Dean leading in Downtown politicos’ support


By Lincoln Anderson

With the Democratic presidential contests set to start on Monday, Downtown supporters of Howard Dean gathered last Sunday night in the West Village at a meeting of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats to strategize on how to insure their front-running candidate becomes the eventual nominee.

The Iowa caucus is set for Mon., Jan. 19. The New Hampshire primary will be Tues., Jan. 27. So-called “Super Tuesday” is slated for Feb. 3, when there will be primaries in South Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona, North Dakota, Delaware and Oklahoma. On March 2, New York and California are the biggest states holding primaries.

While some are of the opinion that Dean will emerge the winner and the race may be over in February, Ethan Geto, Dean’s New York State campaign manager, cautioned that may be too early.

“We’re probably going to have the decisive stand in New York State,” said Ethan Geto. Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt are leading in the Iowa polls. However, Retired General Wesley Clark, who is not competing in the Iowa caucus, has been rising in New Hampshire and national polls.

Geto said the campaign’s main fear is that Clark has a strong second-place showing in New Hampshire, and “becomes the story,” even if Dean, as projected by polls, wins the primary there. To prevent that, Dean needs a huge victory in New Hampshire, which is where the focus is being placed, Geto said.

“If Clark beats [Sen. John] Kerry in new Hampshire and the point spread between Dean and Clark is not huge, then the big story out of New Hampshire would be ‘Clark beats Kerry in New Hampshire,’ ” Geto said. “We’re really trying to hold down Clark’s growth in New Hampshire. That is why we’re trying to send as many New Yorkers up to New Hampshire each weekend as possible [to canvas voters],” he added.

The meeting, held at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on W. 13th St., drew about 50 people and pulled together local politicians who came out early in support of the former Vermont governor, as well as newcomers who have never been involved in politics before but have been energized by Dean’s message.

To rev up the supporters, politicians took turn touting Dean and his positions on the issues, contrasting them to the president, as well as the other Democratic contenders.

“Why Howard Dean? You know why. He’s the only candidate who’s been straight on the war with Iraq,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the keynote speaker. “He’s the one candidate who’s been straight on repealing the Bush tax cut…. He’s the only one who’s exciting the base.”

Nadler, whose district includes Lower Manhattan, appeared to be exaggerating Dean’s uniqueness. U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is the only candidate in the race to have voted against the Congressional resolution authorizing war with Iraq. Like Dean and Kucinich, Rev. Al Sharpton also has maintained his opposition to the war. On the Bush tax cuts, Gephardt, like Dean, favors repealing all of them including those benefiting low and middle-income people.

“People say, ‘Can he win the election?’ ” Nadler continued, adding Dean, as the best fundraiser so far, will be able to keep pace with Bush from March after the Democrats have expended their money in the primaries, until August when public matching funds become available.

“When 59 percent of Europeans say the United States is the main threat to world peace, something’s wrong,” Nadler said. Dean, on the other hand, will help repair America’s international image by being “someone who will take this country back in the right direction,” said Nadler. “So we can be proud to be Americans abroad and not have to slink away.”

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried noted he was the first elected official in New York State to endrose Dean.

“Howard Dean has the ability to express a progressive agenda in clear terms to voters who would not normally consider themselves progressive,” Gottfried said. “That’s why he has gotten the fantastic grassroots support that he has.”

The chairperson of the Assembly’s Health Committee, Gottfried said Dean was a governor who was “willing to take on special interests,” adding he often found himself looking to Vermont as a model on health coverage. By contrast, Gottfried said, he was deeply disappointed that Gov. George Pataki has refused to enroll several hundred thousand children in New York State who are eligible for the Child Healthcare Plus program.

Councilmember Christine Quinn, whose district stretches down to Canal St., noted that Bush has “massively shortchanged” New York on funds to address the post-9/11 economic impact.

Also attending the “Downtown for Dean” meeting was Councilmember Bill Perkins, from Harlem, a Quinn ally.

“They love Dean Uptown,” Perkins said, noting the 15th Congressional District collected more signatures for Dean than any district in the state — despite Rep. Charlie Rangel’s endorsement of Clark.

Brad Hoylman, GLID’s president, said on Sat., Jan. 24, GLID will send a bus or van up to New Hampshire with club members and others to canvas voters in Concord the weekend before the primary.

State Senator Tom Duane, who represents parts of Lower Manhattan, announced Dean’s Downtown campaign office will be set up at Bank and Hudson Sts., across from Bleecker Playground.

“We’re going to make Downtown overwhelmingly Dean territory,” Duane said.

The Dean supporters want to hear from other local politicians who haven’t endorsed yet, including Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Councilmembers Margarita Lopez and Alan Gerson, State Senator Martin Connor.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has endorsed Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Hoylman, who ran unsuccessfully against Gerson in 2001, agreed that Dean’s progressive values reflect those of Downtown.

“He’s the most progressive Democratic presidential candidate in a long time,” Hoylman said. “He’s not the first president to not have foreign policy experience,” noting Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan all lacked foreign policy experience before becoming president. “He’ll assemble a strong foreign policy team to advise him,” Hoylman said. “The most important thing is that he speaks clearly, directly to voters. He’s a real person who speaks his mind, who isn’t overly controlled by handlers.”

Rocky Chin, who also lost to Gerson in 2001, said that when he and other supporters were collecting petition signatures on the Lower East Side to put Dean on the New York primary ballot, they never ran into anyone else on the street from any of the other campaigns.

“I think Dean is the candidate who — contrary to what people say — has the best chance to beat Bush and help expand the electorate,” said Chin.

Among those in the audience who had never attended a political meeting before was Erik Aronesty, 32, of Soho, who has an Internet company. He was attracted by Dean’s Internet fundraising.

“I figured, he’s getting his money from the people, not from corporations,” Aronesty said, “and he’s going to remember who paid him.”


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