by Ursula Rozum
November 17, 2013
Ursula Rozum is a guest columnist who writes monthly for syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. She ran for Congress on the Green Party line in 2012, is an officer in the local Green Party organization and managed Howie Hawkins’ campaign for Syracuse Common Council this year.
Another election has gone by and little has changed. The local power structure kept its people in office. The Democrats still hold every elected office in the city and the problems that have grown worse under their one-party rule remain the same – high poverty, high unemployment, low wages, high crime, abysmal graduation rates, municipal bankruptcy pending.
Given that the media hardly covered races for county and city offices and there were no mayoral debates after the Democratic primary, it is not surprising that voter turnout was a record low. Citywide, only about 21 percent of voters cast a ballot in the mayoral race. In Syracuse, the most energetic alternative to the political status quo this past election season came from the Green Party, which nonetheless failed to secure any electoral wins in Syracuse despite running three articulate and talented candidates.
The press and political commentators often point to voter enrollment as a deciding factor in whether a Green candidate is even a contender. In the city’s 4th District, there are about 100 registered Green voters, compared with more than 8,000 registered Democrats. Yet on Election Day, about 1,000 voters, 40 percent of the 4th District vote, intentionally sought out Howie Hawkins’ name on their ballot in the bottom right corner, the very last name on Row F, Column 19 – that’s 10 times the Green enrollment in that district. The winner, Khalid Bey, got about 1,500 votes – one-fifth of the Democratic enrollment. Put those ratios together and the Greens out-performed the Democrats by a factor of 50 in terms of party enrollment. Citywide, Kevin Bott’s 15 percent for mayor represents a 6 to 1 out-performance of our party’s enrollment citywide (2,305 votes, 480 Green enrolled).
While still not winning, the results are a positive indicator of people’s interest in new Green political ideas in a city where a voter once told me “I’d vote for a dog if it were a Democrat.”
Much has been made of the role of the Working Families Party (WFP) in the recent election cycle (“5 little lessons from the Syracuse elections”) particularly its role in helping to re-elect Councilor Bey.
In 2009, I worked for 10 days for WFP as part of a Get-Out-the-Vote operation outside of Albany in the special election to fill Kirsten Gilibrand’s seat. I was hired and trained to repeat a set of talking points about a Democratic candidate I knew nothing about. All that mattered was making sure a Republican didn’t get elected and that my otherwise unemployed-self was getting paid.
This year, as it did in 2011, WFP focused its efforts again on defeating the Green candidate in the 4th Council District of Syracuse with paid organizers and canvassers imported from Brooklyn and Rochester rather than helping its other endorsed candidates in Onondaga County who were facing tough races against Republicans.
Only 134 of the 2,500 votes cast in the 4th District were on the Working Families line. In Syracuse this year WFP proved that it is not a real independent third party, but little more than a for-hire canvassing operation and second ballot line for Democrats. Their on-the-ground game may have successfully prevented a historic first win for Hawkins, a tireless activist for the rights of the working poor, whose victory, according to WFP’s upstate political director Jesse Lenney, would be “worse for the progressive movement than electing a Right Winger.”
Now that the 2013 election is behind us, it’s time to get to work engaging one another in creating a Syracuse that works for everyone, not just those who can afford to enjoy the upscale condos, apartments, shops and restaurants popping up downtown. On top of the severe economic challenges facing the working people of our city, we are faced with the decision about the future of Interstate 81 – a decision integral to the quality of life in Syracuse, a decision that should be made in public view with public participation from those most impacted. So far, the most discussed options (a boulevard, a highway or a tunnel) focus on how to move cars rather than how to move people. The most preferable (and fair) final decision should take into account the needs of city residents.
The scenario that guarantees our right to clean air, economic opportunities, and affordable mobility is one where traffic is reduced and public space is increased and used for public good – bringing people together around recreation, affordable housing and community businesses. That can only mean investing in mass transit instead of more roads and parking that steals prime (taxable) real estate from the center of our city to feed the needs of cars and trucks.
If the recent election is an indication of political energy, those of us who care about the future of this city have our work cut out for us. Maximizing public participation in the I-81 planning process will require organizing on par with the most energetic electoral campaign and I hope that our community’s civic and political organizations are up to the task. In I-81, we have a challenge that can not only bring us together to bridge political differences but perhaps to overcome political indifference as well.
Despite being bummed that my favorite candidates didn’t get elected, I’ll keep my chin up knowing that the Green Party put forth a significant grassroots, volunteer-driven effort. We care about the future of our city and will continue to propose solutions. No one gets into Green Party politics for the paycheck. Fair is worth fighting for so expect to see and expect more from the Green Party.