Friday, March 15, 2013

Throw Your Own Party

The Rent is Too Damn High!  With that grievance against landlords, Jimmy McMillan skyrocketed to stardom in mid-October of New York’s 2010 gubernatorial season, charming a Hofstra University debate audience.  After Jimmy offered to marry New Yorkers to “a shoe” if that’s what they wanted, Andrew Cuomo told the audience he was on board with the nominee of the “Rent Is Too Damn High Party": “I agree with Jimmy.  The rent is too damn high.”

Who says political party names don’t matter anymore?
While no officials of note have been elected on the Toga Party ticket, in New York you can run for office on the name of any party you want.  One caveat: you need to get the required petition signatures from eligible voters designating you, the name of your party and its symbol.  So it’s easiest to make up your own party in a small community holding a local election-- where you would only need a small number of signatures.  Hundreds of New York villages hold their elections this Tuesday—and in some of them, candidates shun major party labels for homegrown partisan flair.
There is a super hot election in Nassau County's Freeport.  Mayor Andrew Hardwick, a registered Democrat who has controversially claimed support from President Obama, is in a tough battle for re-election on his “Freeport First” line.  His fellow Trustee, Robert Kennedy, has accused him of being an autocrat in a pitched campaign. 
Kennedy’s party certainly aspires to big ideas—it’s called the “Freeport Unity Home Rule Party" and has a Thomas Jefferson-quoting page on Facebook.  I’m not entirely sure who the party wants to declare independence from, but the name was a welcome flash from the staid labels on many Long Island municipalities.  In Saddle Rock, the “Independent Party of the Village of Saddle Rock” faces off against the “Saddle Rock Village Party.”
A Head of the Harbor candidate on Long Island’s North Shore says he thought long and hard about the name of his party in the village's first contested election in a dozen years.  Daniel White is running for Mayor on the "Box Party" ticket in this Suffolk County community.   He faces the "Village Party" candidate. 
White told the Three Village Patch  his party "encourages thinking about both in and out of symbolic political box" and "is an affectionate reference to the Box Wood plant that my great grand father planted at my family home."
That’s all too boring for Grandview-on-the-Hudson Mayor Larry Lynn.  Lynn told me he started his optimistic “Life’s A Party” Party in 2001.  He said that in Grandview “by law or tradition” candidates do not run on major party labels.  He picked a musical note as its symbol and has run on the party’s line every other year since, including in this Tuesday’s election, where he is unopposed. 
Village Clerk Julie Pagliaroli says in even-numbered years, when two trustees run without the mayor's seat up for election, the candidates run on the “Block Party” line.  Lynn says that party got its name because one of its candidates, Trustee Joe Abrams, used to throw a big block party for the village.
The real musical party though is in Grandview’s neighbor, South Nyack.  Forget the Democrats and Republicans.  The endorsement you want there is from the “Village People’s Party.”  The mayoral election is uncontested; there is a battle for the Trustee seats though, with Cliff Weathers and Catherine McCue both endorsed by the Village People.  I guess YMCA can get a crowd going at a village board meeting.
The South Nyack conversation has focused on the impact of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, Governor Cuomo’s fast-tracked infrastructure initiative.  The bridge lands there, connecting it to Westchester County on the other side of the Hudson.  Trustee Tom Neff, a long-serving village leader, is fending off the newcomers’ challenge.
But Rockland’s Upper Nyack takes the party name cake.  Jennifer Chaitin is challenging longtime Mayor Mike Esmay in an energetic battle for the unpaid post in this high-end community.  Chaitin is under the banner of the “Girls Gone Green” Party, apparently named after the landscaping business she owns.  She has a detailed platform on her website.

Esmay is running on the stately “Bell Tower Party” ticket, which is promoted in a frequently updated Facebook page.  The party was formed in 1995 and takes it name from the bell tower on top of the Upper Nyack firehouse.
There are a  number of Westchester elections with familiar partisan divides.  In Port Chester, a diverse village with a growing Latino community, incumbent Democrat Dennis Pilla faces off against Republican challenger Neil Pagano.   The race has focused on the pace and scale of development, with accusations of campaigning at taxpayer expense.  (Port Chester is the only municipality in New York to offer early voting).
Tarrytown’s Mayor Drew Fixell , a Democrat, is running unopposed, as his community also considers the impact of the new Tappan Zee Bridge on it’s Hudson River shore.  But there the major parties there all run under the banner of Tarrytown United.
Perhaps the waterfront community will get a local branch of the Pirate Party, formed to reform patent laws.   The Pirates hope to avoid the fate of Delware’s “Blue Enigma Party” which faded from view despite winning statewide ballot status.  Rhode Island’s “Moderate Party” does not seem to have excited anyone either.
Israeli politicians do innovate with their labels.  In as display of egoism thought possible only in New York, incoming Minister Tzipi Livni named her party in Parliamentary elections this past January the “Tzipi Livni Party.”  The poll tested “Yesh Atid” or “There is a Future Party” won second place out of two dozen parties in its first election.
Maybe the way to rejuvenate our democracy is to throw out our existing party names and come up with new ones.   I can imagine the crowd a rally for the Tupperware Party.