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“Safe State” Debate: To Kerry or Not to Kerry?

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As the attention of the nation focuses on battleground states, we look at different views on voting in the so-called “safe states” with two candidates running for office in New York: Green Party U.S. Senate candidate, Dave McReynolds and Frank Barbaro, Democratic congressional candidate. [includes rush transcript]

As thousands of people continue to cast their ballots ahead of next Tuesday”s election, there are several races across the country that are very close and bring with them high stakes. The balance of the Senate is up for grabs and the minority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota , is fighting to retain his powerful position. He is facing a fierce challenge from conservative Republican John Thune. That race is being dubbed the second most important race in the country. This comes as the latest polls put President Bush and John Kerry in a dead heat in the battle for the White House.

Both Bush and Kerry continue their focus on swing states. The president spoke at a rally of his supporters in Michigan, while John Kerry addressed a massive rally of more than 80,000 people in Wisconsin. But as the attention of the country is focused in on the so-called battleground states, a debate rages in the safe states-states where either Kerry or Bush are almost guaranteed a victory. The Green Party is advocating what it calls a Safe State strategy, telling its voters to cast their ballots for John Kerry, and not their candidate in the battleground states. Joining us today to talk about this are two candidates in the safe state of New York.

  • David McReynolds, the Green Party candidate for US Senate in New York. In 2000, he was the Socialist Party’s candidate for president. He is also a longtime staff member of the War Resisters League and was one of the first people to burn their draft card during the Vietnam War.
  • Frank Barbaro, running for * congress* in New York’s 13th District (Staten Island and Brooklyn) on the Democratic ticket. He is a former longeshoreman and ran for New York City Mayor in 1981. He has served as State Assemblyman and as a State Supreme Court Justice.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Frank Barbaro, he’s running for Congress in New York’s 13th district which includes Staten Island and Brooklyn. He’s running on the Democratic ticket. A former longshoreman, ran for New York City Mayor in 1981. He’s a long-time New York State Assembly member and was a State Supreme Court Justice. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!


JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to start with Dave McReynolds, tell us about the “safe state strategy” and why you believe here in New York that progressives should be voting for you for the U.S. Senate?

DAVE MCREYNOLDS: In New York it’s very simple, because Chuck Schumer is absolutely sure to go back in the Senate. He has $26 million for the campaign. He’s not going to be defeated, which means you have a very clear chance, if you oppose the war in Iraq, if you oppose the PATRIOT Act, if you are for same sex marriage, if you are against capital punishment, if you want the drug laws changed, then you can vote for me on the Green ticket. In terms of the Presidential race, I think that this is an unusual chance in New York where there’s no way that Kerry is going to lose New York state. I’m hoping Frank Barbaro wins. I think it’s too late in the campaign for my support to do any damage. It’s too close to election day. I think that Kerry is sure to carry the state. Which means that you’re free to vote for Ralph Nader. Whatever you think of him on other grounds that’s the solid protest vote in the presidential race. So those are two votes people in New York can cast.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Frank Barbaro, you joined us on Democracy Now!. You’re a long-time progressive in the State Assembly for many years and Supreme Court. I remember back in 1990 and 1991 when we were on strike at the New York Daily News, and in a very, very tough battle, you were the person who held a very important hearing where you called the owners of The Daily News, the publishers and editors to an important legislative hearing that really brought out a lot of the issues of the lockout that the company was involved in. Could you talk to us about your view about what first New Yorkers should do here in terms of voting for president, and then also the importance of your race in particular.

