Hawkins, to protest and push progressive ideas 


Our editorial staff is usually able to reach consensus on political endorsements, but in this year's governor's race, we weren't, so we're giving you the arguments of both sides.

As the majority of our editorial staff spells out this week, Andrew Cuomo has done many good things for New York. Neither of his two third-party candidates has the experience or political skill to run New York State. And his Republican opponent would try to lead New York backwards in several key areas.

If this were a closer race, I would join my colleagues and endorse Cuomo. Given Cuomo's substantial lead, however, New Yorkers have the opportunity to register a protest by voting for one of his opponents. In my case, it'll be Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

A protest is important. Cuomo's negatives are serious, and if we don't object, the price – for all of us – is enormous.

Politicians don't get elected to an office as important as governor unless they're tough, and Andrew Cuomo is plenty tough. That toughness has done a lot of good, but it also raises big concerns. Publicly, he has become disturbingly arrogant, twisting the facts, refuting his own on-the-record statements, doing little campaigning, and acting more like a monarch who can't be bothered with things like political debates than a candidate in a democratic country.

Instead, he has handed out tax rebates to voters and traveled around announcing funding for projects throughout the state.

I continue to worry about his infatuation with casinos, which offer far less potential for economic benefit than he professes – and plenty of opportunity for corruption. His well-documented interference with the Moreland Commission is a major concern, and early this month, the respected website Capital, which focuses on state politics, reported that Cuomo officials seem to have interfered with a federal study that the administration had commissioned.

As part of the administration's assessment of possible environmental and health risks from hydrofracking, the state had contracted with the US Geological Survey to study the level of methane that already occurs in water wells in the Southern Tier. The original draft, Capital reported, said that gas "drilling, extraction, transport via pipelines, and underground storage" could "inadvertently introduce methane into drinking water supplies." The final report – released after substantial vetting by the Cuomo administration – omitted that statement, Capital said, and added a line stating that the risk of methane pollution "can be reduced if the casing and cementing of wells is properly designed and constructed."

As Capital noted, back-and-forth communication isn't unusual when governments hire outside agencies to conduct studies like this one. But, Capital said, "the communication related to the contents and timing of the report" resulting from the methane study "was particularly intense."

The troubling implications of the fracking study combined with the clear meddling in the Moreland Commission point to a governor who lives by his own rules. And he underscored that with his reaction to the media reports on the Moreland meddling. He had first insisted that the commission would conduct an independent investigation and that his own actions were fair game. But when the commission's investigation began to touch areas that could reflect badly on him, Cuomo representatives ordered the commission to back off. And after abruptly shutting down the commission, Cuomo shrugged off charges of interference.

"I can't 'interfere' with it, because it is mine," he told the New York Times. "It is controlled by me."

That kind of behavior betrays the public trust. And it reinforces everything many Americans believe about their political leaders. Protesting won't turn the governor into a Boy Scout, but each of us has a responsibility to speak out when those in power misuse that power. There are few ways we can do that, but casting a vote is one, and it's an important one.

About Howie Hawkins

Endorsing Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins is a form of protest, but it's also an endorsement of Hawkins' dogged effort to put important, progressive ideas before the public.

Hawkins has received almost no coverage in this campaign. The media seem to mention him (along with Libertarian candidate Michael McDermott) simply because he's on the ballot. And some dismiss him as having ideas too far out in left field to pay attention to.

Some of Hawkins' ideas are indeed not realistic. Others may be sound, but they're expensive, and Hawkins' tax-reform proposals aren't likely to pay the full cost. But on many issues, progressive New Yorkers are more in sync with Hawkins than with Andrew Cuomo. And that's likely true of many moderates as well.

Hawkins' position papers contain more detail, and more food for thought, than those of all the other candidates combined. And through them, he is painting a picture of the kind of New York many of us wish we could aspire to.

On Hawkins' list of reforms:

• A $15 minimum wage and "a living income above poverty level" for everyone who can't work.

• A publicly funded single-payer health care system.

• An end to high-stakes testing, Common Core, and Race to the Top. Free tuition to SUNY and CUNY.

• Tax credits for renters. A moratorium on home foreclosures. Requiring that all mortgages be refinanced at the homes' current market value. Construction of new, high-quality mixed-income housing. Expanded public transit and construction of intra-urban rail lines and high-speed long-distance rail lines.

• A ban on fracking. No new fossil-fuel infrastructure: no trains, trucks, or barges carrying shale oil through the state. No storage of natural gas, liquefied propane, or liquefied butane in the Seneca Lake salt caverns. Closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant and phasing out of all the others.

