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Syracuse New Times
Excerpts from this questionnaire were published in the Syracuse New Times on October 24, 2018.
You’re running for Governor, which is a real long shot. Why not run for the Fourth Council District, which you almost won?
I’ve run for Fourth District Councilor four times, receiving as high as 48% of the vote. But this year we have state and federal elections and the Green Party asked me to run for governor.
It’s not a long shot to win more reforms. Our campaign slogan is Demand More! In 2014, the 5% I received were votes Cuomo wanted. He couldn’t take us for granted. He had wanted to roll up his vote to get more than his father ever got and lay the basis a run for president. Instead, he got a lower percentage that he got in 2010.
So he looked at what we were demanding and moved our way. We got the ban on fracking and paid family leave.
He claims he enacted the $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public college. In fact, the upstate minimum wage is now $10.40, goes to $12.50 in 2021, and then they will study it again. It’s still a poverty wage.
His Excelsior Scholarship is not tuition-free SUNY and CUNY. Only 3% of SUNY and 2% of CUNY students were able to qualify, mostly because you have to go full time. Most working-class students have to go part-time so they can work to pay the rent and support their families. It’s just another limited scholarship, not free public college.
But our 5% forced Cuomo to act. Being a corporate Democrat, he talks to the left and governs to the right. So we want another sizable vote to push our demands further.
That’s why we are running. To give people a way to vote for what they want and make the politicians come to them. Besides a living-wage minimum wage and real tuition-free public college, we can win a number of reforms time, including the New York Health Act for universal single-payer health care, the New York Off Fossil Fuels Act for 100% clean energy by 2030, marijuana legalization, and public campaign financing.
As Governor, using Syracuse as a model, how would you deal with the issue of poverty?
People are poor because they don’t have enough money. The working poor have low wages. The poor who are too young, old, disabled, sick, injured, or caring for family members to work or work full-time don’t get enough public assistance. The real estate industry segregates the poor and minorities in order to exploit them with high rents for crappy housing in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty while they profit selling new homes in affluent communities to the white middle-class fight their racist real estate practices promote.
So the answers are clear. Raise wages and public assistance. Enforce laws against discrimination and segregation. Rebuild the housing, infrastructure, and businesses in poor neighborhoods.
Instead, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, make poverty a big mystery. They blame the poor for being poor. The create so-called anti-poverty programs that pay professional middle-class people to supposedly educate, train, and counsel the poor on how to behave. The professionals get paid and the poor stay poor because wages remain low, there are not enough good jobs, and the rent is too damn high.
The New Deal programs in the 1930s provided real jobs, homes, and resources to poor people, albeit mostly for white people because those laws and programs excluded farmworkers and domestics which were the jobs blacks and other people of color mostly had. Since the Great Society in the 1960s, the anti-poverty programs have focused on education and job training for jobs that aren’t there. Public assistance has increasingly required full-time job searching and work for poverty wages that keep people poor. High-stakes testing replaced integration as the school reform program, resulting in increased segregation and a growing funding gap between affluent and high-poverty school districts. And they wonder why there is inter-generational poverty.
The only way Syracuse serves as a model is that it is a model case of discrimination and segregation that created the most concentrated black and latino poverty, and the fifth most concentrated white poverty, of any metro region in the nation. Tax-exempt university, hospital, and government institutions provide the good-paying jobs for suburban commuters while the poor working class in the city is stuck with the property tax bill for a city that can’t afford to provide proper services to its residents.
So I would deal with poverty by raising the minimum wage to $20 by 2020 and indexing it to inflation and productivity. I would enforce anti-discrimination laws affecting employment, education, and housing. I would expand public housing until there is enough affordable housing for all. I would desegregate housing by opening up public housing to all, not just the poor, with rents based on ability to pay. I would desegregate schools by encouraging districts to consolidate across the race and class divide and use controlled choice to integrate schools where family school preferences are combined with family income in school assignments to make all schools economically integrated.
I would increase public investment in public assets, from public schools and clean energy to public housing and transit. That will create good jobs and working class spending power, which will require private businesses to expand and hire to meet the increased demand. I would also have the state pay for its unfunded mandates on local governments and restore state revenue sharing with local governments, which was 8% of state revenues in the 1970s and is down to 4/10ths of 1% today. Then cities like Syracuse would have the funds they need to properly serve their residents without jacking up property taxes through the roof.
