Third wheels or for real? Stein and Johnson offer voters more of a choice

BY MARY REINHOLZ | In this season of searing electoral discontent with Donald Trump, the trash-talking Republican nominee for president, and Hillary Clinton, his hawkish F.B.I.-scrutinized Democratic rival, it’s hardly surprising that increasingly fed-up voters are considering third-party challengers campaigning to occupy the Oval Office.

The most visible contenders are Green Party standard-bearer Jill Stein from Massachusetts, a Harvard-educated physician turned leftie revolutionary who, for starters, seeks to create millions of jobs by 2030 through clean, renewable energy, and advocates eliminating college student debt; and Gary Johnson, a former two-term pot-smoking Republican governor of New Mexico who is at the top of the Libertarian Party’s ticket. Johnson, 63, is fiscally conservative but opposes the death penalty and supports same-sex marriages and legalizing marijuana.

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Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate.

Excluded from the presidential debates and lacking significant exposure by the media, Stein and Johnson were overwhelmingly defeated in 2012 when they first ran, with Stein getting a minuscule 0.3 percent of the popular vote and Johnson barely 1 percent  Both are now gaining more traction because of the high negatives of Clinton and Trump, especially Johnson, who has been polling at 10 percent and higher in matchups with the two major-party candidates.

Johnson recently claimed that he could win the presidency if he qualifies for the first presidential debate later this month.

“If we’re in that presidential debate, I think, anything is possible. And given the momentum that we have, I think it’s possible that I will be the next president,” Johnson said in an interview published in the Detroit News on Aug. 26. “I know that just sounds crazy, but we would not be doing this if we didn’t think that,” he said. “That possibility exists.”

Critics, though, complain that Johnson and Stein are simply spoilers in the race. Stein, 66, who has been polling on an average about 5 percent, has taken heat on the stump for supposedly acting like Ralph Nader, the iconic consumer advocate who ran for president in 2000 on the Green Party ticket and arguably siphoned away votes from Democrat Al Gore in Florida and New Hampshire, causing him to lose the election to George W. Bush.

At a recent CNN town hall, an audience member asked Stein if she could “sleep at night” if her campaign “brought in Trump” to the White House, like Nader allegedly “brought in Bush.” The slim, silver-haired Stein responded quickly and calmly.

“I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected,” she said. “I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected. And as despicable as Donald Trump’s words are, I find Hillary Clinton’s actions and track record very troubling,” Stein added, as she sat alongside her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, a human-rights advocate and fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies who is controversial in his own right.

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Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate.

Several prominent lefties interviewed by this reporter seemed unconcerned that their third-party votes might help the now-faltering Trump get elected. They claimed they could vote their conscience with comfort in blue “safe” states, like New York, where Clinton is regarded by many as a shoo-in.

“Hillary, I think, has New York sewed up,” opined David McReynolds, the legendary East Village pacifist and democratic socialist. McReynolds ran two unsuccessful campaigns for president on the Socialist Party USA ticket, in 1980 and 2000, and campaigned once for U.S. Senate under the Green Party banner against Democratic incumbent Chuck Schumer in 2004.

McReynolds, 86, says he won’t vote for Clinton because he considers her “the war candidate. She has a terrible record,” he said. “She got us into Libya. She voted for the war in Iraq. She is dangerous on foreign policy.” As for Trump, he described the Manhattan billionaire as “unstable and should not be in the White House under any circumstance.”

Jill Stein might get McReynolds’s vote as a “symbolic” gesture, even though he believes she “doesn’t have a ghost of chance” — only the opportunity to build a progressive movement. But he believes Gary Johnson has a shot at the world’s most powerful job — if, that is, he reaches 15 percent in five separate selected polls by the two parties, the threshold for admission to the aforementioned presidential debate. Only Texas billionaire Ross Perot qualified for the first of the 1992 presidential debates, becoming the first third-party candidate to do so.

The first of the three debates this year is scheduled for Mon., Sept. 26, at Hofstra University In Long Island. It will be hosted by the privately run Commission on Presidential Debates, which both Johnson and Stein sued unsuccessfully in a Washington, D.C., federal court last September, arguing their exclusion in 2012 violated the First Amendment and antitrust laws. Both are appealing the Aug. 5. decision dismissing their case.

McReynolds, retired globetrotting national secretary for the War Resisters League, seems impressed by Johnson and his running mate, William Weld, the former two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts (who endorsed President Obama in 2008). McReynolds called them both “solid people who are good on war and civil liberties.” He predicts they will garner “lots of Republican votes” from people turned off by Trump.

Longtime activist Aron Kay, “The Yippie Pie Man,” once McReynolds’s East Village neighbor, who now lives in Brooklyn, has similar views. Kay, a registered Green, said he would “probably” vote for Stein, whom he “associates with good causes.” But he also had nice things to say about Johnson.

Kay said he met Johnson five years ago when the candidate visited the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. He said Johnson spoke a year later about his drug policies at 9 Bleecker St., former site of the now-defunct Yippie Museum and hangout in Noho. Kay called the libertarians “an interesting bunch. My problem with them is that they don’t say much about poor people or how they would help them with food stamps and medical care,” he said.

