Tension was in the air as Freedom Party supporters gathered at Sista’s Place to watch returns on election night. Votes for the Freedom Party were posted from precincts around the state with excruciating slowness. At midnight, with 50% of the votes counted, the Freedom Party had 10,000 votes.
Gubernatorial candidate Charles Barron saw the trend and addressed attendees. It was only when we woke up on Wednesday that we knew what Barron foresaw: with a total of 20,717 votes statewide, the Freedom Party fell short of the 50,000 required to obtain permanent ballot status.
The Freedom Party placed dead last, after former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s Madam, Kristin Davis (22,775 votes), and Rent is Too Damn High candidate Jimmy McMillan (39,850 votes), who was feted for his buffoonery. Libertarian candidate Warren Redlich did a little better with 44,696 votes. Howie Hawkins of the Green Party was the only candidate whose third party achieved permanent ballot status for the next four years with 56,868 votes.
Barron stood strong while facing the disappointed crowd. “No state is going to validate us for us to be a party,” said Barron. “This is the birth of the Freedom Party.”
Candidate Barron said he was “pleased with our output and our results. We put the whole state on notice.” He explained a litany of elements to describe “what we were up against.” The campaign developed in five months from start to finish. There was little or no money. Barron said the Madam and McMillan were promoted in the media “so that we wouldn’t get the attention. We were up against the power of the media.” Barron said the Freedom Party was up against 4 or 5 parties that had to split that independent vote. “We had to additionally deal with the fact that our people blindly vote Democratic,” he said. “We had to deal with the fact that the unions decided to support Cuomo through the Working Families Party. While we did get some of the rank and file with us, we know we were up against that as well.”
Despite the obstacles, Barron told the group, “I want you to go home feeling good tonight. Don’t you worry about it.” He acknowledged he was going to get “beat up” in the media for things like getting less votes than the Madam and the candidate Dr. McIntosh refers to as “Mr. IQ is Too Damn Low.” Barron said, “They are going to beat me up, not you. I can handle it. We know this is a tactic in our struggle.”
Taking the opportunity to remind attendees of a campaign high point, Barron said, “We won that debate. You know we did. We are by far the most intelligent of all the candidates.” Mainstream media reluctantly acknowledged that Barron was the only candidate to advocate on behalf of unions and working people. There are those who said they would have liked to have voted for the Freedom Party, but they had an allegiance to the Working Families Party, which was forced to accept labor concessions in exchange for having Cuomo as their candidate. Barron said, “I think they knew I was their greatest champion. But the challenge for them is I am a champion for them that is not under their control. They know I was the best. I am very independent. I am very Black, very strong. Very solidly with my people. They don’t want an independent champion. Some of them are in our final vote. We have to build on that.”
For Barron, the challenge now is not the power structure, any other party, Cuomo or Paladino. “It’s us.” He asked, “Will we hold it together? Will we figure out a way to stay together when we did not achieve an objective? Will we stay together and achieve the larger objective and build this Freedom Party?” Barron promised the Freedom Party will be back in four years to do it again. “In between, we are registered Democrats -most of us – we can still get busy in elections,” he said. “Our profile has risen because of this. There is congressional elections coming up. City council elections coming up. We have to find out how much we want to continue to deal with the electoral arena and build this party.”
Barron looked attendees in the eye and
said, “I want to thank all of you. You worked. The Freedom Party…we put ourselves on the map in this state. No matter how they spin it, stand strong. We have each other.” Promising that this is only the beginning, Barron said the statewide convention will take place next February during Black History Month in order “to structure our party, develop our platform, educate our people, build our party.”
Freedom Party campaign manager Bob Law said “Charles Barron is an excellent candidate. He is the standard-bearer. I am pleased with him and proud of him. He did an excellent job.” Focusing on the future, Law said, “We have a significant task in heightening the consciousness of our people, and challenge the system. We are system challengers. We will continue to challenge injustice and do what is correct. You don’t lose when you do what is correct. There are setbacks, but we continue to struggle.” Law promised, “You will hear from the Freedom Party sooner than four years. There are important things happening in New York in two years. We have a presence that we are not going to give up.”
Barron knows that some people don’t understand the Freedom Party. “The conditions our people are under, they may not be ready, yet. We have to get them ready to accept the Freedom Party challenging the system in a strong way. Some of our people are afraid to challenge the system when you come at the system that strong. People have to get used to that. There are a lot of people that may not come out, cannot be reached.”
Undeterred, Barron said, “We have a lot of support. Our infrastructure was able to turn our supporters into voters. I think we have far more supporters than this vote is reflecting. The challenge is turning your supporters into voters.
That is going to take some time.” That support has national implications extending across the country. Barron listed Washington, D.C., Atlanta, New Jersey, Chicago, Connecticut and Mississippi as regions that were watching the Freedom Party develop in New York.
Freedom Party co-chair Jitu Weusi put the loss in perspective. “A lot of people were disappointed. I was a little disappointed, too.” Weusi recalled Mary France’s run for governor in 1998, an attempt to establish the Unity Party. That time “we worked all year from January to November,” said Weusi. This time, he said, “we worked five months – from July to November.”
Weusi said, “We made a lot of progress, built a coalition of people and organizations that had not worked together in 20 years.” Noting the power of the Freedom Party idea, Weusi asked, “When was the last time we have had Rev. Al Sharpton, Viola Plummer, Alton Maddox, Dr. James McIntosh, Weusi and candidate Barron work together? It has been a long time. Not since the days of Howard Beach have all those people worked together.”
Weusi summed up the experience: “Despite the fact that mainstream media completely ignored us and the Board of Elections gave us inadequate ballot placement, we still persevered and attracted more than 20,000 votes. That is a start. The Freedom Party has to build on that. When we have our statewide convention and run candidates with Freedom Party endorsement over the next few years, we can continue to grow our membership, prestige and visibility in the community.”