What about health care? Is the goal free health care for everybody?
Yes, free at the point of delivery through universal single-payer public health care. We pay for it through progressive taxes that will be less for 98% of us than we now pay in taxes for Medicare and Medicaid and for private insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket fees for uncovered services. It would cover all medically necessary services for all New York residents.
It’s called the New York Health Act. It has passed the state Assembly four consecutive years and is one vote short in the state Senate. I am the only candidate for governor on the November ballot who will sign the bill when it passes.
Word is New York is the most corrupt state in the union. How corrupt is it?
New York is more corrupt today than when George Washington Plunkitt, the Gilded Age state Senator from Tammany Hall, defended his pay-to-play patronage machine funded by the Robber Barons of his day as “honest graft.”
Now the big donors and the politicians they buy aren’t satisfied with the legalized bribery of big campaign donations in return for contracts, tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory favors. Now they are engaged open illegality – bid-rigging, bribery, kickbacks, embezzlement, and straw-donor scams. Over 50 state officials have been driven from office for crimes and ethics violations since 2000. This year we’ve seen the Speaker of the Assembly, the Leader of the Senate, two of Cuomo’s closest aides, and a bunch of lesser known politicians, political operatives, and state contractors convicted for public corruption. Cuomo ran in 2010 on the slogan “Clean Up Albany.” That obviously didn’t happen.
We need public campaign finance, independent ethics oversight in place of the politician-appointed Joint Commission of Public Ethics, and a new Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. We need a full-time legislature with limits on outside income and term limits of two 4-year terms for state executive offices and six 2-year terms for state legislators.
With such extensive diversity, Is it possible to set standards for education in this state?
Standardized texts are inherently class- and culturally-biased, even the math tests. A teacher told me recently about a really good math student who wasn’t able to figure out a math problem because it was about determining the area of a patio. The kid lived in a trailer park. He knew the math. He just didn’t live in an environment where he would know what a patio was.
The state should call off its high-stakes testing scam. It’s about business, not education. Lots of lucrative contracts for test writing and computerized test technology companies. The tests are not used for educational purposes to help the teachers and students. They are used to rank the teachers, students, and schools, blame the teachers instead of high poverty for predictably low scoring schools, and then privatize high-poverty schools into charter schools where investors can write off 39% of their investments in charters every year while collecting interest and doubling their money in seven years. It’s a raid on public school budgets and an attack on unionized teachers.
Progressive education reform would fund all public schools adequately and equitably. It would desegregate them by race and class. It would let the teachers teach instead of narrowing the curriculum to teaching to the high-stakes test. It would let the teachers write their own tests for educational purposes. It would let the teachers evaluate each others’ performance through peer reviews, like other professions, instead of by their students’ standardized test scores.
Are you progressive?
Yes. I’m a democratic socialist. We can’t have real political democracy without the economic democracy of social ownership of the major means of production. That means public enterprises like public housing, schools, and utilities need elected boards, not appointed boards. It means expanding cooperatives in the private sector where the member-owners benefit and share in the net income in proportion to their contribution instead of having the profits siphoned out to absentee owners.
Capitalism concentrates income, wealth, and power. In New York, the share of income going to the top 1% has grown from 12% in 1980 to 31% last year. That concentrated economic power translates into concentrated political power. Our government responds to the campaign donors more than the voters.
If we are going to have responsive democratic government, liberal regulation of capitalism won’t work. Big business uses its economic power to regulate the regulators. Progressives need to become socialists for system change if we are going to implement real solutions to the problems we face, from poverty, crumbling infrastructure, crappy health insurance, and price-gouging cable companies to the climate emergency.
What is the Upstate/Downstate conflict?
A dirty bourgeois trick. It’s a divide and conquer strategy promoted by capitalists and their paid-for representatives in both major parties.
Working people all over the state face the same problems. Our wages are stagnant wages while the rent, health care, college, property taxes, and other costs of living keep rising. Infrastructure is crumbling. The schools are cutting back on music, sports, literature, history, civics, and science – everything but standardized test prep. 40% of children in Syracuse and Buffalo are being disabled by lead poisoning. The climate crisis accelerates.
The politicians can’t even solve the simple problem of finding one day for federal, state, and local primaries. So upstate politicians blame downstate and downstate politicians blame upstate. Anybody but themselves. It’s time for working people to start electing their own people independently of the two-party system of corporate rule.