Labor activist looks to unseat Gillibrand

U.S. Senate hopeful Jonathan Tasini doesn’t see himself as a long shot to unseat U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Despite massive disadvantages in name recognition and fundraising, Tasini thinks the economic crisis and state government meltdown have left people more open to his brand of change than they’ve ever been. Tasini was in Ithaca Sunday campaigning and fundraising.

“The political machine in this state does not work for the people. The political machine in this state works for the politicians and the careers of politicians, and people are fed up with that,” he said.

A progressive Democrat, Tasini has lived in Manhattan for 23 years and has worked most of his adult life in the labor movement, he said.

As president of the National Writers Union, Tasini won a lawsuit against The New York Times in a case in which the Supreme Court decreed that freelance writers should be paid when their content is reproduced and sold digitally.

Tasini first ran for public office in 2006 against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

“I felt somebody had to hold Hillary Clinton accountable for her vote for the Iraq war,” Tasini said. “In 2006, there was not a single day when I thought I’d win.”

Statewide, Clinton won by a landslide — 83 percent to Tasini’s 17 — but among Tompkins County Democratic primary voters, Tasini gained 41 percent of the vote, according to the Board of Elections.+

This year Gillibrand, who was appointed to the seat by Gov. David Paterson, faces multiple Democratic and Republican contenders. Another contender in the Democratic primary is Ithaca oral surgeon Scott Noren.

According to the Federal Election Commission’s online database of campaign contributions, Tasini raised just under $25,000 between January and June, while Gillibrand raised $3.9 million. Noren did not report any financial activity in the period.

Prior to accepting her Senate seat, Gillibrand worked for the cigarettes online buy and gun industries, and she is “awash” in money from special interests, Tasini said.

Tasini’s contributions are all from individuals, while almost $700,000 of Gillibrand’s are from political action committees, including hospitals, insurance companies, financial services and the natural gas industry, according to the FEC database.

If elected, Tasini said his top priorities would be strengthening the labor movement through widespread unionization; rewriting free trade policies to protect workers as well as corporations; and raising taxes on corporations and couples making more than $351,000 rather than “borrow(ing) from the Chinese.”

On health care, he supports single-payer government insurance by opening Medicare to everyone.


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