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Consider the Greens

July 11, 2013, at 6:13 PM

Speaking of immigration, who will benefit marginally if immigration reform doesn't pass? A few theories.

One: Democrats will be able to successfully make the argument that Republicans have no interest in passing a bill, and that Hispanics shouldn't expect to see one until there's a Democratic speaker, and, also, that they shouldn't punish the president and Democrats because they tried their hardest.

Two: The Greens have an opening.

The Greens? Why would anyone even pay attention to them? To help ease the existential anxieties of some Greens I know, I want to show them a little love.

Here's what's interesting. The Greens hate "the two-party duopoly." It gets nothing done, they insist. That's the basic premise for their appeals on a local level. But that's not specific enough, or even interesting enough, for any cohort of voters to consider, probably because they've already considered it. And Democrats can point to ObamaCare and the president's immigration initiatives to say that, comprehensive reform aside, they've delivered the goods, real, tangible things, that benefit Latinos.

Lynn Serpe is running for City Council in New York. The district, the 22nd, covers most of Astoria, in Queens. It's multiethnic, multi-class, multi-occupancy. Serpe has three non-Green opponents, two of whom have higher profiles than her, and one of whom, Costa Constantinides, has raised more than $100,000.

Serpe is a long-time environmental activist, but instead of just running as the progressive choice, kind of an idea without content to most voters, she's focusing her time on two subjects. One is the return of non-citizen resident voting rights in local elections. The City Council is thinking about writing a bill to allow it, and her opponents have so far largely ignored the issue. Serpe says it would empower immigrants. (It would increase by about 800,000 the number of eligible voters in the city.)

Issue two: Serpe calls herself the only candidate not to be tainted by corporate money. Her appeal meets something concrete, though: Developers are wrestling over two new housing developments planned for the district. She pledges to fairly represent the interests of her constituents without having to worry about alienating the city's powerful real estate lobby.

Daniel Saudade Lee is helping to run Serpe's campaign. He thinks the Democratic Party's failure to follow through on immigration creates an opening. If just enough Democrats decide that voting for the lesser of two evils is not sufficient, he wants them to see an attractive viable Green candidate who speaks the language of her district. Since most Green candidates lose, I asked Lee how he avoided feeling hopeless.

"Easy actually. I see all out efforts as building; as a process in creating a real political alternative to the Republicrat duopoly."

How does he measure progress?

"An increased number of registered Greens. And more demand for electoral options." And ballot access.

If Serpe does well, it'll send a back to basics message to Green party candidates. Don't just talk about clean elections and progressive values and ideas and hopes and theories. Pick a few of your values, find tangible things to hang them on, and exploit the growing number of lesser-of-two-evil Democratic voters.

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