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Daily News: NYC Mayor race predictions for Green Party/Rev Billy

Thanks to my co-blogger Ian Wilder for the story at onthewilderside.

The Daily News is one of the big, daily newspapers in New York City. In its “Brawl for the Hall” section, The Daily News reports that Democratic NYC Mayor hopeful William Thompson may consider challenging the Reverend Billy Talen’s petitions (to be filed next week.) In addition, the Daily News quotes a political expert who notes that if it is a close election, the Green Party vote totals will matter.

(excerpt from) The Daily News
Brawl for the Hall section with picture of City Hall

This year, the Green candidate is the charismatic showman the Rev. Billy Talen, who could do even better [than the 1% achieved last time by the “Rent is Too Damn High Party” candidate]. He dresses in an electric blue suit and sings songs about driving Bloomberg out of town – and Castell won’t rule out a petition challenge to try to knock him off the ballot. [Eduardo Castell is the campaign manager for Democratic NYC Mayor candidate hopeful William Thompson (currently the NYC Comptroller)l

“If it turns out to be a really, really close election, then things like the Green Party matter,” said New York voter list expert Jerry Skurnik.


  1. David McCorquodale David McCorquodale August 26, 2009

    Kimberly has made excellent responses to Jeremy regarding Rev. Billy’s candidacy. I’m sure she and I are both surprised we are in total agreement since we disagreed in the past. As election’s editor of Green pages, I had to defend the idea of running a story on Rev. Billy.

    One point I want to emphasize is that running candidates isn’t only about getting elected. Campaigns are stages for voicing ideas. Behind the street theater, Billy Talen is quite serious about local neighborhoods, local jobs and wresting control from the hands of the corporate wheeler-dealers. Voicing those ideas alone makes his campaign worthwhile.

  2. Levon Helm Levon Helm August 19, 2009

    It’s a minor miracle that the Green Party in NYC was able to raise the funds to pay for the petition gathering folks to collect all those signatures.

    The way the Green Party becomes a serious party is to field a full slate of candidates. Those candidates must be diverse in every way – progressive, centrist, conservative Green Party candidates. Just like Green Parties in Europe and the candidates they have put on the ballot and taken over local, state, and federal governments.

    Now let’s see if Billy boy had the lawyer team in place in advance to make sure all challenges were anticipated.

    Good luck Green Party.

    We’re all rooting for you.

  3. Jeremy Young Jeremy Young August 18, 2009

    Kimberly, you don’t have to defend Rev. Billy to me. I’m pro-Rev. Billy. My concern isn’t that he’s unqualified, it’s that people won’t give him a second look.

    People don’t vote for third-party candidates in large numbers because they have great resumes. You can have a fantastic resume as a third-party candidate and still come up very, very short. If resumes and qualifications made third-party candidates succeed, Malachy McCourt would be Governor of New York right now, and John Anderson would have been elected President.

    Instead, third parties are like street vendors along a busy sidewalk during rush hour. Most people have every reason to just walk on by, punch the major-party ticket, and be done with it. A successful third-party candidate has to make people do three things: look, stop, and buy. Fail to get all three, and you lose the election.

    A candidate like Rev. Billy is very good at making people look, because he’s got name recognition and showmanship. That is a very good thing for a party like the NYGP that is basically stagnant, because people are not even going to look otherwise. However, most people are not going to stop when they see Rev. Billy, and even fewer are going to buy what he’s selling. It’s unfair for me to compare Rev. Billy with SuperDell, because SuperDell is a loon and Rev. Billy is a serious activist, but what they have in common is that the very thing that makes people look at them makes it LESS likely that those people will stop or buy from them. Their showmanship is viewed as entertainment, and no one is going to vote for an entertainer for anything.

    It doesn’t matter that that’s not fair, or that Rev. Billy deserves to be mayor, or that he’s got a list of accomplishments as long as your arm. The only thing that matters is, can he sell the product? (Note that I don’t advocate diluting the product, like Bob Barr did to the LP last cycle.) Rev. Billy is doing his damnedest to sell the product, but he can only take it so far. I love Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but no one is going to elect them to anything, ever. They are seen as jokes. You may mention Al Franken, but all Franken proved is that if you give Rev. Billy a major-party label, a national reputation, a twenty-point partisan advantage, and more money than God, he will still come so close to throwing away a sure thing that it will take eight months to make sure he didn’t. The bias against entertainers is that strong in this country.

