New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) survived a challenge for the Democratic primary on Sept. 9 and is likely on the way to a second term. Despite Cuomo’s victory, the primary election revealed that the Governor is increasingly vulnerable to progressive challenges. Cuomo’s vulnerability is an opportunity to seek out third party candidates willing to combat the corruption so endemic to New York state politics.
Although Cuomo outspent his Democratic opponents by nearly 40 to 1, the governor managed to obtain just 62 percent of the votes in the primary. This is a poor performance for an incumbent with strong name recognition. His opponents, Zephyr Teachout and Randy Credico, mounted progressive campaigns that attacked Gov. Cuomo for cutting public school funding, for failing to pass the Fair Elections Act, for refusing to ban fracking and for his role in obstructing the Moreland Commission on public corruption.
It is important to note that removing corporate money from politics and reducing corruption are not strictly Democratic or Republican issues. Even with widespread support for such initiatives, Gov. Cuomo failed to deliver meaningfully on either. Republican candidate Rob Astorino also fails to address these resonant issues in his platform, which is strikingly similar to Gov. Cuomo’s.
However, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins is committed to these issues, and to growing the New York economy in concrete, creative ways. Hawkins has been working to build an independent progressive third party since 1968, and he is a co-founder of the Green Party of the United States. Since 2006, he’s run as a Green Party candidate for various New York state and federal government offices.
In 2010, Hawkins ran for governor and earned nearly 60,000 votes, a significant amount for a third party candidate and enough to guarantee the Green Party a spot on the ballot in the upcoming 2014 elections. The growing dissatisfaction with Gov. Cuomo’s policies among voters has significantly bolstered Hawkins’ polling numbers. A Siena College poll recently found Hawkins polling at 12 percent in the upstate 19th and 21st Congressional Districts. Statewide polls predict that Hawkins could receive between 5 and 10 percent of the total vote. Any of these numbers is a massive improvement over the 1 percent he received in 2010, and his popularity suggests an increasing openness among New Yorkers towards new, bold ideas.
Hawkins’ campaign includes a drive toward economic democracy and a Green New Deal. He wants to launch a massive infrastructure project to revitalize New York’s infrastructure by becoming completely fossil fuel-free by 2030. He wants to fund these projects by restoring the progressive tax structure that New York had in the 1970s, which would give 95 percent of New Yorkers a tax break and allow local governments to reduce local property taxes. Perhaps most ambitiously, he wants to start a New York state bank. This idea is modeled after North Dakota’s state bank, which is partially responsible for having the lowest unemployment rate in the country. More affordable access to credit would directly benefit students who utilize state public aid to help cover the costs of education.
Hawkins’ vision for public education goes far beyond simply offering low-interest loans to students. Gov. Cuomo has consistently cut state funding for public schools and universities and transferred the costs of operating schools to local property owners by raising taxes and increasing tuition for college students. Meanwhile, Hawkins’ running mate for Lieutenant Governor, Brian Jones, an experienced New York City public school teacher, supports fully funding public schools from Pre-K through college. Hawkins’ platform specifically advocates tuition-free SUNY and CUNY schools.
By rejecting corporate money and funding his campaign solely with the help of small individual donations, Hawkins holds himself fully accountable to the middle- and working-class people of New York. If you are tired of a New York state funded on the backs of working people and of SUNY schools that continually raise tuition and cut student services, Howie Hawkins is a viable option to consider before entering the voting booth this fall.