It would have been easy not to take notice last month when young Ursula Rozum, a staff member at the Syracuse Peace Council and a 2002 graduate of Bishop Ludden High School, announced her candidacy for U.S. Congress, running on the Green Party ticket.
Rozum has never run for political office, has no money and little name recognition. But in a race for the 25th District that is shaping up as a rerun of the 2010 campaign that was decided by barely 600 votes, the entry of a Green candidate, any Green candidate, could actually be a game changer.
Our 25th District has been for months a political football as first the state Legislature and finally the courts toyed with various redistricting plans, as required each decade after the census is taken. In the end the district wound up resembling pretty much the same territory that it did two years back, though after Election Day it will be labeled the 24th District. Dan Maffei, you might recall, clobbered Ann Marie Buerkle in Syracuse-area balloting last time out, only to watch his hopes for a second term in Washington dashed by lopsided voting for the Republican Buerkle in Wayne County and the Rochester suburbs. Wayne County is still there, but some of those suburbs are gone, theoretically giving Maffei a slight advantage.
But in that 2010 race there was no Green candidate, no third party candidate at all.
In 2008, when Maffei first won the seat, riding Barack Obama’s coattails and a national revulsion against the policies of George W. Bush, he crushed a weak Republican candidate, Dale Sweetland, who was called upon to hold on to the GOP’s seat after the initial standard bearer, Peter Cappuccilli, dropped out for health reasons. (Cappuccilli would later go on to face indictment for petty corruption dating from his days as New York State Fair director and would later plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.)
Maffei won that race easily, in spite of the Green candidate Howie Hawkins, who made a lot of sense but didn’t have a lot of money, and who ended up with an inconsequential 3.3 percent of the vote. (In an earlier head-to-head race with the previous incumbent, Republican Jim Walsh, Hawkins, running on the Peace and Justice line, captured more than 20,000 votes, nearly 10 percent of the total cast, in a race that did not include a Democratic challenger.)
This year Maffei will face not only Buerkle’s attacks from the right, but also a challenge from the left by Rozum. She will be on the ballot due to the strong showing of Hawkins in the 2010 gubernatorial race. In that race the perennial candidate Hawkins, in his first bid for governor, finished behind Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino, but ahead of the “The Rent is too Damn High” guy (remember him?) and a few others.
Hawkins’ ballot box appeal was significant because in New York if you get more than 50,000 votes your party has easy access to the ballot next time around. He collected 53,000 votes, and hence Rozum doesn’t have to work nearly so hard to get her name on the ballot next to Maffei and Buerkle.
So how many votes can Rozum, 28, expect to attract? Of course the Greens will say she’s in this to win, which they must say, but past experience shows that they are likely to take anywhere from 1.5 percent to 3 percent of the vote. And just who does this candidacy benefit? Clearly Buerkle, who will have two ballot lines herself, having recently won the endorsement of the Independence Party.
If anyone knows of a single Green voter who might otherwise pull the lever for the budget-slashing, climate change shoulder-shrugging, pipeline-hugging, Pentagon booster from Onondaga Hill (that would be Buerkle), I’d like to meet them.
This political neophyte from the Westcott area may turn this whole election on its head. If Dan Maffei lost to Ann Marie Buerkle by a few hundred votes last time out, all Rozum has to do to serve as handmaiden for a GOP victory is garner a few thousand votes from left-minded Syracusans. That shouldn’t be difficult: 8,855 people pulled the lever for Howie Hawkins in 2008. If Rozum gets half that amount she may be enough of a factor to send Buerkle back to Capitol Hill for a second term.
Is that what the Greens want?
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.