    Again, it bears repeating that I like Rev. Billy, and that I’d probably vote for him if I lived in NYC (especially since Thompson seems like such a loser). I think he is the best option available given where the party stands now. I’m simply trying to make the point that a party that was a real electoral force would be running Matt Gonzalezes and Anthony Pollinas and Dean Barkleys, not Rev. Billys. Rev. Billy is simultaneously an excellent candidate for where the party is now and emblematic of how far it has to go.

  4. Kimberly Wilder Kimberly Wilder August 18, 2009


    Thank you for listening to myself and others. Thank you for commenting on my concern about the word “serious.”

    I still disagree emphatically with you. I kind of wish we could have a phone conversation where we could rebut each other’s points more fully.

    You said:


    I should make clear that it’s not that I wouldn’t support Rev. Billy. Of course I would. My concern is transitioning from a fringe third party in NYC into a viable second party that can run candidates who actually win, like in SF, or who come very close, like in DC.


    I believe that you are evaluating the situation on a very shallow level of “one layer only.”

    In order to get candidates to actually win, a third party has to do ALL THE THING BELOW, and the best way to do it (and the way it plays out in reality) is to do them ALL AT THE SAME TIME:

    -Fight for ballot access
    -Engage large number of energized volunteers who will help fight for ballot access and help grow the party’s worker base
    -Engage large numbers of people who are watching your party, and like your party, and will scream when an injustice happens to your candidates or party
    -Get the attention of huge numbers of people who may then vote for your candidates and your party
    -Get candidates on the ballot next to your ballot symbol so people get used to seeing your ballot symbol, and then get used to voting on your ballot line.
    -Run high profile candidates to get attention (including porn stars, comedians, candidate celebrities from other parties, figures of controversy)
    -Run candidates with solid resumes and solid bases of support so that people remember your platform and take your mission seriously. (Oops! There is that word. Guess there is something to it!)

    So, even goofy, frivolous, non-political celebrity candidates have an important role to play in getting third parties on the path to victories.

    But, I would contend that Reverend Billy is not even a frivolous candidate. I don’t think that you are looking at his resume or his approach carefully enough. You are kind of fooled by the blond pompadour.

    Reverend Billy is a comedian in the same, pointed way that Jon Stewart is a comedian. Reverend Billy is a-political in the same way a Bob Dylan song is a-political. Reverend Billy is the court jester in a country where the King learns by solving the jester’s riddle.

    If you made a list of Reverend Billy’s skills and experience, they measure up excellently to any major party or third party candidate who has ever won.

    Reverend Billy has a long list of non-profits that he has worked with.

    Reverend Billy has done important and ground-breaking work in his very own community before trying to run for office.

    Reverend Billy has a movie about his work.

    Reverend Billy has an inner circle who books his gigs. And, also a fan following who will go based on his name.

    And, Reverend Billy comes off as just as handsome and appealing as Jesse Johnson. (Although, that is only my personal opinion.) Actually, Reverend Billy’s wild, artistic persona is probably more charming to the kind of people who are going to think about the Green Party anyway. Greens are more likely to be cultural creatives.

    I would not say, as you did, that the party “obviously has no better candidate available.” That is a loaded, loaded statement.

    The Green Party of NYS is on low-power in some respects. (My personal opinion) But, they do have a State Committee with a lot of folks who have run before. I could name several people, many who have run for us in the past, who would have run. Some of them could not run through the gauntlet to get the support of all the insiders. That is another task that Reverend Billy’s sincerity and success also accomplished beautifully.

  5. Jeremy Young Jeremy Young August 18, 2009

    Kimberly and Dave, thanks for your responses.

    I should make clear that it’s not that I wouldn’t support Rev. Billy. Of course I would. My concern is transitioning from a fringe third party in NYC into a viable second party that can run candidates who actually win, like in SF, or who come very close, like in DC.

    I don’t think Rev. Billy is the guy to carry that banner. There are many ways to do that, but taking what is essentially a street performer and turning him into a mayoral candidate is not the way to show you are a viable party. It’s a very good way to try to up your vote totals a bit if you’re doomed to remain a fringe party — we saw Dell Schanze do that in 2008 in the Utah Governor’s race, to great effect. My contention, however, is that the GP in NYC can do better than that.

    I agree very much with Kimberly that the idea of “seriousness” is sexist and corporate. However, the goal of running third-party candidates isn’t to run people who clash with received ideas of seriousness as a way of changing the public mind. The idea is to get some true believers in power so they can change the public mind from a position of strength.

