By Ed Gold
Former Senator John Edwards received the presidential endorsement of the Village Independent Democrats last Thursday at a meeting held at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery.
He got more than the required 50 percent of the vote on the second ballot, according to Katharine Wolpe, president of the progressive Democratic political club. Other candidates receiving votes on the second ballot were U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Barack Obama.
Hillary Clinton did not get enough votes to make the second ballot and finished no better than fourth. Wolpe said that for V.I.D. members the decisive factor in supporting Edwards was his strong focus on helping the poor. She said club members felt that all the Democratic candidates now oppose the Iraq war.
Two days earlier, at a debate sponsored by V.I.D., Village Reform Democratic Club, Downtown Independent Democrats and other Democratic clubs, political activists for the leading Democratic presidential candidates made it clear that the top priority next year was capturing the White House and making sure that Rudy Giuliani doesn’t occupy it.
Held at the L.G.B.T. Community Center, the event pitted supporters of Hillary Clinton, Obama and Edwards in a civilized debate on the virtues of their respective candidates. Other sponsors of the debate included Coalition for a District Alternative, Stonewall Democrats, N.Y.U. Democrats and Lexington Democrats.
Possibly the strongest audience reaction occurred when Hal Friedman, a former V.I.D. president, speaking for Edwards, told the audience of about 75, “We’ll bust our butts to beat the Republicans next year.”
He shared the podium for Edwards with Jonathan Tasini, who ran against Clinton in the Democratic Senate primary and beat her in V.I.D., getting the club’s vote because of his strong stance against the Iraq War.
Tasini got a laugh when, upon being introduced, he noted, “I didn’t beat her for the nomination.”
Speaking for Clinton was Catherine Abate, formerly a Democratic district leader out of V.I.D., a state senator and a commissioner of the city’s Department of Correction. Abate stressed Clinton’s strength in the polls, contending that “she
beats Giuliani head to head,” and arguing that Clinton was “the candidate most prepared to deal with the complex issues facing the nation.”
Speaking for Obama was Brian Mathis, the candidate’s colleague at Harvard Law School, who worked in Bill Clinton’s administration and is now on Obama’s finance committee.
Noting that he was a neophyte campaign speaker, Mathis added that he would not try to “out-progressive” the other speakers. But he did take a pretty obvious shot at Sen. Clinton when he asserted his candidate “did not take campaign money from special interests or lobbyists,” adding that “corporate America doesn’t give money without getting something in return.”
Tasini argued that Edwards had made the strongest commitment to getting the troops out of Iraq and favored cutting off war funding to bring the American occupation to an end.
He added that Edwards was the only candidate who had made poverty a major issue and who has said the current government system has to be changed because “it is polluted by money.”
Mathis insisted that an African-American could be elected president and that Obama’s “politics of hope” had energized Americans throughout the country. He said that it was time young people were inspired by others besides “athletes and entertainers.” He made specific reference to the recent Obama rally in Washington Square Park, which he said drew 25,000 people.
Abate said Clinton would have an edge as commander in chief since “she is well known by leaders throughout the world.” She noted that Clinton had promised to end U.S. involvement in Iraq’s “civil war,” protect pensions and Social Security, support the middle class and oppose trade policies that lose American jobs.
“We need a president with an in-depth understanding of the issues,” she added. “We are really tired of having an ill-informed president.”
During the question-and-answer period, the speakers were asked about gay marriage.
Friedman and Mathis said their candidates’ wives were better on that issue than their husbands. Abate noted Clinton’s support for civil unions with the same rights as married couples, and mentioned that the senator opposed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy that her husband had supported.
Chairing the forum were Noah Yago, V.R.D.C.’s president, and Matthew Carlin, president of Stonewall Democrats. Yago said he was impressed by the “large turnout of campaign activists,” adding that “the Democrats had a big mess to clean up.”
A check on key club members who attended indicated tight races for club endorsements. V.R.D.C. sources indicate the club might endorse more than one candidate.
Democratic State Committeeman Arthur Schwartz asked to speak at the forum, saying he would not reveal whom he supported he’s committed to Obama and adding that Democrats should look into the long-term records of candidates before making their decision.
The New York State Democratic Party presidential primary election will take place on Tues., Feb. 5, 2008. Supporters for the candidates will be collecting nominating petition signatures from Oct. 30 to Dec. 6, 2007.