Ursula Rozum has politics in her blood.
“My family is from Poland, and my grandparents were active in the Polish resistance to the Nazi occupation, and my parents were active in the Solidarity movement that eventually brought down Communism in the Eastern Bloc,” Rozum said. “So I grew up in a family that was always very politically opinionated and active in the U.S. I’ve been active in politics and organizing locally, not for very long, only for four years.”
Her political heritage, combined with the choices she faced on the ballot, prompted her to put her name in the running for the 24th Congressional District along with Republican Ann Marie Buerkle and Democrat Dan Maffei.
“You have to keep sight of how change has come about historically, and it’s been third parties that have brought us things from Social Security to the abolition of slavery. So while it’s exhausting and soul-crushing, you remember why you’re doing it, and it’s for progress, and because we deserve better.”
“I decided to run because I was looking at my choices, and I felt that there really wasn’t anyone that represents the future of where I believe and people that I know believe we need to go, a future that is more fair with a more stable climate and a more peaceful world,” Rozum said. “I feel that my opponents don’t represent a vision for the future. They’re kind of stuck in that partisan bickering that we see today that really isn’t getting us anywhere. I felt that a lot of people really wouldn’t have a choice in their selection.”
Rozum, 28, a Bishop Ludden graduate, went on to study political science and Latin American literature at Magill University in Montreal. She then returned to Syracuse and is now employed by the Syracuse Peace Council. She has never run for office before, but she said her knowledge base qualifies her for Congressional office despite her lack of experience.
“It made sense based on what I’ve been working on for the past few years,” she said. “A lot of my knowledge is in areas that are related to things that the federal government does. I’ve been active in U.S.-Latin America foreign policy work with groups like Colombia Support Network that works with communities in Colombia and works to educate in the U.S. about the effects of foreign policy on workers domestically and internationally. I’ve been active in immigrant rights advocacy work. Given my background and the things that I’m knowledgeable about, this felt like an okay thing to do.”
Rozum is running on the Green Party line, meaning that she doesn’t accept any corporate funding for her campaign; so far, she’s raised less than $5,000, putting her at a distinct financial disadvantage. As of July 15, Maffei had raised more than $1.3 million, and Buerkle had raised more than $1.2 million. But Rozum said that meant she wasn’t beholden to any special interests.
“That’s the downfall of the other two parties,” she said. “The Democratic Party has been such a disappointment for so many people, because as good as they can sound sometimes or as populist as President Obama sounds, ultimately he does have some allegiance to the people that finance his campaigns, and I think that goes for the local level as well. We’re people-funded and people-powered.”
Rozum on the issues
Jobs and the economy
The most important issue facing the 24th District and the nation as a whole, Rozum said, is the economy. In order to address the problem, she’s adopted the Green platform as part of her campaign.
“Nationally, the Greens are putting forward a proposal we’re calling the Green New Deal, which is based on Roosevelt’s New Deal, which got us out of the Depression,” she said. “It was focused primarily on putting people back to work through public works that meet community needs. The Green New Deal would be revamped for the 21st century and it would focus on the kinds of infrastructural development that would move us towards a low-carbon or zero-carbon economy.”
The Green plan focuses on more than just environmental jobs, reaching into what Rozum calls “the caring sector” — social service jobs. These jobs tend to be public sector jobs that serve community needs.
“The idea is that if you have public jobs, people in those public jobs can spend money at local businesses in the private sector,” Rozum said. “I know we didn’t come up with this, but it feels like we’re the only ones talking about it.”
Of course, such a job creation plan requires a good deal of investment. Rozum said in order to cover those costs, money would have to come from the military and defense spending.
“Those are already public funds being used to create jobs, and those aren’t jobs that necessarily make our communities more resilient,” she said. “So commissioning companies like Lockheed Martin, rather than making armaments, asking them to work on things like windmills or high-speed rail, that kind of thing. We’re already creating public jobs, just not the kind of public jobs that will give us security here.”