FRANK BARBARO: Well, I think that as far as the Kerry Campaign is concerned, as many people as can should go to the swing states and get involved in those campaigns. Doesn’t help me because many of them are volunteers in my campaign, but I believe the presidential race is much more important than mine. My campaign, I decided to run because I saw it as a vehicle to reclaim the soul of the Democratic party. The issues that I’m running on are progressive issues based upon workers’ rights, anti-war, pro-environment, pro-gay and lesbian rights and people said that that would not fly on Staten Island. Staten Island is considered a bastion of right wing thinking. Democrats cannot win on Staten Island, that Republicans control it, and will control it forever. My theory is that this is a test tube case where someone with labor support, a broad-based coalition, can run in that state — in that Congressional district and do well or possibly win. That would have an effect on the party nationally. That’s why I made the race, and I’m just ecstatic, because the message resonated and has been resonating among blue collar workers on Staten Island, so much so that a recent poll came out that showed Fossella, the right wing candidate and myself, are in a dead heat. So, with very little money, I think we have won. Whether I win or lose on Tuesday night, we have invigorated the labor movement. We have proven that if the labor movement comes together and supports a progressive candidate that can appeal to the blue collar workers and white collar workers on Staten Island, that they can win. That it could change the soul of the Democratic party. I think we have already accomplished that.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this idea of a “safe state,” supposedly like New York, that what do you think of Dave McReynolds’ idea of the Green Party idea of voting for a third party candidates for the Green Party in a place like New York, especially around issues of anti-war activism?

FRANK BARBARO: In general sense, I can agree with the logic, but too many times general logic leads you to wrong conclusions. I think the Nader campaign in its very essence is a tragic mistake. I was a supporter of Nader. I’m very angry at Nader right now. I’m angry at him because when he ran four years ago, he fooled many of us. He betrayed many of us. Because he was talking about building a movement between elections, and that he would be the leader of that movement. But he didn’t do that. He walked away from the struggle and then when it’s time to run for president, he comes back on the scene. That, to me, is not the way you build a mass movement. He persists in doing that. So, in that sense, I am opposed to him. Even on the basis of running a candidate in a safe state. I think it’s a mistake. We need to build a broad-based people’s movement. And you don’t win elections two or three months before the election. You win elections by starting to campaign the day after you lost.

DAVE MCREYNOLDS: I actually agree on a large part with what Frank is saying. I wish David Cobb were on the ballot in New York State. He’s the Green Party’s actual nominee, but he didn’t make the ballot. I’m voting for Nader as a protest vote, but I agree with the problems of not building an organization or building a movement. I think in New York State, where Kerry will take the state, I would find it impossible to vote for someone who is simply telling the American public they’re going to kill the Iraqis more efficiently, and more effectively. I want a candidate who is really against the war. At this point that’s either Ralph Nader or one of the other minor party candidates, and I think in those states, the safe state, it’s good for Kerry and good for the Democratic party to see they do not have control of all the voters, that there are a lot of voters who want clearly an alternative. But I do worry that people will end up not voting for someone like Frank, whom I think they should be voting for. I hope they will split their ballots. I hope they’ll vote for me on I think it’s line I, as well as voting for Nader, who is on a different line. He’s not on the Green Party line, and voting for Frank in his area. Where Frank, by the way, has a lot of support. I don’t know anyone that I have talked to, who is not enthusiastic about or hasn’t been involved in Frank’s campaign.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Frank Barbaro, you’re the current Congressman for that district. Vito Fossella is one of the most conservative, I guess, of the New York delegation. You were considered a long shot initially, although clearly that race has been tightening. What about Fossella’s record do you think would indicate to people that they shouldn’t be voting for him?

FRANK BARBARO: Well, there are more and more people — the poll that was taken. The poll that was taken is a statistical dead heat. He has 42% of the vote. I have 36% of the vote. Statistically, that’s a dead heat. But what they found was that 60% or 40% of the people don’t know me. When they do know me, do know what my program is, do know what Fossella has done in Congress, they switch right over to me. So the issues are —- he’s against gun control. He is against overtime pay. He’s against a minimum wage. He supported that Medicaid drug prescription bill. He strongly supports the war in Vietnam -—


FRANK BARBARO: In Iraq. I’m losing my historic background. He’s —- a clone. He is a clone for the right wing and the Republican Party. I mean, he went to Iraq, and when Bush delivered that turkey, which turned out to be a fake turkey -—

AMY GOODMAN: On Thanksgiving…

FRANK BARBARO: On Thanksgiving. So, he speaks for Bush, and in many of the discussions — I shouldn’t say many, he ducked almost all of the discussions, forums, debates, but he says, I support the President. So, this is another case where in this campaign, people are casting their votes as a referendum regarding the Bush campaign in Iraq.

