Cady Sharp Kuzmich, Editor-in-Chief
Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins is encouraged by the growing progressive sentiment upstate, made evident by the Democratic primary on September 9. Although incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo defeated his more liberal challenger Zephyr Teachout in the primary, some argue Teachout’s strong showing is an indication of the governor’s weakness and his widening disconnect from his constituents.
Cuomo, with the priceless advantage of name recognition and millions of dollars in campaign funds, defeated the Fordham law professor–who started her campaign with $9,000–by about 25 percentage points. The New York Times reports Cuomo raised over $40 million since he took office in 2011.
Hawkins is hopeful that, with the help of Teachout’s supporters, he can earn enough votes to challenge the incumbent.
“For a lot of upstate counties, Democrats are fairly progressive. Because the middle of the roaders tend to go Republican, upstate Democrats are very committed to the progressive ideals,” explains Hawkins. Now that Teachout is out of the running, Hawkins says he is the only progressive candidate in the race. “The most important thing as far as we’re considered, is that the green ticket is the only progressive option on the ballot,” said Hawkins.
Hawkins emphasized the importance of debates, and said he believes the governor has a responsibility to respond to his challengers. “I think I deserve a spot in any debate,” he said. In the primaries, Cuomo ignored debate invitations from Teachout, and is now declining to debate Hawkins and his republican challenger, Rob Astorino.
While Hawkins and Teachout have similar views on some of the most pressing issues in New York State, such as the push to ban hydraulic fracturing and the need to secure women’s rights, Hawkins made the distinction between Teachout and himself clear, saying, “She is committed to the two party system and that’s the difference between us. She called herself a traditional Democrat. We need an independent progressive party. The voters are more interested in issues than this or that party.”
When asked how he would remedy the rising cost of higher education and the growing burden of student debt if elected, Hawkins believes tuition-free public education is the answer. “For the SUNY and CUNY students, I am calling for tuition-free education.” He said that between 1848 and 1975, tuition was free at CUNY schools. He estimates it would cost $1.5 billion per year to pay for tuition-free SUNY and CUNY schools. “The state budget is about $140 billion, so it’s a little over 1 percent,” according to Hawkins.
“I think we can afford it and it’s a good investment. The feds bailed out the bank, why wouldn’t they bail out students?”
Hawkins called Cuomo a “social coward and a conservative on economics,” rather than a progressive Democrat. “He gets credit for being a social progressive. But on the women’s equality act he has played politics. [He has] gutted the medical marijuana act. The thing he got the most credit for is the legalization of gay marriage, but he jumped on that late.”
Hawkins also criticized the way Cuomo passed the unpopular Safe Act, which he called “politics not policymaking as it should be done.” He added that the Safe Act needs to be revised, specifically regarding privacy issues relating to medical records.
According to a Siena Poll released on August 11, Hawkins still lags behind the two remaining candidates for governor, with only six percent of the vote. The poll leaves Republican candidate Astorino 32 points behind incumbent governor Cuomo’s 58 percent.
“We’re encouraged. I’ll work hard to earn those voters support,” said Hawkins. He added, “We want to come out a stronger organized party than we went in.”
Although Hawkins may be a long-shot, he is going into the November election eager to challenge the incumbent governor and the two-party system as we know it, especially if he can win the support of those who would have supported Teachout. “In a three-way race, 40 percent can win,” said Hawkins.