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21st Congressional District Green Party candidates: A dance between quirky and conventional

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WATERTOWN — One is known for his baking, the other for his dancing, but those aren’t the only differences between candidates Matthew J. Funiciello and Donald L. Hassig, who are both running for the Green Party nomination in the race for the 21st Congressional District seat.

Though they have similar positions on several issues, the differences between them highlight an internal struggle in the Green Party between those who view it as a party of activists and those who view it as a pragmatic political party.

“The American political system is structured in such a way that it is difficult for an alternative political candidate to win,” said Grant Reeher, director of the Alan K. Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.

But the Green Party has a vibrant voice in New York state and the Northeast, according to Mr. Reeher.

“The goal is not so much to win, but to shift the agenda, shift the policy process in a way that fits their agenda,” he said.

To do that, the party can field both quirky and conventional candidates.

Mr. Hassig, who embraces his activist role with impromptu “environmental dances” on college campuses, falls into the former category. Mr. Funiciello, who identifies himself as a small businessman, falls into latter.

A baker with a taste for metaphor, Mr. Funiciello, who runs Rock Hill Bakehouse and Rock Hill Bakehouse Cafe in Glens Falls, speaks of his political agenda in practical terms.

“I have an alarm clock, and I use it in the middle of the night to go to work,” he said.

But that alarm clock — a term he uses allusively to connote middle class workers — keeps getting more and more expensive, its price driven ever higher by senseless legislation and corporate greed, according to Mr. Funiciello.

The cafe is a place where people of all political persuasions gather, including tea party and Green Party members along with Democrats and Republicans, Mr. Funiciello said.

“I’m not beholden to any group,” he said. “I don’t care if voters like me or dislike me. I just want to have a conversation with them.”

Since announcing his candidacy in February, Mr. Funiciello has attracted a fair bit of media attention, arguably more than Mr. Hassig, who drew the ire of the party in 2012 over his comments on immigration before dropping out to endorse Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who went on to win the election.

But Mr. Hassig also has received his fair share of recognition over the years, often involving citations or arrests for public demonstrations ranging from dancing to poetry reading.

It’s a role that Mr. Hassig believes is necessary.

“Activists are what we need right now with all the problems going on,” said Mr. Hassig, who began dancing several years ago on his family farm.

“Nature wants me to dance to build a better connection to her,” he said.

And his dancing, while certainly out of the ordinary, has its practical purposes as well.

“It’s one of the best ways to get people to listen to you,” Mr. Hassig said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I could tell you had something powerful that you were thinking or wanting to say.’”

Mr. Funiciello’s positions in media interviews are consistent: he’s for single-payer health care, sustainable agriculture, a reduction in defense spending, a reduction in government regulation and an end to government policies he said unfairly favor large corporations.

Mr. Hassig’s positions are not fundamentally different, though he speaks in more absolute terms, advocating free health care, free education and free organic food for all Americans.

The Green Party usually exerts more influence on the Democratic Party, according to Mr. Reeher, a theory that would seem to be in accord with Mr. Hassig’s endorsement of Rep. Owens.

Mr. Funiciello called Mr. Hassig a man of principle but said that he disagreed with many of his fellow party member’s positions and that he would not drop out of the race to endorse a candidate from one of the two major parties.

Mr. Funiciello and Mr. Hassig, who have agreed to a debate, though one has yet to be scheduled, will face off in the Green Party primary, provided Mr. Hassig’s petitions hold up under state Board of Elections review.

Mr. Funiciello submitted 31 pages of signatures to the state Board of Elections, while Mr. Hassig submitted seven. The state Board of Elections received Mr. Hassig’s petitions on April 14, three days after they were due, according to the board’s website.

The Board of Elections will meet at the end of the month. There were 995 active Green Party voters as of April 1, according to the board’s website.

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