    This doesn’t make me an LP-style “reformer.” I don’t want to dilute the message. What I want are candidates who can deliver the message in a way that doesn’t turn off the majority of voters. That’s why I like Jesse Johnson so much — because of his training as an actor and his rugged good looks, he comes across as a very reasonable, mainstream kind of guy, even though down deep he’s a flaming radical. A candidate like that, or like Dean Barkley or Anthony Pollina, gets a second look from disaffected voters. A candidate like Rev. Billy doesn’t.

    None of this is a knock on Rev. Billy. He’s doing a fantastic job with what he’s got to offer, and the Party obviously has no better candidates available, or it would have run some. However, I can’t help but feel that we’ve seen this campaign before — with Malik Rahim, a similarly energetic and highly-touted candidate who nevertheless achieved disappointing results in what should have been a perfect-storm situation for the GP.

  6. Kimberly Wilder Kimberly Wilder August 17, 2009

    Dear Dave S,

    Thanks for the link to the Malachy web-site that Ian and I invented, created, and keep up as a valuable archive/political statement after all these years.

    Due to the lack of initiative or resources with other NY State greens, there are no other campaign sites left for Malachy except ours.


  7. Dave Schwab Dave Schwab August 17, 2009

    Jeremy, I agree with you that the Greens could become the second party in NYC, after the Democrats. This year’s race, with a well-loved mayoral candidate and four excellent city council candidates, is a promising development.

    Here are a few reasons it hasn’t happened yet:
    1. ballot access – Greens in NY were kicked off the ballot in 2002 and haven’t gotten back on since. They need 50,000 votes for governor in 2010 to regain ballot status.

    2. two-party illusion – in DC and San Francisco, the Democrats were basically the only party with a pulse until the Green alternative came along. In NYC, the Dems dominate… but the mayor has been Republican since the early 90s. So NYers still see politics as D vs. R, not D vs. G as in SF and DC.

    3. Working Families Party – in NY the Democrats control a paper third party called the Working Families Party. Because of fusion, candidates can run as Democrat and Working Families. The party’s feel-good name and large advertising budget makes it a useful tool for Democrats to herd in progressive voters who might otherwise go Green. In 2006, the Greens missed ballot status by less than 10,000 votes, after a WFP campaign of misinformation:

    Aside from that, all the usual factors making it difficult for Greens – lack of money, media blackout, monkey business from the state board of elections, etc – have stood in the way of Green growth.

    Also, I recommend that you check out some of Billy Talen’s materials – videos, writings, platform, whatever interests you most. He is an entertaining candidate, but one with a lot to say, and New Yorkers are really responding to his message.

  8. Kimberly Wilder Kimberly Wilder August 17, 2009

    Jeremy said:

    I like Rev. Billy, but he’s not the kind of candidate a serious party would run. What gives?


    Please think about putting the word serious at the top of a piece of paper. And, then writing about 20 words that you associate with serious.

    (I bet a lot of those words will be very patriarchal and corporate.)

    Reverend Billy is the perfect candidate for a serious THIRD PARTY. Reverend Billy is already a celebrity and a success because he has a vision and can articulate it. Reverend Billy has managed his own small media empire with excellent and inviting web-sites and art projects that he had previous to the campaign. Reverend Billy already has a volunteer infrastructure , including the members of his choir, and his partner Savitri.

    Reverend Billy’s message plays to a wide audience. He has been in the mainstream media many times.

    If you think “comedy” makes a person unserious, think again. One of Nader’s great moments was holding up a rubber chicken. Oh, and the parrot video. Two of the best motivators of discourse in the US political world have been Jon Stewart and Colbert.

    I think that a serious, status-quo, thinking-inside-the-box, afraid-to-risk-their-position- with-creative-thinking party might poo-poo Reverend Billy, Colbert, or Jon Stewart.

    But, a party that wants to get the discourse moving, create a growth spurt, and find someone whom citizens can relate to in a friendly manner, might pick any of those folks to run for office.

    But, let’s talk again after the election. The Daily News puts the Green Party/Reverend Billy at over 1% so far. I think Reverend Billy might do better than any Mayor or Governor candidate the Green Party of NYS ever had.

  9. Jeremy Young Jeremy Young August 17, 2009

    Theoretically, the Green Party could become a really viable second party in NYC. This has happened in DC and in San Francisco.

    What’s standing in the way in NYC? Is it Bloomberg? If so, why doesn’t the GP become a viable party for citywide offices other than mayor? I like Rev. Billy, but he’s not the kind of candidate a serious party would run. What gives?

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