Indeed, some folks on the left fear that a president Gary Johnson would cut Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements. Johnson, however, has said he would save the “social safety net” but push for increasing the retirement age to 70 or 72, and privatize some portions, if not all, of Social Security benefits.

Left-wing anarchist Bill Weinberg, editor of the radical online World War 4 Report and a contributor to The Villager, claims that Johnson would be “ideologically opposed” to rent regulation in New York, “along with all labor and environmental standards. No thank you,” he wrote about Johnson’s campaign in an e-mail to this reporter. (New York City’s rent laws are currently controlled by the state, not the feds, however.)

Weinberg said he is “pretty sure” he will be voting for Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8 because he wants to see Trump — whom he refers to as “Pendejo,” Spanish for “stupid” and other more colorful epithets — strongly repudiated in New York on Election Day.

“I’m not sure I buy the conventional wisdom that New York State is ‘safe,’” the East Village journo said. “Pendejo — I refuse to say his name — has more of an authentic hometown advantage here than Hillary does, and remember that New York went for Reagan in ’84,” he noted.

Furthermore, Weinberg sees no third-party candidate worth supporting. He said Jill Stein went to Moscow “and broke bread with Putin as his bombs were falling on civilians in Syria and issued not a peep of protest over this.”

Weinberg characterized Stein’s running mate, Ajamu Baraka, as “an enthusiastic supporter of the Bashar Assad dictatorship, which is now escalating to genocide its war on the Syrian people. The Green Party will never have my support until they do a complete 180 on this question, and I see no sign of that happening,” he said.

Brooklyn Green Mitchel Cohen, a writer, activist and former chairperson of the WBAI FM radio local board,  strongly disagreed with Weinberg’s attacks on his party.

“No, I do not support Assad,” Cohen said in an e-mail exchange with this reporter. “Nor does the Green Party ‘support Assad’ — who, by the way, is the elected president of Syria. The Green Party opposes U.S. bombing, troops, military and financial intervention in Syria. That anyone chooses to portray opposition to U.S. militarism as ‘supporting Assad’ is nonsense.”

Gloria Mattera, Stein’s campaign manager and  co-chairperson of the New York State Green Party, said she didn’t think the campaign had “ever made a statement supporting Assad. These are very complicated issues,” she said in interviews.

Stein, Mattera said, is “getting a lot of support from millennials” who had been inspired by Bernie Sanders. However, a recent Pew Research poll found that 90 percent of consistent Sanders supporters will vote for Clinton, albeit “while holding their noses.” Mattera herself appears to be disappointed in Sanders — who endorsed Clinton and plans to campaign for her on Labor Day, according to the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, which announced that the Vermont senator would speak at its Labor Day breakfast Monday in Manchester.

“I’m not interested in Bernie Sanders,” Mattera said during a lunch break from her day job at Bellevue Hospital as director of Child Life and Developmental Services. “He capitulated to the Democratic Party. But Bernie was an inspiration in changing the political discourse even though he sided with the status quo,” she added. Mattera ran for lieutenant governor of New York with Teamster Howie Hawkins at the top of the Green ticket in 2010. “Our feeling is that it’s hard to start a revolution in a counterrevolutionary party,” she said. “The Democrat Party has become a corporate party.”

Sanders did not respond to Stein’s call for him to head the Green Party ticket after he lost to Clinton in the Democratic primaries. The Greens, meanwhile, continue to push their message. Mattera said the Stein ticket is on about 35 state ballots and could reach “45 to 47” in the weeks ahead. In a press release, the campaign manager stated: “The enthusiasm for and success of our petition drives is proof that everyday Americans want more options on the ballot. It is time for us to demand open debates, not a rigged one sponsored by a commission controlled by the two major parties. Any candidate on the ballot in enough states to win the election needs to be in the debates.”

The Libertarians say they are on track to be on the ballot in all 50 states.

Brooklyn artist and activist Robin Laverne “Dragonfly” Wilson is the Green Party of New York’s candidate for U.S. Senate, challenging Democratic incumbent Chuck Schumer. Her other rivals are Conservative/Republican Wendy Long and Alex Merced, the state Libertarian Party’s Latino nominee.

Merced, 31, spoke to The Villager at the Ukrainian East Village restaurant at 140 Second Ave. near E. Ninth St., where the Manhattan Libertarians hold their monthly meetings. It’s also the same spot that hosted the party’s state convention on April 30.

Merced is a self-described hipster tech geek from Brooklyn who helps train people seeking licenses in the Financial District. He said he and his team gathered 32,000 signatures to get him on the state ballot — more than twice the 15,000 signatures required. The signatures were submitted to the New York State Board of Elections in Albany on Aug. 2.

“It shows the strong support for a third-party candidacy,” he said of the strong petition-gathering effort, noting his campaign hopes to appeal to both disaffected Republicans and Bernie Sanders supporters.

His views? Merced, who ran unsuccessfully for New York City public advocate in 2013, said his were similar to those of Gary Johnson.

“We both want to legalize marijuana, and I want to end the war on drugs. I’m against wars of intervention,” he said, noting he also supports same-sex marriage.

“Chuck Schumer voted for the war in Iraq and for the Defense of Marriage Act,” he added.

He didn’t appear to be awed by the competition.

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