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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

New York Gubernatorial Candidate "Grandpa" Al

Air Date: Week of October 23, 1998

teve Curwood speaks with Al Lewis, the Green Party candidate for Governor of New York. At age 88, Al Lewis is best known for his television character of Grandpa in the 1960's spoof "The Munsters." Like other actors turned politician, Lewis' visibility may help to bolster his party's visibility and election chances.

Transcript

LEWIS: I am what is known as a loose cannon. I am in the November- December part of my life. So what can they scare me with? Death? (Laughs)

CURWOOD: Recognize that voice? That laugh? They belong to Al Lewis, better known as Grandpa Munster from the popular 1960s sitcom. Mr. Lewis's latest role is on the political set. He's the Green Party's candidate for Governor of New York. At 88, Al Lewis has had a long history of social activism, but no background in environmental issues. Critics contend his candidacy is nothing more than a ploy to boost the Green Party's fringe status with New York voters. Currently, Mr. Lewis is polling at about 2% statewide, but that may be enough to get the Greens listed as an official party in future elections. Mr. Lewis told me his biggest obstacle is lack of money.

LEWIS: Running for a state office without money is like trying to climb Mt. Everest barefooted. It is rough. But it doesn't deter me. I don't get the press. That's the fact. Money is the grease of politics. You gotta dance with those that brung you. Nobody brung Al Lewis.

CURWOOD: So you're the honest politician for us, huh?

LEWIS: Of course! I'm not a politician, sir. I'm a political animal. If I was a politician my mother would rise up out of the grave in New Jersey and beat me to death with a broom. (Curwood laughs) My campaign is directed toward Joe and Jane Six-Pack. I'm not kidding you. Because you name me one western industrialized country that in any election, presidential, gubernatorial, senator, dog catcher, mayor, 60% of the people don't vote. I mean, that's obscene to me. And I am not one of those pundits or intellectuals who say, "Well, they don't vote because they're lazy. They don't really understand the problems." 'Cause I know that 60% instinctively believe, honey, if I vote for the guy in Column A he puts his hand in my left pocket, I'm missing money. If I vote for Column B, puts his hand in my right pocket, I'm missing money. Honey, give me a beer, I'm going to watch the Giants play Buffalo, the hell with it. That's what's happening. What kind of a country is this?

CURWOOD: Mr. Lewis, you have a campaign manager. What's his name, Craig Seamon?

LEWIS: That is correct, sir, and he happens to be sitting right next to me, so why don't you just say hello?

CURWOOD: Hello, Craig?

SEAMON: Hi, how are you?

CURWOOD: Good. Listen, I've got to ask you this. One of the candidates in this race has referred to Al Lewis's candidacy as a gimmick. Is that fair to say? In fact, is it working? I mean, is he getting attention for the Green Party that other than just as a gimmick?

SEAMON: You know, there's some irony in people who think this campaign is a gimmick. When you think about it, we had Ronald Reagan who became Governor and then President and his primary media success was Bedtime for Bonzo.

LEWIS: Yeah.

SEAMON: And then we had Sonny Bono, who was elected to Congress. And he had no political background at all. He was there just because he received the kind of corporate funding and he had the right politics to get in and represent conservative Republicans. When somebody comes from the entertainment industry and actually has an extensive and progressive activist background, the media, the system, the establishment is very much threatened. So of course they had to tag or try to tag a negative label on this campaign. Al's probably got much better activist credentials than Ronald Reagan ever had and is far more qualified to be governor of this state than Reagan was of California.

CURWOOD: So you feel this really helps you at the ballot box. This isn't something that marginalizes the Green Party.

SEAMON: Oh, absolutely not. You know, at one time politics was sort of a form of entertainment. I don't mean entertainment in the sense of humor, ha ha. But in the sense like the Lincoln-Douglas debates. That was a big deal. That was a traveling show. And we've lost that now. If a good candidate can bring back the person, the 60% of the people who do not vote --

LEWIS: That's right --

SEAMON: Then there's a real potential for changing this society. And Al is excellent at doing that.

CURWOOD: So, what's the Green Party goal here? You're not going to win, so why run? What do you expect to get from this?

SEAMON: In New York State you need 50,000 votes to create a political party. That's about 1% of the vote. And what that 50,000 votes does, is it allows the opportunity for activists to get on the ballot and run for local office. We have very prohibitive ballot access laws in New York State. If we have to expend all our resources getting on the ballot, it's much, much harder to run a viable campaign. Also, we'll appear on the voter registration forms. People will be able to check off a little box saying that they're registered Green. You cannot do that in New York right now. By doing that, the Board of Elections will create in effect a mailing list, an activist list, for us to reach out to. If we have a list of registered Greens, we know who to target. We know where our voters are. We know how to get them out. And then our job is to expand that base, so that it becomes a majoritarian movement.

LEWIS: You said you're not going to win. What is winning? See, every day in my life that I struggle, I win. See, it's like I remember what a great American Eugene Victor Deb said. I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want and get it. It's a struggle. And for me, the struggle is a lifeline, it's like a blood transfusion. I've done it all my life. So I don't know what you mean when you say you're not going to win. I win every day. I'm waiting downstairs, a guy from the UN comes over to me. Says to me, "I'm going to vote for you." A police officer comes over to me, says, "I'm going to vote for you." Two guys working on a truck say, "I've heard you, I'm voting for you." I'm a winner! I'm a winner.

CURWOOD: Al Lewis is running for Governor of New York State on the Green Party. Thank you for joining us today, and your campaign manager, Craig Seamon. Thank you both.

LEWIS: Thank you again.

SEAMON: And thank you.

 

 

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