THE BLOG

Is New York Ready for a Governor Who's Not Afraid to Inhale?

08/08/2014 05:35 pm ET | Updated Oct 08, 2014

In my campaign to become Governor of New York State, I'm putting all my eggs in one basket.

I am not only challenging New York's powerful sitting Governor, Andrew Cuomo, for the Democratic nomination in the upcoming September 9 primary. I am also betting that my major campaign promise -- to legalize marijuana in New York State is the wedge issue that will sweep me to victory.

I'm no armchair activist -- I've been arrested numerous times fighting for drug-law reform.

To call attention to unjust marijuana laws, I've staged protests, marches, sit-ins, even smoke-ins. In fact, I've publicly smoked pot on the steps of the New York State Capitol building in Albany, right above the Governor's office, and blown marijuana smoke rings directly in the faces of legislators and reporters.

Of course, the real crime is not smoking pot. It's arresting people for smoking pot. And the ones most often arrested are Blacks and Latinos, even though Whites smoke as much or more pot than they do. So the law is not only stupid, it's racist.

Can I really defeat a powerful governor like Cuomo by promising to legalize pot?

Two months ago, probably not. But things have changed suddenly, and radically. Yes, Cuomo has an enormous $50 million campaign chest, thanks to hefty contributions from too-big-to-fail banks and Wall Street power players like Goldman Sachs, plus equally hefty cash infusions from the real estate industry, pharmaceutical corporations, and the prison-industrial complex. (Even the right-wing Koch Brothers have given him nearly $90,000.)

By comparison, my campaign chest is nearly always empty. But right now, I think I've made up in luck what I lack in lucre.

That's because two startling events -- totally unrelated -- have suddenly combined and reinforced each other in a way that has gripped the public's attention, and may well catapult me into the governor's mansion.

1. The first event concerns my promise to legalize marijuana. Until recently, even my own supporters feared that this promise would cost me more votes than it gained. But a few weeks ago, a 9-year-old girl in New York died because the State did not have a medical marijuana law that would have allowed her to legally access the cannabis she needed to control her debilitating seizures, and save her life, as it had been saving the lives of children with similar conditions in other states, which did have medical marijuana laws.

Cuomo had blocked passage of a medical marijuana bill for years, so the girl's highly publicized death severely damaged his public image, and made him the target of a huge backlash of unfavorable public sentiment, fanned by extended press and TV coverage.

Ironically, New York lawmakers had, under severe public pressure, finally enacted a medical marijuana bill just two months ago. But it will not take effect for another year and a half - too late to have saved the life of the 9-year-old girl, and also too late for two other children who have since died because they could not get the medical marijuana that might have saved their lives.

However, negative publicity over medical marijuana deaths was only part of Cuomo's problem. More trouble was on the way. For shortly after the death of the 9-year-old girl, the New York Times, of all places, ran a startling and historically target unprecedented target week-long series of editorial articles calling for (take a deep breath) immediate legalization of marijuana.

The New York Times editorials were an unexpected blockbuster -- and a game changer -- not only for my campaign but for pro-marijuana forces all over the country. The editorials further tarnished Governor Cuomo's public image while at the same time burnishing my own. In fact, many New Yorkers now regard me as something of a hero, for daring to espouse what had once been unthinkable, but has now become almost a holy crusade.

If New York State legalizes pot, it's 'game over' for the entire country.

The legalization of pot seems to be following the same kind of trajectory as the legalization of same-sex marriage. Liberalization has been taking place slowly, on a state by state basis. But if New York goes pro-pot - as it will if I become Governor -- many more states may be expected to quickly follow, like falling dominoes.

I said there were two "startling and unprecedented events" that could damage Andrew Cuomo and put me in the Governor's seat.
Here is the second.

2. Last summer, after Albany was rocked by what the New York Times called "a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests," Governor Cuomo empowered a high-level investigative body (called a Moreland Commission) to uncover and put an end to corruption in New York State politics.

The commission, Cuomo promised, would be "totally independent."

"Anything they want to look at, they can look at," he said. "Me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman."

Everyone cheered -- the media, the public, Republican legislators, and members of his own party. But when the trail of corruption followed by investigators seemed to lead to Cuomo, he secretly attempted to derail the investigation, then abruptly terminated the commission altogether. The cheers soon turned to jeers, then to outrage. And members of Cuomo's own party began rushing for the doors, scurrying away from him as fast as possible to escape the unfavorable fallout.

Disbanding the Moreland Commission became such a hot issue that the Times launched a 3-month investigation of its own, which resulted in a searing front-page article on July 23 that is still causing shock-waves. The Times found that:

"the governor's office deeply compromised the panel's work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him."

"[N]ow," continued the article, "as the Democratic governor seeks a second term in November, federal prosecutors are investigating the roles of Mr. Cuomo and his aides in the panel's shutdown and are pursuing its unfinished business."

And in a separate editorial on the same day, the Times drove a final nail into Cuomo's public image by adding:

"As indictments and embarrassments continue (26 at latest count since 1999), New Yorkers will have to decide if their representatives are politicians they can trust, including Mr. Cuomo."

Thanks to the Times revelations, Cuomo is now the focus of a federal investigation by Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. This means that, in addition to getting a public relations black eye, Cuomo may also be charged with obstruction of justice, a very serious charge that could put him behind bars.

But whether or not Como is indicted -- let alone jailed -- fallout from this scandal has made him radioactive, and possibly un-electable as well. Which puts the Democratic Party in a difficult position. But its puts me in a very good one.

That's because I am now the only legally registered challenger to Cuomo on the Democratic ballot in the September 9 primary. (One other challenger is on the ballot, by may soon be removed for reasons of technical ineligibility.) That leaves me as the only credible (i.e., electable) Democratic candidate in the general election.

But -- can I actually win the general election against a Republican opponent?

Absolutely. In New York State, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1. And in New York City (where half the state's voters reside) they outnumber Republicans 7 to 1. Whoever gets the Democratic nomination will almost certainly be the next governor. Which looks, more and more, like lucky me.

But New Yorkers, too, will be lucky if I become governor. As the most progressive candidate for governor since FDR, I am promising a lot more than just legalizing pot. For example, I intend to:

■ decriminalize marijuana
■ raise the minimum wage to $15
■ impose a 1% sales tax on Wall Street
■ close tax loopholes for the super rich
■ put criminal bankers in jail
■ strengthen rent control and tenant rights
■ protect small businesses from lease-gouging
■ support public schools and teachers
■ eliminate police brutality
■ end stop and frisk
■ give clemency to non-violent offenders
■ return local control to cities
■ cut bus and subway fares in half
■ cut bridge and tunnel tolls in half
■ offer amnesty to immigrants and their children
■ provide free college for New Yorkers (as we used to do)
■ provide free health care for New Yorkers (as we ought to do)
■ ban fracking anywhere in New York State

Clearly, the grass will always be greener on my side of the street. Let's hope New Yorkers are ready for a governor who isn't afraid to inhale. Please go to my website for more information.