OTP: In terms of this campaign, what is the importance of another party line, what power does it give you, and what are the issues that your campaign will address?
Mary France: There are several lines right now, but in spite of that none of the current parties represent the masses of the people. None of them. Not the Democrats, the Republicans, the Conservatives, none of them. They have a White male dominated mentality. Unity is very, very different. Even the Green Party, which is a progressive party, is white male led. So there is no message being sent to people who are not white, that there is a party that is out there for them. And the issues of people of color and other oppressed people and working class people and people who don’t have jobs, those issues are not being met by the existing parties. So we don’t really have a People’s Party. That’s what Unity is about. And it’s not just a one shot deal, we’re here for the long term. Once we get our 50,000 votes and a ballot line, we will be able to run local candidates throughout New York over the next four years. We’ll be able to make a real difference by offering a real alternative, a People’s Party that is focused on addressing the needs of the average person and the people who have been overlooked. This stands against the major parties that look to protect the interests of the upperclasses. Unity is a People’s Party that has more emphasis on meeting the needs of the poor and the average worker versus looking at corporate America. It’s the people who we serve that make it a different kind of party. The issues that come out of that are their issues. There are issues such as the Prison Industrial Complex being built versus having schools and education as a priority. There are issues of people not having jobs and then finding jobs created in prisons and holding facilities. Many people don’t have access to health care. The Unity Party will shift the emphasis of the health debate toward Universal Health Care so that people don’t have to worry about HMO’s and not being able to be served. There are a lot of issues, but the ones that stand out for me are the prisons, jobs and education because they are all so intertwined. We don’t put a priority on education. We don’t try to rehabilitate. Others talk about being tough on crime and all they mean is putting people in jail longer. We’re tough on crime by being strong on prevention and rehabilitation. There’s only lip-service being given to the youth. What we need are strong after-school programs. We have to come up with progressive human based solutions rather than this punitive based mode we’re in. Those are the kinds of issues this party will speak to.
OTP: You mentioned human type programs. Give me an example of a human type program.
MF: Look at community development. We have to reinvest in the communities. Right now, the emphasis is on trickle down. Well, if you’re dying of thirst, a trickle of water is more frustrating than helpful and may be too little too late. Giving millions to major corporations and having those corporations spread around some minimum wage jobs, that does not help the communities or the lives of those people. They don’t have develop any wealth, they don’t own anything. The community doesn’t benefit. So in terms of human type things, when we invest in the community, we’re building up the people in the community, we’re building up the infrastructure of the community the housing the schools the health care system. We help that community be viable. We are going to have programs that reinvest in the economic development of communities. In the Unity Party, we call it a 21st Century Program for jobs. We will be looking at banks and other financial institutions to show them their responsibility and determine how they can participate in the community building process. We will be looking at their loan programs for home improvement, entrepreneurship and community investment.
OTP: In the last two days the Federal Reserve Board of New York stepped in to save a failing fund called Long-Term Capital Management. John Merriweather ran the thing and he was supposed to be this massive genius with Nobel Prize winners on his team. Now he’s screwed up big time and they took $3.5 billion out of some fund and saved his ass. It seems that the elite have a system in place to take care of themselves and their kind. What systems would you put in place to take care of small businesses that come upon hard times?
MF: We don’t need a new system. The same one that worked for those people that got that $3.5 billion? That’s what we need. The monies are there, the only question is who gets it. The money is always there when certain people need it. When the S & L’s got into trouble the money was found for them. Now you’re telling me they came up with $3.5 billion dollars? That’s a whole lot of money.
OTP: I thought so.
MF: You see, if you have the right emphasis, there is no reason why we cannot have community development. No reason why we cannot have plans and initiatives to help community people instead of just giving handouts to these big corporations. I’m not familiar with the specific situation you’ve mentioned here, but I would examine those kinds of actions, examine the language and the structures that allow that, and make them apply to communities in the same way. This kind of behavior is obscene. There is no reason why communities have to suffer while these other guys get taken care of.
It is important that communities have a positive sense of the future, that they have some hope they can have a thriving foundation. Everything works together. If you build up the community, if you create the housing, have the programs the development, get the school working, then you don’t have all of these other problems that people are locked up for. You eliminate those problems with prevention. Let me emphasize that I don’t just mean black communities here. It is important that average working communities across the racial spectrum have the opportunity to grow and heal and save themselves.
