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He wants your vote: Libertarian John Clifton

Fool Me Once

Libertarians brush themselves off after losing high-profile candidate; replacement aims to reopen 9/11 investigation

John Clifton became active in the Libertarian Party soon after the ’94 debacle that was the Howard Stern candidacy. The party chose Stern for its gubernatorial candidate for the obvious reasons: He had name recognition; he seemed to share some libertarian beliefs (he was, at least by default, an advocate of free speech); and he could pretty much bankroll his own campaign. The goal was to use Stern’s celebrity to draw the 50,000 votes needed to gain the libertarians a guaranteed line on the ballot for four years. But the King of All Media bowed out early, after only four months, leaving the libertarians high and dry.

And now, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld has done it again. “We nominate a high-profile person,” Clifton said, “and they step out.” The Republican, who also had the Libertarian Party nomination, called it quits in the race for New York governor after losing the GOP nomination to John Faso.

So Clifton, a 47-year-old social worker from Jamaica, Queens, stepped in, taking up the Libertarian candidacy for governor. He said he hopes to grab those 50,000 votes “the traditional way,” through a grassroots groundswell. It is possible, he added, pointing to the Green Party in New York state as an example.

The Greens gained ballot status in the late ’90s with only a couple hundred active members, he said, and four years later, their numbers swelled to more than 30,000. “And I think we will have the potential for a greater growth pattern,” he said, claiming that, according to a Gallup Poll report, more than 20 percent of voters hold libertarian beliefs.

These beliefs range from the far left—legalized drugs and abortions, open immigration—to the extreme right—‘free’ markets with zero regulations, hefty tax cuts—with a prevailing antiwar sentiment. It is his stance on the smoking ban (he is against it), the Rockefeller Drug Laws (he is against them), and the abuse of eminent domain that separates him from the rest of the candidates and, he hopes, will win him support with the voters. Clifton offered an example of his “unique vision” for New York state: If elected, he will reopen the investigation into the events of 9/11.

“There are a lot of people that just don’t believe in the official version of the story that is presented by the 9/11 Commission’s investigation,” he said. He has talked to many people who say the events of the day do not add up. His sister was evacuated that morning from the World Trade Center and she saw things that did not compute with the official story.

“There was evidence that there was damage to the lobby independent to whatever was going on with the plane that crashed into the building,” he said. “According to statements of first responders, there is a case to be made that there were demolition charges, as if it was an inside job, a controlled demolition. There are questions to the way everything rolled out that day.”

If he becomes governor, he said, every 9/11 question that relates to New York state could be reexamined. Why was the air-defense system at stand-down at the time? How did Building Seven fall? Why it was understood that there were toxins in the air in the following days and yet the workers at the site weren’t informed?

“Were we actually attacked?” he asked. Considering the Patriot Act and the intervention in Iraq and possibly Iran, was somebody actually manipulating events to justify having an expensive, civil-liberties-destroying, empire-building war? An investigation, he said, would help clear up these questions once and for all. Of course, he said, he knows that reopening the investigation would be unpopular with certain people.

“If something happens to me mysteriously,” he joked, “it wasn’t an accident.”

Clifton is unique among the other candidates, too, he said, because of his commitment to small government. Republican Faso and Democrat Eliot Spitzer, he argued, are two sides of the same coin. They are both authoritarians. They are statists who use government to enforce their ideologies. Libertarians would remove government from this position of power.

“I believe in the five freedoms,” he said: the freedom to bear arms, the freedom from taxation, personal freedoms of privacy and choice, the freedom to live peacefully, and drug freedoms.

“The notion that we have to use force to intrude in people’s decision making,” Clifton said, “must be avoided. I don’t think force is a solution.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Highway to Hell

Former Enron Corp. chairman and convicted felon Kenneth Lay died Wednesday morning (July 5) after suffering a massive heart attack in his vacation home in Old Snowmass, Colo. “Kenny Boy,” as President Bush has referred to one of his largest campaign contributors, was convicted (along with former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling) on May 25 for taking part in one of the largest business frauds in U.S. history. The company finally went into bankruptcy protection in December 2001, costing many of its employees their life savings.


North Korea test fired eight missiles this week, drawing the world’s attention back to the possibility of a nuclear Pyongyang. Kim Jung Il, North Korea’s dictator, has been accused by the United States and others of aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. According to Washington, none of the seven missiles successfully lobbed into the Sea of Japan pose any real threat to the United States, and the only missile that could reach Alaska failed on launch. Japan, however, isn’t happy. The island country reacted to the tests by imposing economic sanctions against the already economically crippled country.

Which Piper to Pay?

This week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that he would like to see a review of the immunity that U.S. soldiers enjoy from Iraqi prosecution. His announcement was prompted by the case of U.S. Army Pvt. Steven T. Green. According to a joint military-FBI investigation, Green allegedly raped an Iraqi girl, murdered her and three of her family members, and then set her house on fire. News of the murders sparked a cry for justice across Iraq.

Gung Ho Bottle Rocket

The U.S. shuttle Discovery made a July 4 launch this week despite arguments that the ship’s fuel tank needed repairs. During takeoff, insulating foam from the tank did break away and strike the spacecraft. Foam strikes were thought to be the cause of the Columbia space disaster. After inspecting the shuttle Wednesday, NASA reported that there was no sign of damage, but claimed it was too early to be certain.

