Third Party Candidates Offer Disenchanted Voters Alternatives to Clinton and Trump
By Mary Reinholz
First published in The Villager in New York City
In this season of searing electoral discontent with Donald Trump, the trash talking Republican nominee for president, and Hillary Clinton, his hawkish FBI scrutinized Democratic rival, it’s hardly surprising that increasingly fed up voters are considering Third Party challengers campaigning to occupy the Oval Office.
The most visible contenders are Green Party standard bearer Jill Stein of Massachusetts, a Harvard educated physician turned leftie revolutionary who, for starters, seeks to create millions of jobs by 2030 through clean renewable energy and advocates eliminating college student debt; and Gary Johnson, a former two-term pot smoking Republican governor of New Mexico who is at the top of the Libertarian Party’s ticket. Johnson, 63, is fiscally conservative but opposes the death penalty and supports same sex marriages and legalizing marijuana.
Excluded from the presidential debates and lacking significant exposure by the media, Stein and Johnson were overwhelmingly defeated in 2012 when they first ran, with Stein getting a minuscule 0.3 percent of the popular vote and Johnson barely 1 percent Both are now gaining more traction because of the high negatives of Clinton and Trump, especially Johnson, who has been polling at ten percent and higher in match ups with the two major party candidates.
Over the weekend, Johnson claimed that he could win the presidency if he qualifies for the first presidential debate later this month.
“If we’re in that presidential debate, I think, anything is possible. And given the momentum that we have, I think it’s possible that I will be the next president,” Johnson said in an interview published by the Detroit News on Aug. 26. “I know that just sounds crazy, but we would not be doing this if we didn’t think that. that possibility exists.”
Critics complain that Johnson and Stein are simply spoilers in the race. Stein, 66, who’s been polling on an average of about 5 percent, has taken heat on the stump for supposedly acting like Ralph Nader, the iconic consumer advocate who ran for president in 2000 on the Green Party ticket and arguably siphoned away votes from Democrat Al Gore in Florida and New Hampshire, causing him to lose the election to George W. Bush.
At a recent CNN Town Hall, an audience member asked Stein if she could “sleep at nights” if her campaign “brought in Trump” to the White House like Nader allegedly “brought in Bush.” The slim silver-haired Stein responded quickly and calmly.
“I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected,” she said.” I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected. And as despicable as Donald Trump’s words are, I find Hillary Clinton’s actions and track record very troubling,” added Stein as she sat alongside her running mate Ajamu Baraka, a human rights advocate and fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies who’s controversial in his own right.
Several prominent lefties I interviewed seemed unconcerned that their third party votes might help the now faltering Trump get elected, claiming they could vote their conscience with comfort in blue “safe” states like New York where Clinton is regarded by many as a shoo-in.
“Hillary, I think, has New York sewed up,” opined legendary East Village pacifist and democratic socialist David McReynolds who ran two unsuccessful campaigns for president on the Socialist Party USA ticket (1980 and 2000) and campaigned once for U.S. Senate under the Green Party banner against Democratic incumbent Chuck Schumer in 2004.
McReynolds, 86, says he won’t vote for Clinton because he considers her “the war candidate. She has a terrible record. She got us into Libya. She voted for the war in Iraq. She is dangerous on foreign policy.” As for Trump, he described the Manhattan billionaire as “unstable and should not be in the White House under any circumstance.”
Jill Stein might get McReynolds’ vote as a “symbolic” gesture even though he believes she “doesn’t have a ghost of chance”–only the opportunity to build a progressive movement. But he believes Gary Johnson has a shot at the world’s most powerful job–if, that is, he reaches 15 percent in five separate selected polls by the two parties, the threshold for admission to the aforementioned presidential debate. Only Texas billionaire Ross Perot qualified for the first of the 1992 presidential debates, becoming the first third party candidate to do so.
The first of the three debates this year is scheduled for September 26 at Hofstra University in Long Island. It’s hosted by the privately run Commission on Presidential Debates which both Johnson and Stein sued unsuccessfully in a Washington, D.C. Federal Court last September, arguing their exclusion in 2012 violated the First Amendment and anti-trust laws. Both are appealing the Aug. 5. decision dismissing their case.
McReynolds, retired globetrotting national secretary for the War Resisters League, seems impressed by Johnson and his running mate William Weld, the former two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts (who endorsed President Obama in 2008). He, called them “solid people who are good on war and civil liberties.” He predicts they will garner “lots of Republican votes” from people turned off by Trump.
Long time yippie activist Aron (“the Pie Man”) Kay, once McReynolds’ East Village neighbor who now lives in Brooklyn, has similar views. Kay, a registered Green, said he’d “probably” vote for Stein whom he “associates with good causes.” But he also had nice things to say about Johnson.
Five years ago, he said, Kay met Johnson when he was visiting the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park. He said Johnson spoke a year later about his drug policies at 9 Bleecker Street, site of the now defunct Yippie museum and hangout in Noho. Kay called the libertarians “an interesting bunch. My problem with them is that they don’t say much about poor people or how they would help them with food stamps and health care.”
