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Suddenly, Hillary Clinton has not one but two anti-war challengers in the 2006 Senate race.
Cheered on by none other than “Peace Mom” Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war movement has been hounding Clinton for voting to support the war in Iraq and refusing to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops.
Now the movement has a pair of candidates pledging to dog Clinton throughout the Democratic primary, forcing her to keep explaining her vote on Iraq. The first is Steven Greenfield of New Paltz, a musician and volunteer firefighter who’s set to make his candidacy official Monday morning at a press conference at Columbia University, in Manhattan. The second is Jonathan Tasini a Washington Heights resident and labor activist best known for Tasini v. New York Times, a landmark lawsuit over writers’ digital rights. He’s planning to make his bid official at a press event at the W Hotel, in Union Square, on December 6.
This unexpected surfeit of anti-war underdogs put Sheehan in an unusual bind. Tasini, for one, was sure he had Sheehan’s backing, nearly up until the eve of his official announcement. Now it’s not clear whether she’ll show up at the W, where Tasini had been expecting her to take the podium.
On Sunday, Sheehan decided she couldn’t throw her weight behind a particular candidate. She says she and Tasini met at an anti-war protest in front of the White House in September. So when he invited her to attend his upcoming kick off, she agreed — at first. But at a November 30 appearance at Coliseum Books, in Manhattan, one of her fans mentioned Greenfield and asked if she supported him.
“I said I had never even heard of this person’s name,” Sheehan tells the Voice. The emergence of a second anti-war candidate “puts me into a dilemma,” she adds.
“I want to lend my support to any pro-peace and anti-war candidates,” Sheehan explains. “I don’t want to support one candidate over the other, but I do want to support the anti-war message.”
Given the strong anti-war sentiment in New York, it seems likely that Greenfield and Tasini will be able to tap into a substantial constituency. What’s surprising is that Tasini – who has been quietly working to build his candidacy for 10 months – has already lined up a list of high-profile supporters, Sheehan’s back-and-forth notwithstanding. Author Barbara Ehrenreich is expected to back her longtime friend on the campaign trail, as is her writer colleague Jeff Cohen, who worked on the 2003 Kucinich for President campaign. And Tim Carpenter, of the Progressive Democrats of America, tells the Voice that he personally backs Tasini.
“He’s the real deal,” Carpenter says. “It’s exciting. Hillary will be now challenged on her positions on the war as well as on other fundamental issues.”
Tasini has worked in labor for 25 years, recently taking on that favorite corporate demon, Wal-Mart. For 13 years, beginning in 1990, he headed the National Writers Union, which resulted in his greatest claim to fame. He happens to be the Tasini, the lead plaintiff in Tasini v. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case for freelance writers.
Greenfield, meanwhile, has built his reputation in his local Hudson Valley, making a name for himself among progressive activists on everything from theater boycotts to voter reform to anti-war demonstrations. All last week, news of his candidacy spread quickly on peace listservs across the state, as dozens of activists congratulated him for his willingness to stand up to Clinton and to try to hold her accountable.
“Steve is doing something important because without him we’d have no choice,” says Charles Lechner, of White Plains, a former staffer of the Dennis Kucinich presidential campaign who sent Greenfield an e-mail commending his effort. “The war is wrong and Democrats who have supported the war should either repent or be punished at the polls.”
By Sunday evening, it was still unclear whether Sheehan would actually attend Tasini’s announcement. Or if she would write a letter of support for his anti-war candidacy. “I cannot endorse any candidate because it will jeopardize the status of my non-profit,” she tells the Voice. But one thing is for certain: Sheehan and plenty of others are excited by the latest turn of events. As she puts it, “It’s awesome there are two anti-war candidates. I think the mood of New York is clear. Now people have a real choice.”