Rozum said the nation needs to do something in order to update its infrastructure, as it’s way behind other industrialized nations in that respect, and in doing so, the country could create numerous jobs.
“The need is there,” she said. “People need jobs, especially here in Syracuse. I know tons of people without work.”
Rozum said she did have one thing in common with her Republican opponent, which was pointed out by the Post-Standard: they both have issues with the Affordable Care Act. But the similarities end there.
“I think Ann Marie Buerkle’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are totally immoral, and I think, as much as there are things about this health care legislation that aren’t sufficient to really get us what we need, which is Medicare for all,” Rozum said.
The legislation passed by the Obama administration, Rozum said, is just “a giveaway to insurance companies.”
“Anyone that’s looked into it knows that it was designed by people that worked for insurance companies, I think WellPoint was the major one,” she said. “It’s based on what Romney did in Massachusetts. It’s almost as if there’s something being pulled over on the American people when we talk about health care, because the Republicans are so opposed to this Affordable Care Act, but it was a Republican plan. I think leaders in the Democratic Party are supporting it just because of this tribal attitude that you have to support your president no matter what.”
Rozum said she’s a much bigger supporter of another plan that was floated earlier in the reform process.
“I was sold in 2008 on the public option,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, jeez, I really want single payer, but at least public option will have us all covered and it will be a little bit fair.’”
The candidate expressed her belief that the Republican Party’s efforts to abolish “Obamacare” are further proof of what she calls “tribal politics.”
“I kind of attribute it to tribalism in politics where you’ll do anything to be against your opponent rather than think about what’s fair,” Rozum said. “I think that it’s indicative of where we are nationally in terms of how the conversation is politically that as soon as Obama was in office, the Republican party didn’t want to get anything done. They were just bent set on tearing down anything he would do. I think the health care legislation is just an example of that.”
While Congress continues to debate whether it should intervene to address the growing student loan crisis, Rozum believes there is a deeper issue at the heart of the problem.
“We would be for forgiveness of student debt, but one big thing that we can do right now is to repeal the Bush-era bankruptcy reforms, which made it so that your student loans wouldn’t be discharged under a bankruptcy,” she said. “I think that’s unfair. The student loan sector has this special protection from the federal government. That’s not right.”
In the long-term, however, the Green Party would like to see changes to the American educational system.
“The general idea is that we want tuition-free public education, pre-K through grad school,” Rozum said.
For the Green Party, obviously, addressing environmental issues is at the heart of the party platform. Given recent damage to apple crops in the 24th District, it’s also an issue of importance in this election, and Rozum said she plans to tackle it head-on.
“I look at it, and I wonder why people aren’t waking up to the problems we’re going to be facing because of global climate change,” she said. “This kind of weather we’re seeing, it’s obviously hurting the local economy. For a long-term solution, we need to be focusing on how we’re going to adjust our energy consumption and our greenhouse gas emissions so we can start reversing the trend. We’ve started to develop [legislation she will propose] which I’m calling a proposal for a zero-carbon America to address climate change in a meaningful way.”
Rozum admitted she needed to do more research on the Farm Bill currently being discussed in Congress, because she wasn’t sure if it provided crop insurance to small growers or just to large, single-crop farmers.
“But really, climate change is the bigger issue. Climate is really what we need to be talking about right now.”
Rozum said she has one major goal she wants to accomplish if elected.
“We’re putting together legislation that I’m going to put forth for a zero-carbon America,” she said. “Ultimately, we believe that the solution to the jobs crisis and the climate crisis are connected, so by putting people back to work and by reining in corporate power, we’ll be better off. I sometimes lose sleep at night because I worry about what’s happening to our planet, what’s happening to those apples out there, and because I know that people are struggling because they can’t find work. Ultimately, this idea for how we’re going to cut our carbon emissions and how that’s going to create jobs.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.