For Howie Hawkins, the political glass ceiling is showing some cracks.
“I have a chance to win,” said Hawkins, the enduring Green candidate for elected office in the Syracuse area.
This time, he’s running as the Green Populist candidate for the 25th Congressional District seat being vacated by retiring Republican incumbent Jim Walsh. The other candidates are Democrat Dan Maffei and Republican Dale Sweetland. The 25th Congressional District contains all of Onondaga and Wayne counties, and parts of Cayuga and Monroe counties. The election is Nov. 4.
Hawkins earns his living as a night-shift worker for United Parcel Service. Since 1993, he has run for elected office 13 times. He has lost 13 times. This year, he faces familiar obstacles. An Onondaga County Democratic official protested his candidacy at the outset. His fundraising is dwarfed by his opponents.
But the cracks in the glass ceiling are still visible for Hawkins, a lifelong, committed advocate of third-party politics. Hawkins has spent the fall campaign season on the same platform as his opponents. That’s a record for his campaign appearances. He is quoted in almost every article written in The Post-Standard about the 25th Congressional District election.
And, according to recent polls, more people support him than before. In an Oct. 9 poll, for example, Hawkins received 6 percent support, according to The Post-Standard. Maffei, who lost to Walsh by 2 percent of the vote in 2006, led with 49 percent.
Despite the deficit, that’s progress for Hawkins. In 2005, he took 4.6 percent of the vote in Syracuse’s mayoral election, according to The Post-Standard. In 2006, he took 1.2 percent of the votes in the U.S. Senatorial election, when Democrat Hillary Clinton cruised to re-election.
Hawkins is getting more attention partly because of this year’s unusual election atmosphere, suggests Danny Hayes, a political science professor at Syracuse University. With the country facing a financial crisis and ongoing war, voters might be more willing to listen to Hawkins’ ideas, said Hayes.
“He’s arguing that things need to be done very differently than they’ve been done before,” Hayes said. “And for people who are dissatisfied with the country, that may be more powerful. Despite the fact that he certainly doesn’t seem likely to have a chance to win the election, he may be garnering more support from people this time in part because his message — a pretty dramatic break from the way that things have been done — is more appealing to people at this particular moment in time than other.”
Hawkins’ message sounds like this:
Iraq: Hawkins supports an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Taxes: On his campaign Web site, Hawkins writes, “Make the super-rich and the giant corporations pay their fair share of taxes. Tax speculation and pollution. Reduce taxes on wages.”
Health care: Hawkins wants a single-payer national health care system. Canada uses a similar system, in which the government collects taxes to pay for health care and acts as the country’s single insurance provider. Hawkins’ plan for the U.S. would also be publicly financed.
For the U.S.’s recent economic meltdown, Hawkins opposes the federal bailout of the financial system. “Instead of bailing out the Wall Street speculators, we should be investing in the real economy of labor and production,” he said.
He champions “a World War II-scale mobilization for a green economy,” Hawkins said. His plan calls for buildings to be retro-fitted with energy-efficient products. It calls for public works projects building up the national mass-transit system. It calls for a greater emphasis on solar and wind power.
And this year, more voters are hearing his message. Hawkins has spoken in almost all the debates this campaign season. The Syracuse Chamber of Commerce barred him from a midday debate on Oct. 10. Hawkins went anyway. He distributed campaign literature, according to a Post-Standard report, outside of the debate gathering.
It’s a familiar place for him, standing in the political fringe.
Hawkins, 55, grew up in San Mateo, Calif. He got into third-party politics as a teenager in the San Francisco Bay area, protesting the Vietnam war in Oakland and registering voters for the Peace and Freedom Party. In 1976, he left Dartmouth without a degree — a language requirement short of graduating — and founded the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance. In 1984, Hawkins helped found the national Green Party. In 1991, he moved to Syracuse hooked up with the Onondaga Greens soon after.
Hawkins’ supporters commend his intelligence and passion. Political observers have also noticed his commitment. He works at night, unloading trucks at UPS from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. He campaigns by day.
Jessica Maxwell, a Green Party member and staffer at the Syracuse Peace Council, has helped Hawkins campaign in the past. She had prior commitments, she said, and isn’t able to help him this election. But she still praises his passion for politics and public affairs.
“He’s a fairly intense person,” Maxwell said. “He reads an incredible amount. So he has a lot of facts and figures right at the tips of his fingers. He’s always reading the latest analysis: What’s going on economically, politically in the world.”
One of the glass-ceiling cracks for Hawkins was a candidate forum on Oct. 15 at SU’s prestigious Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. In the forum, all three candidates spoke individually with co-moderators Robert McClure, and SU political science professor, and Donna Adamo, reporter for WTVH television.
McClure downplayed Hawkins’ election chances but took note of Hawkin’s dedication to his causes. “Mr. Hawkins is a committed ideologue and evangelist,” McClure said. “He’s a smart man. But his purpose is to spread the Gospel, not to win.”
Even so, in August, Hawkins’ candidacy was challenged by an Onodaga County Democratic ward chairman, Dustin Czarny. Czarny questioned the petition signatures Hawkins obtained to get on the ballot. Czarny declined to be interviewed for this story.
But state election officials rejected the challenge, and Hawkins was allowed to run for the 25th Congressional District. Again.
Since 1991, Hawkins has racked up an impressive list of Don Quixote-challenges to windmills. Among his campaigns: Congress in 2000 and 2004. Common councilor. State comptroller. County executive. Mayor of Syracuse in 2005. U.S. Senate in 2006. Councilor-at-large in 2007.
Losses across the board.
Hawkins dismisses the losses, portraying himself as in good company with the other 25th Congressional District candidates. Democrat Maffei lost his 2006 campaign to unseat incumbent Walsh, reminds Hawkins.
And Republican Sweetland lost the last year’s Republican primary for Onondaga County Executive to eventual winner Joanie Mahoney.
“We all lost our last election,” Hawkins said. “So you’re choosing between three losers. So you better choose on the basis of issues, and listen to what I’m saying about the issues.”
(Andy McCullough is a senior newspaper journalism major.)