• An end to "corporate welfare." Requiring the state to pay for services it mandates local governments to provide. More progressive estate taxes and an increase in taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, taking them back to the levels of the 1970's, which, Hawkins says, would enable the state to reduce taxes for others and could fund investment in infrastructure and other initiatives.

• Publicly owned power and fuel companies. Universal access to high-speed internet. Preservation of net neutrality and blockage of the Comcast-Time Warner merger.

• Restoration of funding for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation. Promotion of a "zero-waste solid waste policy," including boosting reuse and recycling efforts. Stronger wetland protection.

• Ending segregation in housing and schools. Establishing a state civil rights department. Banning solitary confinement, expanding educational opportunities for prisoners, and restoring voting rights for convicted felons.

• Requiring 12 weeks of paid family leave. Subsidized high-quality child-care and elder care. Extension of labor rights to farmworkers. Medicaid funding for abortions. Restoration of state funding for homeless-youth centers. Public financing for campaigns.

There's much, much more on Hawkins' website (howiehawkins.org): progressive ideas on agriculture, women's rights, criminal justice, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, ethics in government.

Hawkins has no chance at becoming governor. Sadly, few of his proposals stand any better chance at getting adopted. That's proof of the drift of the state and the country away from the progressive philosophies of the past, when measures like Social Security and national park protections could get adopted and Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt thought that huge companies had too much power.

There was a time when New York political campaigns included a robust discussion of progressive ideas. Now, only people like Hawkins are talking about them, and Hawkins is routinely ignored.

That's an indication of the strength of the conservative movement. And Hawkins deserves support in his effort to push back.

On Rob Astorino

In his campaign for governor, Republican candidate Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, has focused strongly on New York's economy and government corruption. A lifelong conservative, his platform is full of proposals the business community favors.

If he becomes governor, he says, he'll issue a moratorium on new regulations, review every regulation currently in force, and repeal the Scaffold Law (which lets workers sue both contractors and property owners if they're injured while working on scaffolds, hoists, and similar above-ground construction devices).

Astorino wants to reform the state's Workers Compensation regulations, eliminate incorporation fees for new small businesses, "reduce or hold flat" state spending, make the property tax cap permanent, and eliminate the estate tax.

And yet the New York Business Council has endorsed Cuomo, not Astorino. (The Council credits Cuomo with four on-time budgets, caps on state spending, and an improved state business climate.)

Astorino has criticized the governor for his Start-Up NY initiative, which, he says, lets government pick the winners in economic development.

In education: Astorino wants to replace Common Core with "better standards and curriculum developed by New York educators." (He's also running on a Stop Common Core ballot line). He wants to increase vocational training; increase science, technology, engineering, and math programs in schools; increase school choice – possibly, as a "last option," with vouchers for private or religious schools; and introduce foreign language instruction in elementary school.

He wants eight-year term limits for all elected state officials, an independent state ethics commission, and elimination of taxpayer-funded pensions for officials convicted of corruption.

He is strongly in favor of fracking. He would try to repeal the SAFE Act. He questions the need for medical marijuana. And he opposes the Affordable Care Act.

In endorsing him for Westchester county executive last year, the New York League of Conservation Voters cited his push for a mass-transit component in the new Tappan Zee Bridge plan and county charter amendments requiring Westchester County to buy hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles, and his support for expanded recycling, tax exemptions for homeowners installing solar panels, county parks investments, and riverfront improvements.

It's difficult to predict what he would do about abortion rights. According to a Capital New York online report, Astorino has said that he opposes state funding for abortions but he wouldn't say whether he'd try to cut funding if he's elected.

He personally opposes abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the mother's life, but he has said he wouldn't try to change existing state laws regarding abortion. He opposes strengthening state law by protecting abortion during the ninth month of pregnancy.

Running with Astorino as the candidate for lieutenant governor is Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, the Republican Party's first African-American candidate for a statewide office.

On Michael McDermott

Also on the ballot is Libertarian Party candidate Michael McDermott, a Long Island resident and a former real estate developer. McDermott hasn't campaigned vigorously, and his website provides only thin information about his positions.

He's against the Common Core, says that New York's economy is a mess, wants to "invigorate small business," and says that regulation is stifling business development. He opposes the Affordable Care act, would end New York's participation in it, and would and "look to the free market to offer the best solution" in health care.

He's against the SAFE Act gun-control law, favors term limits, wants to reduce government spending, and says government should "adhere to the Constitution." He wants to "restore rights and the freedom to not be spied on by the government" and wants to "keep government out of personal relationships."

His running mate and Libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor, Rochesterian Christopher Edes, wants to legalize marijuana, lower the drinking age, and cut the personal income tax in half.

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