Howie Hawkins had a sort of thousand-yard stare last week during an interview about his third run as the Green Party candidate for governor of New York.
The stare came as he listed the issues he believes he alone carries into the general election: full public campaign financing. Expanded rent control. A big boost in public housing, built to a “human scale.” A Green New Deal featuring clean jobs and infrastructure. One hundred percent clean energy in the state by 2030.
The thousand-yard stare might come from the fact that Hawkins is a minor party candidate in Democrat-friendly New York who hopes to get 5 percent “plus” of the vote.
But it was hard to shake the feeling that the stare also came from the fact that Hawkins is brimming with ideas he thinks would make New York better, and he knows that many will have to wait for some future election.
Hawkins, 65, is one of the original founders of the national Green Party in the 1980s. He has been focused on environmental policies for decades — he says he never graduated from Dartmouth thanks to his failures at a language requirement. One reason: he was too busy protesting nuclear energy at the Seabrook Station plant in New Hampshire.
In the years since, he has become well-versed in climate and labor politics, and these issues aren’t abstract or political for him. He says he enlisted in the Marines but was never called to active service, and he later made a living as a construction worker, organizer, and UPS truck unloader. That was a Teamsters job he just retired from in Syracuse, though he’s planning to pick up some post office shifts for the holidays if he doesn’t win the governor’s mansion.
His political life out of elected politics is a far cry from the carefully tailored images and long careers of Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the candidates who will likely get the lion’s share of the vote next week.
But pause a moment to consider Hawkins’ place in the race. Some voters may think the words “Jill Stein” and move elsewhere on the ballot, but Hawkins believes that independent third-party candidates don’t spoil elections. They can improve them — forcing Democrats to sharpen their ideas, perhaps even pulling them left, drawing them in sharper contrast to the GOP.
Hawkins contends that the Green Party’s focus on climate change, a $15 minimum wage, and a ban on fracking has made a difference, encouraging Democrats at large to adopt elements of all three.
That includes Cuomo, who raised the minimum wage and has come down against fracking and supports the state moving to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Hawkins thinks we need to go further. “It’s inadequate to the problem,” he says of the longer term climate plan.
Read the bleak October report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and that may not sound crazy. That document talks about bad food shortages and mass coral reef die-offs by 2040, not a distant future.
Why shouldn’t New York be trying everything? Hawkins wants the state to be a laboratory for climate and climate-job policies that can be replicated elsewhere — large-scale stuff that goes beyond buying green and recycling. “We’re not going to shop our way out of the environmental crisis,” he says.
In his last bid for governor, he well-exceeded the 50,000 votes necessary to grant Greens an automatic line on the ballot this time around. The time before that, he also crested that boundary after being part of a wild debate that included Jimmy “The Rent Is Too Damn High” McMillan and Kristin Davis, the “Manhattan Madam.”
Cuomo has refused to do a debate with all gubernatorial candidates this time around and doesn’t appear likely to change his mind. Hawkins said he ran into Cuomo backstage at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, and when Hawkins said he looked forward to debates with the incumbent, Cuomo said, “Are you going to organize them?” Then the governor left.
“There is a block of about 200,000 disgruntled progressive voters out there statewide. Maybe as high as 250,000,” estimates Democratic political consultant Bruce Gyory. Gyory, who is not retained by any of the gubernatorial candidates, thought Hawkins could get a chunk of those voters this year, once again.
Not enough to win but perhaps enough to keep the Greens around as a laboratory of left-leaning ideas. Maybe a non-Hawkins candidate will even pick up the mantle. That would be fine with Hawkins. “The door’s open,” he said.