he expects to be, the last progressive candidate running, he hopes to finish well enough to have a say going forward. If he cannot win, he would like to come in second or third — to which candidate, he does not particularly care — doing well enough that the Greens cannot be cut out of the conversation.
But again, that is not to say he does not want to win.
“On the big issues — climate, inequality, rent — the Greens should be elected,” he said.