A Green Party Grows in the Bronx

A Green Party grows in the Bronx

By Adam Wisnieski
10/24/12

 The Bronx is getting greener.

After a successful 2010 gubernatorial election, the Green Party is again one of the state’s recognized political parties and has ballot status for the upcoming election.

That has made it easier for a number of candidates across the state to run grassroots campaigns. In the Bronx, the Green Party is running more candidates than it ever has.

Locally, Joseph Diaferia is running in a three-way race for Congressional District 16 against longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel and Republican challenger Joseph McLaughlin. Carl Lundgren, chair of the Bronx Green Party, is running for state Senate District 34 against state Sen. Jeff Klein, who will appear on the Democrat, Republican, Working Families and Independence party lines. Elizabeth Perri, a Conservative, is also challenging Mr. Klein.

The Bronx County Green Party was founded in 2007 when a group of Bronxites, many who were part of the Bronx Greens, decided to advocate for issues they felt the two major political parties were ignoring.

“We’re a group of people who said we have to do something and so we got together,” Carl Lundgren, chair of the Bronx County Green Party, said.

Mr. Lundgren described the Green Party as an “activist party” dedicated to environmentalism, but also to social issues like living wages, universal health care and weaning the country off its oil dependence.

He said the country’s economic climate and unrest across the world, including the Occupy Wall Street movement, have brought attention to third parties like his.

“They are starting to see us as an alternative,” he said.

Having ballot status in New York was no easy task.

New York State law dictates that a party can achieve official ballot status for the following two-year election cycle if its candidate for governor receives at least 50,000 votes. The Green Party was a recognized party after the 1998 election, but failed to meet the 50,000 vote threshold in the 2002 and 2006 elections. In 2010, however, Howie Hawkins received 59,906 votes. Mr. Lundgren attributes the success in 2010 to Green Team 2010, a campaign committee that pooled the resources of Green candidates across the state. He said the party got more organized and candidates started learning how to play the political game, like assigning treasurers for campaign committees.

Still, The Green Party is not where it would like to be as far as fund raising.

“It’s shoestring,” Mr. Lundgren said of the budget.

Combining their resources in 2010 was enough to get over the 50,000-vote hump, which will give the Green Party official ballot status in New York through 2014.

This year, the Bronx County Green Party’s slate includes three challengers for Assembly seats, two for state Senate seats and two for Congress. The party is also supporting Jill Stein for President and Colia Clark for New York State Senate.

Unlike many of the Republican and Conservative challengers in the Bronx, whose campaigns appear close to non-existent, Green Party candidates have websites, are using social media and have been handing out palm cards at Bronx train stations.

Mr. Lundgren, 59, an unemployed Castle Hill resident, has a ponytail, plays bass in “the only country band in the Bronx,” Troy Willy, and said he thinks corporate interests are crushing issues that matter to most people. Though he’s the leader of the Bronx County Green Party, this is his first time running for political office.

Though the Green Party is known for strong stances on the environment, Mr. Lundgren talked more about social issues in a recent interview. He said he’s irked by political ads of Democrats and Republicans speaking about fighting for the middle class.

“Who’s fighting for the poor? Who’s fighting for the unemployed or the homeless?” he said.

Even though many of the ideals on the Green platform are also Democratic ideals, he said he blames Democrats for not taking Republicans to task on social and environmental issues.

“There is no difference between the corporate-backed parties,” he said, or “It surely is a shame that all we have to chose is the lesser of two evils,” he sings in his “Green Party Song.”

That’s an interesting point to make considering state Sen. Jeff Klein, the incumbent he’s taking on, is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference and is running on the Democratic and Republican lines this year.

The biggest difference between the Green Party and the Democratic Party might be that the Green Party does not accept donations from corporations and relies solely on small individual contributions.

“We’d rather be small and independent than large and owned,” he said.

Mr. Diaferia, who is running for Congressional District 16 against Mr. Engel, is a 51-year-old Yonkers resident with “a political and pedagogical chromosome.”

He teaches political science at Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey and his father was involved in politics in Yonkers, running unsuccessfully as a Democrat for mayor in 1983. He’s not a first timer. He ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for Westchester County legislature in 1987.

Mr. Diaferia said the United States needs to restructure and reconfigure its economy without oil as a primary energy source.

He also thinks Obamacare is a “cruel sham” and that the country needs universal health care.

“[Obamacare] is tantamount to solving homelessness by requiring everyone to buy a house,” he said.

He’s running a small campaign, but he said he’s been hitting subway and Metro-North stations to hand out palm cards that read, “Grassroots Democracy, Environmental Sustainability, Social & Economic Justice and Peace through Nonviolence.”

Both candidates said they were not running against an opponent or an idea, but rather for something.

“I don’t think of myself as much as running against those two gentlemen [Mr. Engel and Mr. McLaughlin] as running for a set of ideals,” Mr. Diaferia said.

And they both know they won’t win. But that’s not the point.

“As a candidate, we have a duty to serve the public to bring ideas and issues to them,” Mr. Diaferia said.

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