Reflections on the 2014 Governor’s race
by Howie Hawkins, Green Party of New York State
Our statewide Green campaigns in New York did not end with the election. The campaign was about changing the politics and policies of New York State. The election was just one event in a process and we continue to pursue our campaign goals after the election.
We set out four goals in our campaign plan early in 2014.
1. Retain the Green Party ballot line in New York for another four years. This first goal required receiving at least 50,000 votes. We were confident from the outset that we would achieve this. The first poll in June confirmed our confidence when it reported we had four percent support, which would be about 200,000 votes (assuming a turnout of 5 million). We rose steadily over the summer to 6 percent and peaked at 9 percent in October. On Election Day we received 184,419 votes and have the ballot line for the next four years.
The Green vote moved us up the ballot from the sixth to the fourth line, jumping over the Working Families (WFP) and Independence parties. The Democrats, Republicans, and Conservatives retained the first, second, and third lines respectively. New York now has eight ballot lines, but only three real parties—Democratic, Republican, and Green. The Green Party in New York does not cross-endorse the candidates of the other ballot line parties in New York, which are all either one of the corporate-sponsored parties or one of their satellites who don’t run any candidates of their own.
The Green vote was the only vote to grow substantially in 2014, tripling in number and quadrupling in percentage over the Green vote in 2010. The Republican, Conservative, Independence and Working Families Parties all pretty much maintained their voter base. But Cuomo and the Democrats lost nearly a million votes from 2010, accounting for basically all of the reduction in turnout from 4.8 million to 3.8 million. The future of the Green vote is with those million disaffected voters, plus the other 6 million alienated voters who stayed home in both 2010 and 2014. These are primarily working class people who felt neither party cares about them, so they don’t vote. The significant growth in the Green vote in 2014 enabled us to reach our second goal.
2. Win five percent to establish the Green Party as the independent left in New York politics. We set a high vote goal of five percent and 250,000 votes (assuming a turnout of 5 million) as within our reach if we ran a strong campaign. That would make our campaign as successful as any independent progressive gubernatorial run in New York history, just short of the percentages the Socialists won in 1918 (5.7 percent) and 1920 (5.6 percent) and surpassing the biggest vote total (221,996 for the American Labor Party candidate in 1950). We hoped that a vote on that scale would change New York politics by making the Green Party a viable left alternative in the eyes of the public and the media.
Having received 185,419 votes, we basically achieved our percentage goal (5%), but with voter turnout the lowest since the war year of 1942, we were short on the vote total.
The dynamics were a perfect storm for a progressive third party insurgency like our Green Party campaign. Governor Andrew Cuomo had campaigned in 2010 to clean up the notoriously corrupt state government in Albany. But the indictments of corrupt legislators kept coming. Then he abruptly shut down his commission on public corruption when it began asking questions about his big donors. Also Cuomo waffled on the big environmental question: a fracking ban. Cuomo’s Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, ran on even harsher public austerity and opening New York to fracking.
We received 50 percent more votes than Working Families Party. We are the independent voice of the left, not, like WFP, another voice for liberal Democrats.
Enormous space existed on the left for a Green Party ticket that campaigned on the policies that polling showed majorities of New Yorkers support. We called for a Green New Deal, basically an Economic Bill of Rights plus 100 percent Clean Energy by 2030. We wanted to ban fracking and build a 100 percent green system to fight climate change, create millions of jobs, and cut energy costs by more than half by the 2020s. We called for public jobs for the unemployed, a $15 minimum wage, single-payer health care, stronger rent control, more public housing, fully-funded public schools, an end to high-stakes testing linked to Common Core education, and more progressive tax and revenue sharing to pay for state mandates on fiscally distressed local governments and for the Green New Deal.
The Green statewide ticket was a rainbow ticket that could help us reach these potential Green voters. Brian Jones for Lieutenant Governor is an African American schoolteacher and socialist well known in the fights against the public school privatization and closings. Theresa Portelli for Comptroller is a 40-year civil servant in juvenile justice and child welfare (receiving 97,706 votes). Ramon Jimenez is a Harvard-educated Puerto Rican lawyer with 40 years experience litigating labor, tenant, and criminal justice cases for people in his South Bronx neighborhood (receiving 80,813 votes).
As our poll numbers hit nine percent in three late statewide polls and double digits in many polls conducted in particular congressional and state senate districts, we were hoping for double digits statewide on Election Day. But many of the voters leaning toward us went back to one of the major party candidates, deciding to cast a strategic vote for the lesser evil rather than for their most preferred ticket. Polling data suggested about two-thirds of these lesser evil voters voted for Cuomo and one-third for Astorino.
I heard in the closing days of the campaign apologies from voters who preferred the Green ticket but had decided to vote for a lesser evil to stop the greater evil. Some were afraid the Republican Astorino would be worse than even Cuomo had been on the economy, education, and environment. Others thought that only Astorino had a chance of beating Cuomo and they just wanted to throw the bum out. When I pointed out that Cuomo was 20 to 30 points ahead in the polls, most of these voters said they would vote Green. But most of the voters leaning Green were not informed about the polls. As the election got closer, they began to take counsel from their fears rather than their hopes.
