Ursula Rozum is a Syracuse native, the daughter of Polish immigrants who were exiled due to their work with the anti-Communist Solidarity trade union. She holds a BA Political Science and Latin American Literature from McGill University. In recent years, she has worked with Citizen Action of NY, the Working Families Party and the Green Party. Currently, she works on staff at the Syracuse Peace Council. She has been active locally working on issues of peace, immigrant rights, Latin America Solidarity and in the movement to ban hydrofracking in New York.
What are the major issues facing the 24th district?
Unemployment, Poverty, Economic Stagnation: We need a public jobs program that guarantees the right to a living-wage job and restores economic prosperity by restoring consumer demand.
Climate Emergency: We need an Apollo-style Climate Action Plan to put people to work building clean energy systems.
Fracking: We need a federal ban on fracking like France and Bulgaria have enacted.
Fiscal Crisis: We need to cut military spending and restore Eisenhower-era progressive tax rates on the top 10% income brackets so that the federal government can meet its obligations, including no cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and revenue sharing with states and cities in fiscal distress.
Public Education Crisis: We need to replace high-stakes testing used to financially punish poorly-funded, poorly-testing schools with a return to need-based federal education funding to help property-poor, poorly-testing schools to improve. We need to forgive student debt and make public higher education tuition-free.
How will you create jobs?
I will support a permanent public jobs program for the unemployed, specifically HR 870, “The 21st Century Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act” introduced by Rep. John Conyers of Detroit. Private jobs are good, but public jobs are necessary for full employment. We need federally-funded, locally-planned projects in public works and public services like the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) did to put 12 million unemployed people to work during the Great Depression. Now we are dragging though the Great Recession and need a Green New Deal to put over 25 million un- and under-employed people back to work in a Climate Action Plan building clean energy, mass transit, and green building retrofits, as well as revitalizing public services, from schools and community health clinics to child care, parks, arts, recreation, and youth and senior programs.
Public jobs will put money in unemployed workers’ pockets to spend. With more customers, business will expand and hire. The economic slump persists because of insufficient demand, not an insufficient supply of capital. The big banks and corporations are sitting on about $5 trillion in bank reserves and corporate cash. They won’t invest until they see more customers. So government has to fill the demand gap. The most cost-effective way to do that is for government to directly employ people meeting unmet community needs. The indirect, trickle-down approach of the Democrats and Republicans through tax cuts to increase demand doesn’t work well because businesses won’t invest until the customers are back and American consumers are still at record levels debt after decades of wage stagnation.
Do you think you’re a viable candidate?
Yes. Public opinion polls consistently show majority support for progressive policies I advocate: climate action, public jobs, Medicare for All, military spending cuts, higher taxes on the rich. The tragedy of American politics is that progressive public values are not translating into progressive public policies. That’s why I am running as the Green Party candidate to drive progressive policies into the debate. The Democrats can no longer take progressive votes for granted. Progressive voters have the Green alternative to vote for.
As a third-party candidate, do you think you can be heard in Congress?
Third party representatives are heard more than your typical Democratic or Republican back bencher. Both Maffei and Buerkle voted with their party over 90 percent of the time. They did not stand out. I will have one vote, the same as every other Representative. The other Representatives will have to give me something I want in order to get my vote for something they want in close votes. But as the first Green in Congress, my voice will be amplified. The public, the press, and the other members of Congress will want to know what policies I advocate that got me elected as an outspent, outside the two-party system candidate. It will give me a public platform for my progressive policies, like it did for Paul Wellstone after his underdog election to the U.S. Senate enabled him to put his signature campaign issue, single-payer Medicare for All, into play in the early 1990s. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist from Vermont, was heard when he was in the Congress and is heard now in the U.S. Senate. Senator Sanders needs independent progressive allies in the Congress with him.
People have accused you of being too idealistic and not attuned to the realities of political office. How do you respond to that criticism?
My campaign slogan is “Real Solutions Can’t Wait.” The reality is that the Democrats and Republicans have not and cannot solve the serious problems we face. They spend most of their time dialing for dollars for the next campaign. With the time they have left, they whine about how the other party stinks. Meanwhile, our problems are not getting addressed: the fiscal cliff, the climate emergency, the economic slump in which tens of millions of people are losing their job security, homes, and college opportunities – losing their shot at the American Dream and getting stuck among the swelling numbers of working poor. We need Greens in Congress to breakup the two-party logjam. That’s not naïve idealism. That’s cold realism.
Are you concerned that your presence in this race, and the candidacies of other Greens, will draw votes from the Democrats, to whom Greens are closer politically, and give the election to the Republicans?
