Hawkins winning 25th Congressional war of wits

Syracuse Post-Standard

October 30th, 2008

It's Howie Hawkins who regularly draws laughs at candidate forums, debates.

Political debates are not where one often looks for laughs.

But in the 25th Congressional District debates, Green Populist candidate Howie Hawkins has been the king of the one-liners.

As he, Democrat Dan Maffei and Republican Dale Sweetland argue over health care, the war and the economy, Hawkins has delivered the best punch lines.

A perennial campaigner for public office, Hawkins earns laughs from audiences by poking fun at himself and his opponents.

In the campaign's first televised debate, he deadpanned, "The paper makes a big deal of the fact that I've run 13 times and I've lost 13 times. Well, I have a clue for you. These two guys both lost their last elections. So you have a choice between three losers."

Syracuse University political science professor Grant Reeher said Hawkins effectively uses humor to connect with voters.

"In addition to the fact that he is witty and funny, part of the reason why he gets the strong positive reaction he is getting from the audiences is because his comments reflect a genuine comfort with himself and an ability to have fun at his own expense," Reeher said. "He takes the ideas and policies he's talking about very seriously, but at the same time, he doesn't take himself very seriously. Unfortunately, that's a rare quality in politics."

The three candidates take part in their final debate together at 7 p.m. today. Here are some of their best zingers from the campaign so far:

Hawkins drew the only laugh at an Oct. 16 debate when Reeher, the moderator, posed the Zen question: What didn't the candidates know and would have to learn to become an effective congressman?

"Working in an office ... wearing a jacket and tie. Showing up at the cleaners to get my shirt. I forget to do that sometimes," said Hawkins, a blue-collar worker.

During a debate last week, the candidates were asked one-by-one how they would secure federal aid for Central New York, as retiring incumbent Rep. James Walsh has done for 20 years.

When it came to Hawkins' turn, the moderator Matt Mulcahy said, "Mr. Hawkins, can you replace Mr. Walsh?" Hawkins replied, "I would love to."

In a debate about education, Hawkins drew the biggest applause by suggesting deep cuts to the military budget to pay for improving educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

"It will be a nice day when the schools get the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale," he said.

Sweetland and Maffei have gotten a few chuckles at the debates.

A member of the studio audience at WCNY-TV asked the candidates Oct. 22 to talk about the flaws of their opponents' economic plans.

"In 45 seconds?" Sweetland said with a chuckle and look of incredulity.

Maffei has promised voters that he'll be a persistent advocate for them in Washington, D.C.

"You know it took me six years to convince my wife to marry me," he said.

Sweetland opened a debate in front of business leaders by saying, "Good afternoon, it's nice to be here. You may have seen me on TV walking backwards. I didn't know I could do the moonwalk until Dan pointed it out."

He was referring to an attack ad on TV that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid for.


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