OTP: You spoke about the youth a moment ago. You know there was a Million Youth March here in New York on September fifth. Were you there?
MF: Yes I was and when I arrived I was sickened at how people were herded like cattle through those metal barricade chutes. To see that in 1998 people are so disrespected in the African community was disgusting. This was a festive crowd of positive African people and other nationalities, simply hungering for ways to make their lives better, and they were treated like that.
OTP: That was outrageous to have to wind through those mazes the police set up. Looking at the behavior of some of the police units at the end of the march, what did you think of that, and as Governor what could you do about it?
MF: When people ask me about the Million Youth March, the first thing that comes into my head is racism. It’s ingrained in the fiber of this country. People don’t like to talk about racism but it is a fact of life and New York is no exception. It is conscious and unconscious. At different levels and degrees people use rationales to cloak it and cover it up. There is a tacit understanding of “Let’s keep certain people in their place.”
As a Governor, at this point it is uncertain if there is any legal redress in terms of the actions taken by the mayor and the officials of the police department. But as Governor of the State of New York, while Pataki may not have been able to take a legal position, he could have taken a humane position. He could have taken a stand. He could have addressed the concerns of an oppressed community in his state. He could have at least done that. As a leader he could have spoken out against the way politicians try to pit upstate against downstate in a racial divide. He could have set the tone and said, “In the State of New York, we will not have this kind of Bull Connor attitude. We have a diverse state and we will respect the contributions of all of the people.” A leader should set those kinds of tones. He could do that as a leader but he failed there.
OTP: What about the state budget and affirmative action spending. I remember when Dinkins was mayor, he had a serious affirmative action component. I was in a previous career at the time and I attended some of those proposal review sessions for contractors. They had the contractors, and I was one of them working for a white company at the time, scrambling to find minority partners to fulfill their portion. It was the first time I had seen that. What kind of affirmative action component would you have in state spending budget?
MF: When it comes to Affirmative Action, I would look at that history very closely. Affirmative Action across the board has not necessarily benefited African people. I don’t care what people call it, but there must be programs that bring equity and fairness and levels the playing field. Any program I have as governor of the State of New York would be fair to all its citizens be they African American or women. These are groups that have been disenfranchised, who have not had the equal footing and could not reach equal equity because they’re always behind. The goal would be to put everyone on a level playing field. Until that is done, we will work to have programs to insure that happens. Historically, white men have had the power. Women have not had it and African Americans have not had it. If women and black people had not fought for the vote and other equalities they would never have come. We have to make sure we do not stop that fight until we get there. Affirmative Action has to exist, not just in regard to African people, but for all folks who are not where they could be because there has been a long history of inequality with certain groups benefiting over others. We would change that.
OTP: The prison population has been exploding and a lot of it has been based on the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Could you comment on that?
MF: We need to repeal these Rockefeller Drug Laws. They’ve been in effect since 1973 and they are very discriminatory. It doesn’t make sense that people would go to jail for a small amount of crack and not go to jail for a large amount of powder cocaine. But people have to be educated. Many in our own community say, “Yeah, send them to jail.” But it’s not fair that people should be in jail for years rather than be rehabilitated. We have to look at bringing people out, helping them be productive citizens instead of just locking them up. But again, the laws are designed to keep certain people in their place. Most powder cocaine users are white, and they get to walk. Most crack users are black and they get locked up for long sentences and a lot of the crimes are non violent. It isn’t all shootouts. A lot of it is someone found carrying vials and suddenly they’re locked up for long periods of time. The worst part is the way people are being convinced that these are criminals. I really resent that. We have to look at that for what it is and change it. These laws are set up so that African Americans don’t grow and be competitive as a people, and we need to be honest about that and deal with it. If a person is a real leader they will address these things in a forthright manner. If they don’t then it’s either because they feel African Americans should be dealt with in this way, or knowing the system is wrong, don’t deal with it because the people who vote for them wouldn’t like it and they don’t have the guts to stand up and say, “These things are wrong, let’s change them.” We need to raise these issues and force politicians to deal with them, and where they don’t, we need to kick their behinds at the polls.