Did you ask the same question of Dan Maffei, who as the incumbent lost his seat to Buerkle all by himself without a Green in the race? The moderately conservative Democrats have more in common with the extremely conservative Republicans than they do with the progressive Greens. The differences between the Democrats and Republicans are of degree, not direction. Today’s Democrats are the corporate New Democrats, not yesterday’s New Deal Democrats. The New Democrats specialize in “triangulation:” adopting Republican ideas as their own and taking their progressive voters for granted. Dan Maffei joined the New Democrat Coalition in Congress, not the Progressive Caucus. His answer to Buerkle’s opposition to Obama’s proposal for higher taxes on incomes over $250,000 is to say he’ll meet her in the middle and call for higher taxes only on incomes over $1 million. Progressives are sick of such pandering to the Right by Democrats. I’m running so progressives will no longer be taken for granted. My campaign is bringing back progressive voters who won’t vote for the two conservative corporate parties. For those dismayed, as I am, that the winner-take-all plurality system of elections could result in the least preferred candidate in the district, Ann Marie Buerkle, winning the seat, I have solutions: legislation to enable instant runoff voting or, better, proportional representation in our Congress, like most other democracies around the world have. The question that should be asked is not whether I might spoil the election, but why am I the only candidate advocating electoral reforms that will end the possibility of spoiled elections once and for all?
What issues do you think you’re raising as a third party candidate that the major candidates aren’t discussing?
An Apollo-style emergency Climate Action Plan for jobs in clean energy.
A federal ban of unconventional fossil fuels: fracking for oil and gas, mountaintop removal coal, tar sands oil, and deep water and Arctic drilling. Use conventional fossil fuel reserves during the transition to clean renewables.
The right to a useful job guaranteed by permanent backup public jobs program.
The right to quality health care through single-payer Medicare for All.
The right to free public education from pre-school through graduate school.
Secure Social Security indefinitely without cuts by ending the exemption on Social Security taxes for income over $110,100.
Forgive $1 trillion student debt: the Fed should bailout students by buying up and canceling their loans instead of more overpaying for mortgage-backed securities to bailout the banks again with QE3.
End “No Child Left Behind” and “Race To The Top” high-stakes testing and financial punishment of poorly funded schools with low test scores. Return to need-based federal education funding to help poorly-testing underfunded schools to improve.
End the war on drugs and mass incarceration. Treat drug abuse as a medical problem, not a criminal problem. Drug prohibition failed like alcohol prohibition did. Legalize, tax, and regulate drugs, like we do alcohol and tobacco, starting with marijuana.
Cut military spending 50 percent. We are now spending twice the average Cold War level and the Soviet Union is gone. The main national security threats now are terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and climate change. These problems require good intelligence, not massive occupation forces. Spend the savings from military spending on rebuilding America as a climate-friendly sustainable economy.
Electoral reforms: instant runoff voting (IRV), proportional representation, voter-verifiable paper records for all elections, abolition of the Electoral College and election of the president by popular vote using IRV, fair ballot access standards for federal elections, public campaign financing, a Right to Vote constitutional amendment, a Right to Regulate constitutional amendment to end the court-ordered doctrines of “corporate personhood” and “money is speech” so that corporations and election finance can be regulated by We, the People.
What are some major differences in your platform from the major party candidates?
I stand for progressive alternatives to the conservative policies that both major party candidates stand for. Buerkle stands with the extreme conservatives of the congressional Republicans. Maffei stands with the moderately conservative New Democrats among the congressional Democrats. Our different positions on taxes and the fiscal crisis illustrate our major differences. Buerkle opposes any tax hikes on the rich. Maffei does not support Obama’s modest proposal to increase tax rates by a few percent on the top 2% of incomes over $250,000. Maffei joins House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in conceding more ground to the Republican Right by proposing to only raise tax rates by a few percent on the top 1 in 1000 incomes over $1 million. Obama’s proposal would only raise $85 billion more per year. Maffei’s would only raise $50 billion more. The proposals of Buerkle, Obama and Maffei are not fiscally responsible when deficits have been running over $1 trillion a year for four years straight. I propose keeping the low Bush tax rates for the bottom 90% and restoring Eisenhower tax rates on the top 10% incomes over $137,000, the only income brackets who have gained since the 1970s. My proposal would raise $1.2 trillion, more than the federal deficit last year. We face a choice: either we restore progressive taxation and use the revenues for public spending to stimulate full employment and economic recovery, or we accept austerity with cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and domestic programs in order to balance the budget on the backs of working people. The major difference is that my policies represent the interests of the working class majority. The major party candidates’ policies represent the interests of the corporate elites who fund the major parties.
Green Party candidates don’t accept corporate donations. Has that hurt your campaign?
No. It has helped. Voters want a representative to work for them, not corporate special interests. Voters respect that we are building a party that is supported by large numbers of small individual contributors, not small numbers of large corporate contributors. We will raise enough to get our message out and compete with the corporate parties when working people realize that we have to do what we did in the labor movement did to build our unions: build a large base of individual dues-paying members. That is how working class and middle class majority can build a party that consistently wins elections against the two old parties funded by the moneyed elites. The Green Party is not there yet, but we are growing every election.
Why are you the best candidate?
I am offering concrete and practical solutions to the big problems we face. These policies best reflect the progressive majority in the district. I am completely free to fight for these policies because I owe nothing to special interest campaign contributors from outside the district who are spending millions to buy this election.
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.