3. Move the debate on key issues. This third goal included giving voice to movements and advancing the debate in the media and public consciousness to a range of policy goals, including the fracking ban, green energy, public jobs for the unemployed, $15 minimum wage, single-payer health care, public campaign finance, fully-funded schools, an end to high-stakes testing, an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration, and a progressive fiscal policy of tax reforms and revenue sharing.
Due to our strong stance and concrete proposals to address the real needs of the state, we had unprecedented support for a third party from local teachers unions and Democratic clubs.
During the campaign, we were able to get included in well over a thousand media stories. We did well in responding to the 24-hour news cycle with hundreds of media releases, statements, Tweets, Facebook posts, and email blasts. These often got us mention in daily news stories. It kept supporters we had in our database up to date about the campaign. Our timely responses probably would have been ignored if our poll numbers were as not high and growing for a third party.
While we were able to establish a foothold in the media narrative, we were not able to drive it. Progressive tax reform and revenue sharing was central to our progressive populist alternative to Cuomo’s austerity measures. But fiscal issues received little attention in media coverage and our proposals virtually none. Another issue we wanted to put front and center was remedies for the most segregated housing and schools by race and class of any state in the nation. The major parties won’t touch this issue because they are responsible for the housing, education, economic, and civil rights policies that led to hyper-segregation in New York State. On these and other issues, we failed to take the time to plan and execute events—such as demonstrations, civil disobedience, public forums—that would attract both the media and the movement activists concerned with these issues. We got too caught up in the grind of daily media responses and retail campaigning.
Due to our strong stance and concrete proposals to address the real needs of the state, we had unprecedented support for a third party from local teachers unions and Democratic clubs. Six local teachers unions, spanning the state from Buffalo to two locals on Long Island, endorsed our ticket in defiance of the statewide New York State United Teachers Federation, which endorsed no candidate. Six Democratic clubs in New York City endorsed the Green ticket over the Democrats. Endorsing outside the Democratic Party was a first for them.
In the fall, Cuomo focused on terrorism and Ebola; Astorino on fracking and tax cutting. We called for a Green New Deal. But it was terrorism, Ebola, and fracking that dominated the daily news cycle. Fracking is the issue where we had the most impact. In 2010, we had campaigned for a fracking ban at a time when the environmental movement was, at best, calling for a moratorium while the issue was studied, or, at worst, calling for fracking so natural gas could replace coal and be the bridge to the renewable energy future. Our 2010 demand for a fracking ban now resonated with the grassroots anti-fracking movement. In December after the election, surprisingly Governor Cuomo accepted the recommendation of his health and environmental conservation departments to ban fracking. Our Green gubernatorial campaigns deserve some of the credit for this victory.
Meanwhile, we are using the five percent of the vote we received to get in the news and public affairs broadcasts on the issues we raised in the campaign, which are now subject to the budget and state legislative session. We are focusing on stopping fossil fuel infrastructure projects and scaling up green energy, a $15 minimum wage, single-payer health care, fully-funded schools, beating back Cuomo’s school privatization agenda, and public campaign finance.
Our pitch to the media is that we, not the WFP, are the legitimate voice of the left in New York State. We received 50 percent more votes than WFP. We are the independent voice of the left, not, like WFP, another voice for liberal Democrats. Since the election, we have had better access to the media than ever, but WFP is still generally presented as “the left” in New York.
4. Build the Green Party membership and organization. What the WFP has that the Greens do not is financial resources and staffing, which enables them to respond quickly to the media and legislative developments. WFP has millions. The NY Greens have thousands. Our fourth campaign goal was to build the Green Party membership and organization so that we have the resources and organizational capacity to give effective voice and support for progressive movements in New York and to win more races for local, state, and federal office.
We quantified this goal with 1000 dues-paying members and 15 county organizations. We started the campaign with less than 100 dues-paying members and six county organizations. We understood that while we were asking supporters for campaign donations and to organize local campaign activities, the dues-paying member recruitment and county organizing would take place after the election. 1000 dues-paying members at $10 a month would support office, equipment, travel, materials and two-full time staff at $15 an hour plus health care.
Our campaign achieved a big jump in support over all the four previous gubernatorial runs since 1998. Yet it is sobering to consider that the perfect storm of being the only progressive alternative to both a conservative Democrat and Republican yielded just five percent of the vote. In this time of unprecedented economic inequalities and insecurities and pending climate catastrophe, we can take hope from the upsurge of the anti-austerity politics in the Turn to the Left in Latin America and this year’s meteoric rise of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and the Green Party in the UK.
Sooner or later, the upsurge will come here as well. The seven million mostly working class non-voters who are now alienated from politics in New York and America will come back. They are the Green Party’s future base if the Greens are going win the power needed to make the changes we want. The corporate center cannot hold. Sooner or later, the working class majority will be heard. The time to get organized, educated, and prepared for it is now.
Howie Hawkins’s second campaign for Governor of New York in 2014 received nearly 185,000 votes, giving the Greens ballot status for the third time. His successful campaign attracted unprecedented media attention, gained a spot in the governor’s debate, and received widespread endorsement from groups that had never before supported the Green Party. Hawkins is a founding member of the Green Party, has run for office dozens of times, including for U.S. senate, been active in shaping Green policy, and worked as an activist for Green values for most of his life.