Supporters aim to make Downtown ‘Dean country’


By Lincoln Anderson

Volume 73, Number 37 | January 14 – 20, 2004

Progressives aim to make Downtown ‘Dean country’

With the Democratic presidential primaries set to start on Monday, Downtown supporters of Howard Dean gathered last Sunday night in the West Village to strategize on how to insure their front-running candidate wins the nomination.

The Iowa caucuses are 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, Missouri, North Dakota, Delaware and Oklahoma. On March 2, New York and California will be among 10 states in another “super” primary day.

While some are of the opinion the race may be over by February, with Dean as the winner, 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 battling each other for Iowa. However, retired General Wesley Clark, who is passing on the Iowa caucuses, is coming on fast and is a threat.

Geto said the 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 campaign is focusing its efforts, 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. and sponsored by Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, 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, the 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 keynote speaker Rep. Jerrold Nadler. “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. If you look at the base, they look a lot like the voters who [Sen. John] McCain was getting four years ago — independents, swing voters.

“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 after March, when 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, who opposed the war in Iraq, will help repair America’s international image by being “someone who will take this country back in the right direction,” the congressman said. “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 endorse 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 as governor 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 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. Charles Rangel’s endorsement of Clark.

“I look at the Dean campaign like the Jesse Jackson Rainbow Coalition. He changed the party locally and nationally,” Perkins said of Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and ’88. “Dean’s basically creating a similar phenomenon among hundreds of thousands of people who were never involved in electoral politics.”

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.

And Rachel Lavine, the Village’s Democratic state committeewoman, is heading to Iowa as part of the Rainbow Brigade, to lobby for Dean.

“Dean’s passion, authenticity of message and belief in the political process is echoed in Downtown Manhattan,” Lavine said.

State Senator Tom Duane 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 and State Senator Martin Connor.

Hoylman agreed that Dean’s progressive values resonate Downtown.

“He’s the most progressive Democratic presidential candidate in a long time,” Hoylman said. But what about the national security question, he was asked. “He’s not the first president to not have foreign policy experience,” Hoylman responded, 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.”

Pointing to Dean’s grassroots strength, Rocky Chin, a former candidate for City Council in the 1st District, said that when they 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 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.

Also attending the meeting were Cynthia Smith, a candidate for Village Democratic district leader in September; District Leaders Tim Gay and Carlos Manzano, from Chelsea and Clinton, respectively; and former Village District Leader Tony Hoffmann.

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.”