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Green Party looks to build base in Queens

Craig Seeman, the New York state chairman of the Green Party, compared his fledgling political organization to the New York Mets of the early 1960s. He will accept a few losses today for the good of the party in the long run.

“By running our own candidates, we are building a farm team which will eventually lead to electoral victories,” he said.

They do not resemble the 1969 world champs yet, but Seeman said given some time, the party will be a force in city politics.

In the first city elections since they won ballot status in 1998, the Greens, buoyed by term limits and 4-to-1 matching funds, are running more than 20 candidates citywide, including eight in Queens’ city council races. The majority of the candidates belong to the Green Party, but some Democrats also are running on the Green ballot line.

While party officials believe there a few races citywide that enrolled Greens have legitimate shots at winning, they say for now victory is not the important thing.

“We will go a long way toward weakening the political machines because they will have to contend with us,” said Seeman said. “We’ve just been around the last few years and the number of candidates in Queens shows we’re growing.”

David Levner, chairman of the Green Party Queens County Organization, said his party has yet to tap into its existing base in the borough.

“I like to think there are many Greens out there who don’t know they’re Green,” he said. “We haven’t even reached out natural base yet. Then comes the harder task of reaching people who are not Greens to get them to become Greens.”

Paul Graziano may represent the party’s best hope of capturing a council seat in Queens in the Nov. 6 general election. A candidate for Julia Harrison’s (D-Flushing) 20th Council District slot, he was one of three Greens citywide to qualify for matching funds. While many Queens Greens said they were running to get their issues out in the open or to learn how to manage a campaign, Graziano said he has loftier goals.

“I’d like to think that I’m running a campaign to win,” he said. “I’ve raised $33,000. I’ve been active in this community. I’ve lived here my whole life. This is a serious run.”

But win or lose, Graziano is convinced his candidacy has helped enhance the image of the Green Party.

“The first thing people think of the Green Party are some long- haired hippy dudes saying ‘peace man,’ but I don’t think that’s the aura I give off,” the 30-year-old urban planning consultant said.

He was involved in the only Green Party runoff after a bizarre 17-17 tie against ultrasound technician Evergreen Chou in the Sept. 25 primary. The primary stalemate attracted citywide attention to the Green Party.

But candidates and party officials said they do not have to rely on election quirks to get their message out.

“There are a lot of common sense issues lost by both Democrats and Republicans that are talked about by individuals but not by parties themselves,” said Graziano. “Greens talk about things that aren’t being talked about.”

As the general election nears, the Greens are calling for elected — not appointed — community boards, higher salaries for teachers, affordable rental housing, a living minimum wage of $12.50 an hour, electoral reform, public financing of campaigns and an end to the death penalty.

Seeman said the Green Party is “a place where people who are unhappy with the political system can exercise something more than just a protest vote.”

In some places, Greens are running against Democrats who would otherwise be unchallenged. Jerry Kann is competing with Peter Vallone Jr. for the 22nd Council District seat that represents Astoria and Long Island City.

“The Democratic Party doesn’t stick up for ordinary people anymore,” said Kann, a free-lance copy editor. “The Green Party is basically offering people a choice, saying we’ll listen to you, we know what you want.”

Seeman said unlike other third parties, the Greens draw support from both Democrats and Republicans. “For every Green who votes for us, there are maybe 20 to 30 who are Democrats or Republicans or have no party enrollment,” he said. We might have one quarter of one half percent of enrollment base, but our candidates might get 10 percent of the vote or more.”

For now, Seeman and his fellow party officials will be happy capturing 10 percent and what he said is the threat of more votes to come.

“There will be thousands of voters voting Green Party and this will be a concern to the political machine,” he said. “We are building a viable political party that intends to win elections, to win on issues.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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