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By Michael Musto
By Capt. James Van Thach told to Jonathan Wei
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Around the same time, Tasini was grappling with the same realization. Several people he describes as "very strongly opposed to the war" were casting about for a candidate. They suggested he run. A former union president, he's good on the stump. He didn't take the idea too seriouslyat first. But then, he thought about how his friends and colleagues view the war. "I know what people are feeling," he says.
That's not all these guys thought about. They considered what they'd need to build a credible campaign and where they'd find foot soldiersthe way they might enlist supporters across the state to donate time and money from, say, the Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean camps. And they considered what other folks had to say.
"I didn't discourage him," says Michael Sussman, a former Orange County Demo-cratic Committee member, of Greenfield. Sussman counts himself "one of those lib- erals disaffected with Hillary Clinton," especially over the war. He wants someoneanyoneto stand up and hold the senator accountable. "Someone has to say to Clinton, 'You haven't represented us,' " he explains. "I see that as Steve's endeavor and I support it."
Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, who lives in Wood- stock, sounds a similar note. When Tasini consulted him about a Senate bid, he relays, "I got excited. I am excited." Cohen worked for the 2003 Kucinich for President outfit, and he has always believed progressives' support for Clinton is thin. But with the Bush II era, they've grown more "radicalized," he says, and more disappointed with Clinton.
"The base is fed up with Democrats who echo Bush rhetoric about staying the course in Iraq," he explains, adding, "I think Jonathan's campaign will be supercharged."
At this early stage, at least, the anti-war challengers are gaining some momentum. News of the candidacies was picked up by the mainstream press and has circulated over peace listservs and liberal blogs. Just days into the campaigns, both men have begun trolling for support among activists, visiting peace groups and attending club functions. Already, Greenfield has logged hundreds of miles crisscrossing the state. And Tasini starts an upstate campaign swing this week.
The candidates have their share of distinctions, of course (see sidebar). But their central message sounds the same: The war must end now; the troops must be brought home; the billions of dollars pouring into Iraq must go to solving domestic problems with health care, Social Security, and poor job growth.
It's a campaign message made for the state's energized anti-war activists, many of whom are already on board. Manna Jo Greene of Rosendale, who traveled to Iraq in 2003 on a well-publicized peace vigil, plans to volunteer for Greenfield's bid. "It's long overdue that Hillary's constituents have an alternative and let her know that positions she's taken have not reflected the majority of her constituents," she says.
Carol Husten of Brooklyn, a new Tasini backer and one of 18 grandmothers recently arrested in Times Square for protesting the war, puts it more ominously: "This is just what we needed. . . . Hillary had better be prepared."
Clinton does seem to be trying. When asked about her two anti-war challengers last week at an upstate event, the senator replied simply, "I have no argument with anyone who wants to run for any office." And her campaign declined to comment for the Voice. But the senator has been talking more about the war these days.
Jonathan Tasini is a labor activist
photo: Steven Sunshine
Last month, she sent a well-circulated, 1,600-word e-mail to her constituents, offering her strongest words yet. She defended her vote to authorize force, although she made plain that President Bush had misled her with "false assurances, faulty evidence, and mismanagement." She even called for a plan to begin withdrawing troops next year.
Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant, sees the senator's e-mail as "the beginning of a shift" in her hawkish war stance and expects her to become more visibly critical of the Bush administration. The anti-war candidates, he notes, can actually help Clinton as she moves into that role. "They will give her a chance to cement her position on the left and allow her to re- emphasize her criticisms," he says.
To hear the political analysts, progressive Democrats aren't about to abandon their popular senator for Greenfield, Tasini, or any anti-war candidate. After all, only the anti-war left has begun rising up against Clinton. Most other factions have given Clinton cover. Says one observer with ties to various progressive circles, "I bet you won't get people who are part of the political machinery talking critically about Clinton. Hillary has the left in her corner no matter what."
Maybe so. But a surprising number of progressives who don't identify with the anti-war movement are at least listening. Get-out-the-vote powerhouses like the Village Independent Democrats, the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, and Democracy for NYC all expect to vet the challengers and consider the alternatives. For Clinton, they insist, getting their endorsements won't be a walk in the park. Says Skyles-Mulligan, of the Chelsea club, "Senator Clinton is out of touch. She has a vulnerability that she needs to fix."
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