2009 October 27th
Howie Hawkins speaks softly. He's looking to get himself a big stick.
He's campaigning to be the next councilor on the Common Council from the city's Fourth District. He's run for the job before but this time Howie thinks he's got a shot at it. His opponent is the incumbent, Tom Seals, a sweet man and a retired city police officer with 30 years "on the streets," as Tom puts it. Howie says he's running against Tom, whom he likes as a friend, because he doesn't think the councilor has been a strong advocate for his constituents.
Howie's on the Green Party line, where he's been resting comfortably for years. This is Howie's 17th run for public office since he came to Syracuse in 1993. He's always lost but points out correctly that he raised issues in the process, including such matters as a living wage and public power.
Howie relishes the role of the gadfly, a critter who stimulates and annoys with persistent criticism. "I'd be the squeaky wheel" on the council if he made it this time, he says.
He says he didn't feel good about challenging Tom Seals(a Democrat) but was talked into it by some Democrats who convinced him he needed to "be on the inside,"pushing issues year-around. When my colleagues at the Post-Standard endorsed Howie in a three-way race in 2001 (with Seals and Mike Atkins) he was praised as a "voice for the voiceless" and a "tireless activist for empowering the traditionally disenfranchised."
That sure sounds like Howie.
He's running in an interesting district that includes pieces of the Westcott Nation and the South Side as well as downtown and the Near West Side. The district voted heavily for Obama in the most recent election but Howie doesn't think the turnout will be as good in this off-year election. Still, "the Progressives on the East Side need a vote," he says.
Tom Seals said he and Howie are casual friends who share a "mutual respect" for each other "Everybody is entitled to run for office," Tom says. "The people will decide."
Howie comes to us from the San Francisco Bay area, where he grew up, the son of parents from the Middle West. He seems to have listened carefully to the way his mates from the Mississippi Delta spoke because he still talks with a soft Delta accent that seems at ease in his neighborhood of African American families from the South. He lives at Warner Avenue and Cannon Street.
He's a former Marine who opposed the Vietnam War and was a member of the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S. He attended Dartmouth College and worked construction in New England, where he helped organize workers interested in energy efficiency and the environment. He moved to Syracuse to help organize cooperatives that are member-owned and "ecologically sustainable," using a successful cooperative on Puget Sound as a model.
He works nights as a teamster loading packages at UPS.
Howie agrees with Seals that a community curfew and surveillance cameras times haven't arrived and wants to set up a community hiring hall and get a medium-sized grocery store on the city's South Side. He favors putting more money into youth programs, particularly an active Police Benevolent League system of teams, like the ones he played in growing up.
Howie is the only true independent candidate running without major party support on the ballot this time. He says this may be his last run. Even thought he supports the Green Party he doesn't relish the notion of another statewide campaign.
Independent candidates usually end up at the far bottom of the ballot, a position to be enjoyed, because you stand out all by yourself, but way out of the mainstream. Howie jokes about how hard it is to find his place in the line-up:
"We tell people to bend down and pray and look straight ahead and I'll be there," the only candidate on the bottom line.
Dick Case writes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at 470-2254 or by e-mail, email@example.com.