Volume 76, Number 13 | August 16 - 22, 2006

Tasini hopes to springboard off Lamont’s victory

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Senate candidate Jonathan Tasini and supporters at City Hall press conference last week.

By Jefferson Siegel

Politicians, whether they realize it or not, adhere to a tenet of the 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard posited the notion of a “leap of faith” as a stage of human development. Those seeking public office must transition a similiar journey through often-lengthy campaigns, confident they can ultimately convince a majority of voters their intentions are trustworthy.

One campaign receiving close inspection lately is that of Jonathan Tasini, who is running for the Senate seat currently held by Hillary Clinton.

Interest in the campaign spiked after last week’s Connecticut Senate primary. When three-term Senator Joseph Lieberman lost his bid for renomination to antiwar candidiate Ned Lamont, the possibility of a similar upset in New York percolated across the Internet and in the media.

Last Thursday afternoon, Tasini, backed by several dozen supporters, mounted the steps of City Hall to remind the electorate he was a worthy alternative to the incumbent.

“In recent days,” he said, “Hillary Clinton is performing a quick makeover and cover-up act. She does not want to be dragged down by the new political pariah of the Democratic Party, Joe Lieberman.”

Joining Tasini in his appeal were Alice Slater of the Progressive Democrats of America, Michael Farrin of Coalition for a District Alternative, the East Village political organization, and author Barbara Ehrenreich.

“We want a senator who truly reflects the views of New York, not the views of what Hillary Clinton thinks the heartland thinks,” Farrin said of Tasini’s candidacy. Clinton has been soundly criticized by the antiwar movement for her ongoing support of the Iraq war. Lieberman’s defeat last week raised the possibility of a replay in next month’s primary, despite differences in the races.

Lieberman suffered from, among other things, a notorious kiss of greeting from George Bush during the 2005 State of the Union address. Lamont is a millionaire who poured $4 million of his own money into his campaign. Clinton has name recognition and the momentum of potential 2008 presidential aspirations. And, while Clinton has basked in the media spotlight since her husband’s days as governor of Arkansas, Tasini’s grassroots campaign has only recently garnered wider attention.

Tasini has said if celebrity were removed from the race, he would win easily. He admitted his own fundraising of $150,000 pales in comparison to Clinton’s $22 million.

However, Tasini said, turning to his supporters on the steps, “I am much happier having the kind of people standing behind me, than Hillary Clinton having the support of Rupert Murdoch.” Last month, Clinton attended a fundraising breakfast with News Corporation Chairman Murdoch, raising eyebrows on both sides of the political spectrum because of Murdoch’s staunch conservatism and Clinton’s willingness to be perceived as allying with him.

“Do you want to vote for the incumbent, who believes that the problem with the Iraq war is its management?” Tasini said of his opponent. He labeled Clinton’s recent criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a Senate hearing on the war a “well-orchestrated bit of political theater.” Tasini believes Clinton finally took notice of mounting opposition to the war when Lamont’s poll numbers surpassed Lieberman just before the primary.

Another problem for Tasini’s grassroots campaign has been lack of media attention. The cable news channel NY1 has denied him the opportunity to appear in a televised debate against Clinton, claiming his $150,000 war chest doesn’t meet a threshold of $500,000 either raised or spent. This despite Tasini’s qualifying for a line on the Democratic primary ballot after amassing 40,000 signatures, well above the 15,000 required.

“If Hillary Clinton refuses to debate me,” he said, “Hillary Clinton is ratifying the idea that the rich control politics.” NY1 did not return calls seeking comment by press time.

Recent polls put Tasini’s support at 13 percent of potential voters.

“We are polling at exactly the level Ned Lamont was polling, with far less resources,” Tasini observed. He contines to press the flesh, relishing the chance to engage potential voters in dialogue. He has campaigned numerous times at the Union Square Greenmarket, as well as at peace rallies at the United Nations, the Shakespeare plays in Central Park, Celebrate Brooklyn Day in Prospect Park and last Sunday’s Dominican Day Parade on Sixth Ave.

At every opportunity, he continues to hammer away at his opponent.

“Hillary Clinton has not changed her position on the war,” he said at City Hall when asked about Clinton’s post-primary support for Lamont. “She still supports her vote on the war.”

Author Ehrenreich, who wrote “Nickel and Dimed,” a first-person examination of America’s working poor, continues to back her friend of 15 years.

“I like his stand on economic issues,” she said of Tasini’s criticisms of NAFTA and the billions wasted on the war. “Somebody without money ought to be able to run for office in this country,” she said, referring to NY1’s denying Tasini a debate slot.

Ehrenreich was not coy of her disapproval of Clinton.

“For years there’s been a theory that Senator Clinton is a secret liberal. But, there’s no evidence of that,” she said.

Despite the obstacles to the upcoming primary, indications are that Tasini has completed his leap of faith. At a Soho fundraiser held by Downtown Independent Democrats last month, he observed that, regardless of the primary’s outcome, “If we leave this campaign having strengthened the progressive movement, then it will all be worth it.”

“Let’s have the debate,” he said on the City Hall steps last week, “and let the voters decide.”

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