Oct 11, 2010

Exclusive: Interview with Darcy Richardson, Independent Candidate for Lt. Governor of Florida

Darcy Richardson is a veteran independent political activist, a historian of the third party and independent political tradition in the United States, and an Independent candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Florida, running on the gubernatorial ticket of economist and author Farid Khavari.  He is well known in third party and independent political circles for his multi-volume history of third party politics in the United States, entitled Others, as well as for his numerous articles on historical and contemporary political underdogs, many of which can be found at Uncovered Politics, a political news and opinion website he co-founded earlier this year.  Darcy was kind enough to provide Third Party and Independent Daily with a lengthy interview on his political career, the state of the campaign for governor in Florida, Khavari's economic plan and the current outlook for third party and independent politics in the United States.  The interview will be published here in a number of installments over the course of the week.  In the first part, he discusses the arc of his political career and, in the process, provides a short history of the Consumer Party. 

TPID: What made you decide to join Farid Khavari's independent gubernatorial ticket? Have you run for any elected offices before? What campaigns have you previously been involved with?
Richardson: I began following Dr. Khavari's campaign about fifteen months ago, shortly after he declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. I was initially attracted to his proposal for a state-owned bank modeled after the powerful Non-Partisan League’s state-owned bank in North Dakota, the 1919 brainchild of Arthur C. Townley, a cigar-chomping ex-Socialist Party organizer.

It wasn't until shortly after he dropped out of the Democratic primary and filed as an independent a few months ago that Farid asked me to be his running mate. Needless to say, I was deeply honored to be considered.

Not to date myself, but I made my political debut in 1979 when I ran for commissioner in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. At the time, I was a Democratic precinct committeeman.

The following year, in 1980, I ran for Pennsylvania Auditor General on the Consumer Party ticket, an affiliate of the newly-formed Citizens Party. The Citizens Party nominated environmentalist Barry Commoner for President that year. I was 24 at the time.  Prior to that I had volunteered in Eugene McCarthy's 1976 independent presidential campaign and had managed my father's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant-governor of Pennsylvania in 1978.

The Consumer Party was founded by Max Weiner and a few other activists in 1967 as the political arm of the non-profit Consumer Education & Protective Association (CEPA), one of the country's first consumer protection organizations.  A red-diaper baby and one of the nation's first consumer activists, Weiner founded CEPA a year earlier, shortly after Ralph Nader first burst onto the scene with his book, Unsafe at Any Speed.

For years, the raspy-voiced Weiner could be found shouting into his bullhorn on the east side of Philadelphia’s historic City Hall, railing for lower utility rates and mass transit fares and against shady business practices and political corruption. He was a folk hero to thousands of ordinary Philadelphians concerned with pocketbook issues.

In any case, I have quite a few fond memories of the 1980 campaign. I had been an alternate delegate to the Citizens Party's founding convention in Cleveland, Ohio, earlier that spring and also served as chairman of the Citizens Committee of Montgomery County, the party's national ballot access fundraising committee.

The Philadelphia-based Consumer Party sent a team of experienced petitioners headed by Lance Haver — the rabble-rousing and feisty Weiner’s eventual successor at CEPA — around the country to place the Citizens Party ticket on the ballot. A skilled community organizer, Lance had joined CEPA fresh out of college in 1978. He’s currently the city's Director of Consumer Affairs, a cabinet-level position created by Mayor John F. Street in 2003.

If memory serves me correctly, the party eventually qualified for a spot on the ballot in 29 states and the District of Columbia.  The Citizens Party attracted some outstanding individuals, among them author Studs Terkel, Maggie Kuhn of the Gray Panthers, a close ally of the Consumer Party, and Sidney Lens, a prolific writer, peace activist and labor organizer who ran for the U.S. Senate on the party's ticket in Illinois. Lens, who died in 1986, was a veteran of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s People’s Party in the early 1970s and was one of the leading lights on the American Left.

Failing to convince former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark to accept the party’s presidential nomination in 1984, the Citizens Party faded away shortly after Sonia Johnson’s ill-fated presidential candidacy that year — a race in which the ex-communicated Mormon finished in fifth place, about 6,700 votes behind reclusive perennial candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche.

The Consumer Party, on the other hand, was a fixture in Philadelphia politics for more than a quarter of a century. The party's high-water mark occurred in 1987 when party founder Max Weiner — I called him "Mighty Max" — polled 133,826 votes, or 21.6 percent, in a bid for an At-Large City Council seat. Everybody thought he would win.

Two years later, Max was leading his Democratic and Republican rivals in a bid for City Controller when his heart gave out two weeks before the election. He was leading in all the polls at the time of his death. His grieving widow, Besse — a remarkable woman in her own right — was substituted in his place and received nearly a quarter of the vote.

Altogether, I was active in the party for about a dozen years, running for the U.S. Senate as the party’s nominee in 1988 — the same year I managed the late Eugene McCarthy’s fourth bid for the presidency — and briefly mounting a campaign for Congress on the party's ticket in a special election in Philadelphia's 2nd congressional district in 1991.

I withdrew from the latter race in October of that year and gave my place on the ballot to Chaka Fattah, a young African-American State Senator who wanted to run on our ticket. Fattah, who eventually captured the seat when he defeated the incumbent congressman in the Democratic primary three years later, finished second in the special election, garnering 28 percent of the vote in a four-candidate field.

In addition to waging a handful of other local races, I also managed Dr. John Logue's campaign for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 1982. The Yale-educated Logue, who finished second in a three-way primary that year, was the founder and director of Villanova University's Common Heritage Institute and published extensively on UN reform, law of the seas and international relations.

The white-haired Logue, who had previously taught at Fordham and Notre Dame, was an active World Federalist — he co-founded the Philadelphia chapter of the World Federalist Association — and believed strongly in global governance. Restructuring and strengthening the UN was the centerpiece of his frequent bids for the U.S. Senate.

I've remained politically active since relocating to Florida in 1993, running briefly for Duval County Supervisor of Elections as an independent in 2005 and managing Brian P. Moore's independent antiwar candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2006.

In 2004, I vigorously defended Ralph Nader’s candidacy against the mean-spirited and obstructionist tactics of Democratic operatives trying to keep the longtime consumer activist off the ballot in as many states as possible, taking part in at least fifteen radio interviews across the country.

More recently, I also provided some behind-the-scenes assistance to Brian Moore's 2008 presidential campaign on the Socialist Party ticket and dabbled briefly in the Boston Tea Party, a Libertarian offshoot founded by the edgy and contemplative Tom Knapp of St. Louis in 2006.
Tune in tomorrow for the next portion of TPID's interview with Darcy Richardson.


DLW said...

Any comments on the far less "sexy" idea of pushing for 3-seated Hare LR to be used in state representative elections?

It seems to me to be a lot more romantic for third party candidates/parties to go for the gold, running hard for major offices, but I don't think such is as effective in moving the US's political center and affecting serious reforms in the long-run...

Speak Up said...

I like the article. At first I thought we would be blasted with Mr. Richardson adoring himself like so many other politicians do. Instead I was both relieved and entertained by his knowledge of third party history. Usually I can only get halfway through an article like this. Looking forward to the rest of the interview and maybe picking up one of his books.