The Ties That Bind

Activists rally behind publicly funded elections in hopes of severing the relationship between special interests and politicians

A dozen people gathered at the home of Steve Segore in Albany on June 27 for a lively house party, sans body shots and keg. Instead, the night was replete with talk of dirty elections, corrupt politicians, faltering democracy and the hope that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer will help bring campaign finance reform to the Capitol.

Thirty-five such parties took place across New York, with five in the Capital Region, bringing together nearly 1,000 people in support of Clean Money, Clean Elections reform.

“It is events like this,” said Aaron Mair, one of the party’s attendees, “that is really the grassroots. We have to take back our government from parasitic politicians.”

“You got to wonder why someone would spend five times as much on their race for office than what they will make in office,” Segore said. “It is because it is a good investment.”

Peter Jellett, wearing a T-shirt that read “War is Peace/Freedom is Slavery/Bush is President,” added, “Public office is not a commodity. Yet, that’s how it is treated.”

The highlight of the event, organized by Citizen Action for Spitzer, was a conference call from the attorney general himself, along with his running mate, Senate Minority Leader David Paterson (D-Harlem). “In 1988, I met an Ohio legislator named C.J. McLin,” Paterson said over the statewide phone call. The two discussed the obnoxious influence that money has during and after elections. “He said, ‘You have to take their money, eat their food, drink their wine and then vote against their bill.’ ”

This is a lofty goal, he said, and one that many politicians fall short of achieving. Instead, they tend to enable the wishes of their campaign contributors, many times to the detriment of their broader constituency.

Paterson has been an advocate of clean-money reform since 1997. He has sponsored legislation in the state Senate (S2401) that would allow for public funding of all statewide elections, including elections for state senators, assembly persons and district attorneys. “We are going to fight for Clean Money, Clean Elections,” Paterson said, “the minute we get to Albany.”

And in choosing Paterson, many believe that Spitzer has signaled his own willingness to put into action campaign-finance reform.

“We have to persuade voters that Clean Money, Clean Elections is the way to go,” Spitzer said during the event. “We are going to do it because we care so deeply about this. It is something that is essential to restoring good governance to New York.”

And it is this kind of active support from Spitzer and Paterson that makes CMCE advocates like Citizen Action organizer Jessica Wisneski wildly excited.

“I think it is fantastic! We got a commitment from the candidates,” Wisneski said. “The likely next governor and lieutenant governor of New York are supportive of Clean Money and are willing to fight for it.”

Citizen Action of New York has been working to pass clean-money legislation since 1996. In 1998, the organization was involved when the partial-funding system was passed in New York City. But for a few years, Wisneski said, the supporters of reform were pretty much inactive.

“For 12 years we had Pataki, and we knew that Pataki wouldn’t even consider a public-funding system,” she said. “Not even a partial public-funding system that the state Assembly passes every year.”

The major problems in the past have been the Republicans in power, she said, pointing to Gov. Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. They haven’t been willing to even consider a public-funding system. “Shelly Silver and his Assembly have passed a public-funding bill for years now. But it is a Democratically sponsored bill, and in the state Senate, like any Democratically sponsored bill in the state senate, it doesn’t have a prayer.”

If you look at the top campaign contributors and the politicians they support, she said, they are the ones who are the most resistant to CMCE. It was obvious that campaign-finance reform that is as comprehensive as CMCE would only pass if there were a governor willing to stand up to the special interests.

“Spitzer has stood up to the powerful interests,” she added. “We knew last year that Spitzer said he supports Clean Money. That has been a large part of the current drive.”

Since 1996, versions of CMCE legislation have been adopted by Maine, Vermont, Arizona, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Arizona, Maine and Connecticut have adopted the most comprehensive versions of the law, enacting programs of public-financing for candidates for all legislative and statewide offices.

In these states, it is a choice for each candidate to opt in for the public funding. The candidate must raise a small amount of money through contributions—each typically around $5—from the public. Once candidates have done this, they will receive funds from the state with which to run their campaign. Once a candidate has signed on to the program, they cannot accept private contributions nor spend personal monies on their campaigns.

In Maine’s 2004 election, 83 percent of those elected to the senate and 77 percent of those elected to the house ran on “clean money.” In Arizona, the governor, attorney general and treasurer all won their offices on public funding. CMCE advocates look to these developments as signs that their legislation works.

Not everyone is convinced that public funding is the way to go. Josh Hills, communications director for Republican gubernatorial candidate John Faso, said that Faso doesn’t believe in public financing for elections. “Albany is already rigged to favor incumbents,” Hills said, “and this bill would help keep them entrenched. New York voters would be better served by a requirement of full and immediate disclosure of contributions.”

“How many years can we call the state Legislature dysfunctional?” Wisneski asked. “How many times can we see finance scandals, big or little, before we make a change that will really make an impact? This has been on the radar for a long time but never this close to the center. But it won’t happen without a groundswell of support.”

—Chet Hardin



“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.


Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.

Loose Ends

-no losse ends this week-

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