Indeed, some folks on the Left fear that a president Gary Johnson would cut Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements. Johnson, however, has said he would save the “social safety net” but push for increasing the retirement age to 70 or 72 and privatize some portions, if not all, of Social Security benefits.
Left wing anarchist Bill Weinberg, editor of the radical online World War 4 Report and an occasional contributor to The Villager, claims that Johnson would be “ideologically opposed” to rent regulations in New York “along with all labor and environmental standards. No thank you,” he wrote about Johnson’s campaign in an email to this reporter.
Weinberg said he’s “pretty sure” he will be voting for Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8 because he wants to see Trump (whom he refers to as Pendejo, Spanish for stupid and other more colorful epithets) strongly repudiated in New York on election day.
“I’m not sure I buy the conventional wisdom that New York state is ‘safe.’ Pendejo (I refuse to say his name) has more of an authentic hometown advantage here than Hillary does, and remember that New York went for Reagan in ’84,” he said.
Furthermore, Weinberg sees no Third Party candidate worth supporting. He said Jill Stein went to Moscow “and broke bread with Putin as his bombs were falling on civilians in Syria and issued not a peep of protest over this.”
Weinberg characterized Stein’s running mate Ajamu Baraka as “an enthusiastic supporter of the Bashar Assad dictatorship, which is now escalating to genocide its war on the Syrian people. The Green Party will never have my support until they do a complete 180 on this question, and I see no sign of that happening,” he said.
Brooklyn Green Mitchel Cohen, a writer, activist and former chair of the WBAI-FM local board, strongly disagreed with Weinberg’s attacks on his party “No, I do not support Assad,” he said in an email exchange with this reporter. “Nor does the Green Party ‘support Assad’–who, by the way, is the elected president of Syria. The Green Party opposes U.S. bombing, troops, military and financial intervention in Syria. That anyone choose to portray opposition to U.S. militarism as ‘supporting Assad’ is nonsense.”
Gloria Mattera, Stein’s campaign manager and co-chair of the New York State Green Party, said she didn’t think the campaign had “ever made a statement supporting Assad. These are very complicated issues.” she said in interviews.
Stein, Mattera said, is “getting a lot of support from millennials” who had been inspired by Bernie Sanders (90 percent of whom will vote for Clinton, according to a Pew Research poll). Mattera herself appears to be disappointed in Sanders (who endorsed Clinton and plans to campaign for her on Labor Day, according to the New Hampshire AFL-CIO which announced that the Vermont senator would speak at its Labor Day breakfast Monday in Manchester.)
“I’m not interested in Bernie Sanders,” Mattera said during a lunch break from her day job at Bellevue Hospital as director of Child Life and Developmental Services. “He capitulated to the Democratic Party. But Bernie was an inspiration in changing the political discourse even though he sided with the status quo,” added Mattera, who ran for lieutenant governor of New York with Teamster Howie Hawkins at the top of the Green ticket in 2010. “Our feeling is that it’s hard to start a revolution in a counter revolutionary party. The Democrat Party has become a corporate party.”
Sanders did not respond to Stein’s call for him to head the Green Party ticket after he lost to Clinton in the Democratic primaries. The Greens, meanwhile, continue to push their message. Mattera said the Stein ticket is on about 35 state ballots and could reach “45 to 47″ in the weeks ahead. In a press release, she stated: “The enthusiasm for and success of our petition drives is proof that everyday Americans want more options on the ballot. It is time for us to demand open debates, not a rigged one sponsored by a commission controlled by the two major parties. Any candidate on the ballot in enough states to win the election needs to be in the debates.”
Brooklyn artist and activist Robin Laverne “Dragonfly” Wilson is the Green Party of New York’s candidate for U.S. Senate challenging Democratic incumbent Chuck Schumer. Her other rivals are conservative/Republican Wendy Long and Alex Merced, the state Libertarian Party’s Latino nominee. The Libertarians say they are on track to be on the ballots in all 50 states.
Merced, 31, spoke to The Villager at the Ukrainian East Village restaurant on 140 Second Avenue where the Manhattan Libertarians hold monthly Tuesday evening meetings. It’s also the same spot near E. 9th Street that hosted the party’ state convention April 30.
Merced, a self-described hipster tech geek from Brooklyn who helps train people seeking licenses in the financial district, said he and his team gathered 32,000 signatures for him get on the state ballot — more than twice the 15,000 signatures required. The signatures were submitted to the State Board of elections in Albany on Aug. 2.
“It shows the strong support for a third party candidacy,” he said, noting he hopes to appeal to both disaffected Republicans and supporters of Bernie Sanders.
His views? Merced, who ran unsuccessfully for New York City public advocate in 2013, said his were similar to those of Gary Johnson. “We both want to legalize marijuana and I want to end the war on drugs. I’m against wars of intervention,” he added, noting he also supports same sex marriage. “Chuck Schumer voted for the war in Iraq and for the Defense of Marriage Act.”
He didn’t appear to be awed by the competition.