Its not easy being Green: Gronowicz runs for mayor
By Hannah Seligson
Most are viewing the mayors race as a one-on-one contest between challenger Fernando Ferrer and incumbent Michael Bloomberg. But there are some third-party candidates in the race who also have something to say. One of these is Anthony Gronowicz, the Green Partys candidate.
Unlike Ferrer who is running to win, Gronowicz an out-of-the-box, eccentric candidate with some daring ideas says he is running to raise awareness.
While Gronowiczs candidacy has existed largely under the radar, he has talked to thousands of New Yorkers, taking their pulse about the issues that most concern them. His policies and candidacy, however, are defined by extremes. At one moment he seems to be promoting a socialist agenda, and the next he is advocating for moderate, middle-of-the-road policies. Gronwicz understands what a long shot it would be for him to get elected this coming November. As he sees it, though, this is a way of raising issues that are not being raised by the other candidates, he told The Villager in a recent interview in his Upper East Side apartment.
A student of history, Gronwicz received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in New York City political history. He has taught on all levels, from junior high to graduate school. He uses his vast historical knowledge to inform his policy positions. The homeless population in New York City is the highest its been since the Great Depression. The old rubric that Mayor Koch had of one weeks salary is one months rent is long gone, he said. Gronowicz claims that because people are paying more and more of their salary for rent, landlords are not promoting capitalism because they are removing purchasing power that people can use for other goods and services. Landlords are parasitic in New York, he said.
Although Gronowiczs most comfortable mode of political discourse is criticism peppered with references to historical and economic theories, he does offer some practical solutions for what he sees as New York Citys greatest problems, particularly on the educational and environmental fronts: I would raise teachers salaries by 20 percent to make them comparable to the suburbs.
I would also restore free tuition to City University it was free from 1847 to 1975. Citing the increase in asthma and cancer rates in New York City, Gronowicz wants to ban cars one day a week from the streets for environmental and health reasons. As he sees it, cars are carcinogens. On the economic front, he would restore the federal income tax system of the 1950s where the top income bracket was taxed at 91 percent.
Speaking to Gronwicz, it almost seems as if New York City politics are too small a scope for a man so concerned with larger national and global issues. New York City, however, is a microcosm for the problems he sees eroding society. While he views the current system with a great deal of frustration, anger and cynicism, it is clear that Gronwicz and his policy positions are shaped by a deep, burning desire to provide for the average, working-class person. To help advocate for the working class Gronwicz would want to institute a system similar to Finlands where people are fined in proportion to their income. This would mean that someone making $12 million could get a ticket for $150,000, whereas someone making $30,000 would get a ticket for $20.
Gronowicz is equally critical of the Democrats and Republicans for the current state of affairs in New York City. It was the Democratic machine in the Bronx that made it the poorest urban county in the nation, and have run it as a one-party fiefdom since it was incorporated as the last county in New York state in 1916, he said. There is nothing to show in terms of economic development in the Bronx its sort of like a toxic-waste dump, the garbage dump of the rest of city and Ferrer is part of this, he said. In his equally scathing criticism of Bloomberg, Gronowicz assails him for the demise of the healthcare and housing system in New York City. The homeless population, he points out, under Bloomberg has risen 25 percent.
When asked about the decrease in crime in New York City (crime under Bloomberg has decreased 20 percent), he writes it off as having nothing to do with Bloomberg and his policies. Its a reflection of crime going down nationally. But, its not petty street crime in New York City that is most concern to Gronowicz, it is the larger prison population in this country. We have the largest prison population in the world. The prison situation in this country is an absolute disgrace, he said. Shying away from the exact details of his policy, Gronowicz said he would take a more rehabilitative approach to the prison population in New York City.
Give me the amount of money that Bloomberg has spent on TV advertisements, and Im damn sure that I could win this race, he says. It is on this issue of buying elections where Gronowicz taps into one of the most critical problems of our current system. Running a grassroots campaign, and one that doesnt take donations from corporations, illustrates how hard it is to be a third-party candidate in an entrenched two-party system that relies so heavily on money to win elections. There have, of course, been Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, but on the local level, third-party candidates have yet to emerge as a viable, electable force the one exception for the Green Party is the mayor of New Paltz, N.Y., Jason West.
Gronowicz sees what he is doing as his civic duty. As he says, I am engaged in a crusade. He believes deeply that the United States is headed on a dangerous trajectory based on intense class polarization and the unequal distribution of assets. A somewhat sobering statistic he often cites is that 1 percent of the population owns over 40 percent of the resources, compared to the 1970s when this group owned 20 percent.
Although Gronowicz is the Green Partys candidate for mayor, he is hardly a politician. At the end of the day what separates Gronowicz from other politicians is that he doesnt see himself as a politician. Im not a politician, he said. Im an advocate for these policies.