Occupy Wall Street activist aims to occupy New York House seat

A hip-hop artist who claims to be the first Occupy Wall Street activist to secure a place on a Congressional ballot will challenge Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) in the June 26 Democratic primary.

George Martinez, who can be seen in full hip-hop flow in a YouTube video backing the Occupy movement, is not just a gadfly candidate, however. 

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An adjunct professor of politics at Pace University, he is also a cultural ambassador for the State Department.

Whereas a handful of other Occupy activists have either tried and failed to make the ballot (Nathan Kleinman in Pennsylvania’s 13th district), or will run on third-party tickets (Colin Beavan, who will run as the Green Party candidate in New York’s 8th district), Martinez collected enough signatures to get on the Democratic Party primary ballot. 

Cecily McMillan, another Occupy activist who serves as Martinez’s deputy campaign manager, said the intention is to make a serious attempt to oust Velazquez.

“We are attempting to win,” she emphasized to The Hill.

But she also spoke about the longer-term goal of opening up the electoral process by providing a template for how a campaign can be run without going to any great lengths to solicit big-dollar donations.

Martinez has eschewed any serious fundraising efforts. The candidate’s initial budget was just $5000, said McMillan.

Of that, she added, about $1000 was spent on basic materials to collect the signatures needed to secure a spot on the ballot. The bulk of the remainder went to hiring an attorney who specializes in electoral law. 

In a nod to both his hip-hop interests and his broader philosophy, Martinez is referring to these efforts to broaden the democratic process under the phrase “Bum Rush the Vote.” The phrase is also the name of his campaign’s Twitter account.

“The idea is that George’s campaign is a prototype for Bum Rush the Vote,” McMillan said. “It’s an experiment — we are going to see how far we can get.” 

She also added that even a modestly impressive showing for Martinez — getting more than 10 percent of the votes cast — would be enough to encourage other Occupy activists to run elsewhere, and to lay the groundwork for a future bid.

“George is a viable candidate,” she insisted. “If not now, then two years from now.”

Martinez faces formidable obstacles, however.

In addition to his lack of funds, two other Democrats, including New York City Council member Erik Dilan, are also challenging Velazquez and promising reform. The Congresswoman herself will be hard to beat, having served in the House for an unbroken two decades.

Martinez’s team is trying to turn Velazquez’s lengthy tenure against her.

“People like [Rep. Charles] Rangel, Velazquez, are not bad people,” McMillan said. “But she’s been in office 20 years and she doesn’t stir the waters. You know, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

Velazquez has a more liberal voting record than most Democrats, however.

The Project Vote Smart website outlines myriad positive ratings of her from liberal interest groups (and negative ones from their conservative counterparts).

That record, in addition to her experience, leads her campaign to evince little concern about the new Occupy challenger.

Invited to comment upon Martinez’s candidacy, a Velazquez spokesman stated: 

“The Congresswoman is proud of her longstanding record of fighting for working families. That said, she appreciates new voices in the debate and welcomes their participation in the process."