DAVE MCREYNOLDS: I think that the same thing is true in the Senate race where Schumer — the distance between Schumer and Bush is very narrow. Schumer has been enthusiastic, not reluctant, but enthusiastic in supporting the war in Vietnam. He was for the PATRIOT Act.

JUAN GONZALEZ: War in Iraq, again…

DAVE MCREYNOLDS: I’m still back to Vietnam. That shows we’re all getting older. Yeah, an enthusiastic supporter of the war in Iraq. I think it’s really outrageous for Schumer, particularly in a city which has a large gay and lesbian population to come out against gay marriage. I really think it is contemptible on his part. I also don’t know, although that’s not as important as killing people and being killed in Iraq. I don’t understand why gays and lesbians shouldn’t suffer from the same angst, anxiety, tribulations and trials of marriage that heterosexuals have to go through. Why should we be exempt from these problems. That’s a fake issue, but Schumer has dodged that issue along with many others. I think people should cast a strong protest vote against Chuck Schumer.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think, Frank Barbaro, about this issue of John Kerry and Iraq? His decision to vote for the authorization of Iraq, saying — vote for the authorization of the invasion — saying if he knew then what he knew now, he would have still voted the same way?

FRANK BARBARO: I feel that was a fundamental mistake. Let me just back up a step. One of the things that I have been doing in my campaign is saying that it was a mistake to go to Iraq in the first place. What’s interesting is that after I speak, people nod in agreement. More and more of them are nodding in agreement. Kerry, I believe, made a strategic error, a basic strategic error in voting for the invasion. There was no way in my mind that he should have made that vote. Because it put him in the position where he could be attacked as a flip-flopper. It’s been very difficult for — for him to extricate himself from that box. So, when Giuliani said, well, I don’t know what his position is, he voted for it, then he voted against sending money to protect the troops, and now he’s saying he would have done the same thing had he known. So, I think he made a fundamental error. He is smart. He’s articulate, and unfortunately, I think he took the bad advice from the consultants. Now he finds himself in this position where he’s in a dead heat and I think he would have been at least five points ahead.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you, if I can, about turnout. Even though New York is not considered one of the swing states, all indications are that there is going to be near record turnout. My discussions with the board of elections here, they have had to order about 400 new machines to be able to deal with what they anticipate will be record turnout. How would that affect either of your candidacies, a larger than usual turnout?

DAVE MCREYNOLDS: We don’t have enough campaign workers to cover the machines and to make sure of the vote. And we know that the Green candidate, my candidate, is not going to win. So, it will affect our vote a little bit, but I think not nearly as much as it would affect Frank Barbaro’s vote. I would just like to give the website, if people want the information on the McReynolds campaign. It’s They can get information there on our positions and how to help on election day.

FRANK BARBARO: To follow up on your question, I think a large vote helps us because an analysis of the past results of campaigns are that there’s a 30% drop after people vote for president, 30% don’t vote for anyone else. And I think the fact that we have done so well is dramatized by the six years that I spent on the bench. I spoke to court officers, and as a group, they’re quite conservative, and many of them live on Staten Island. I raised the issues that we’re discussing here with them. They would say to me, you know, Judge, you have some crazy ideas but you should run for Mayor again. You should run for office again. The point I make is that if you craft your message not in a — an arrogant way, but in a respectful way to workers, they will understand, and they will respond. Our problem now is to get that 60% that don’t know there is a Frank Barbaro. We need funds, and if anybody want to contribute, we’re at

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Frank Barbaro, for joining us. Running for Congress in New York’s 13th district, which is Staten Island and Brooklyn, and Dave McReynolds, Green Party candidate for the Senate in New York. I want to thank you both for being with us.

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