Supporters of George Martinez, a candidate for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 7th Congressional District, are pressuring NY1 to reverse its decision not to invite Martinez to the station’s political debate, accusing the station of a bias that privileges well-connected fundraisers over grass-roots candidates.
In response to a flurry of inquiries from Martinez supporters, NY1 Political Director and Executive Producer Bob Hardt insisted closing Martinez out of the debate is nothing personal.
Since congressional primary races don’t tend to be big enough to justify polling, he said, the station has to find other ways to assess whether a campaign is serious. NY1 looks at whether a candidate is raising and spending money.
“Several candidates who are on the ballot in several of the races have filed with the Federal Election Commission but shown no evidence of any campaign activity and have not been invited to participate in our debates. Can you provide any evidence that George Martinez has been running an actual campaign by getting donations from voters in the district and spending the money on basic campaign expenses? If so, we’d reconsider our decision.”
There’s no question that the Martinez campaign is a long-shot, up against three other candidates including 20-year incumbent Nydia Velazquez and machine-backed City Councilor Erik Dilan. But Martinez supporters were incensed that he would be shut out of the debate because he hasn’t raised a lot of money.
The absence of fundraising isn’t a failure of the campaign, they said: it’s the whole point of the campaign.
Running as an Occupy Wall Street candidate, Martinez has explicitly framed his campaign as an experiment, testing his belief that it is still possible for a candidate to win office on the strength of community connections and grass-roots campaigning, rather than fundraising for a big war-chest. So far, he’s raised less than $6,000.
In a statement issued over the weekend, the campaign argued that far from a failure, this is something to be proud of. “To us, this represents a victory for people-powered, grassroots politics, not a lack of ‘viability!'”
The conflict was put off yesterday morning when NY1 announced that, out of respect for the recent death of Velazquez’s mother, the debate was being postponed.
In the meantime, there’s a chance that Martinez will appear in the debate after all. After conferring with NY1, the Martinez campaign is filing paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission that may satisfy the station that the campaign isn’t dead, it’s just skipping the usual fund-raiser circuit.
For more on Martinez, look for our feature story on his campaign and his complicated relationship with the Occupy Wall Street Movement coming out this evening.