Meet Matt Funiciello, a local baker seeking to land the Green Party’s nomination in the race to replace outgoing Congressman Bill Owens, a Democrat who announced in January that he is retiring from his four-year stint as the federal representative of New York’s 21st District.
Funiciello said he’s “watched in horror,” as aspiring candidates from the two major political parties have been coming from outside of the area in increasing numbers in an attempt to represent its 400,000-plus voters, a trend that he feels isn’t isolated and doesn’t reflect how Congress is supposed to work.
“Congress is supposed to be a cacophony of voices representing the uniqueness across the United States,” he told the Valley News in a phone interview. “When they meet, they’re supposed to represent that. We’ve seen a corporate takeover and that’s really frightening to me.”
Funciello said Democrats and Republicans have both set up a practice of buying congressional seats, walking into county committee endorsement meetings with hundreds of thousands of dollars pledged from special interests:
“Or they promise that they can self-fund a multi-million dollar ‘race,’” he said.
The answer, he said, is to give the public an alternative.
Funiciello, speaking eruditely like someone who has grown accustomed to hatching their ideas in complete sentences, said he thinks it’s important to have a multi-party system and that he’s not necessarily for the Green Party and everything it stands for, but rather against the Republican and Democratic parties who he says don’t have the best interests of the working class in mind.
“I ask all my friends who are Democrats to name one pro-worker piece of legislation that has come out of Democratic control of congress in their lifetime and they’re hard-pressed to give me even one example,” he said.
“I can’t in good conscience run as a member of a party that doesn’t work for those of us who work for a living. We need a voice.”
Funiciello, 46, who has owned and operated the Rock Hill Bakehouse in Glens Falls for the past 25 years, sees himself as a regular worker:
“I rent my apartment, don’t live a life off the back of my workers -- we all work and all suffer together.”
“I’m not content that we have to pay to build hospitals, but we’re denied access to the health care provided there,” said Funiciello. “The ACA is a brutal extension of that, the requirement to purchase insanely unaffordable insurance. We’re still workers who are the working poor. That’s an issue that needs to be resolved and single-payer healthcare is an issue that needs to be taken to Washington.”
To bring work to the job-strapped North Country, Funiciello said he’d follow frequent Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins’ “Green Jobs” proposal that would call for the state government to increase public spending to hire private contractors to meet public needs for sustainable green infrastructure, mass transit, water and sewer systems, renewable energy and green building retrofits.
Hawkins, who ran for Governor in 2010, had previously said the only way to get the private economy moving would be to democratize the allocation of investment, namely through the creation of a state-owned bank that would target investment into new technologies and businesses of a sustainable green economy.
“Fiber optics’ jobs that take advantage of solar and wind resources, for example, can be created here,” said Funiciello. “We can bring money back to the district and subsidize [these jobs] so when a small business comes forward and says ‘we can do that’, they can get the contract.”
Funiciello said the country has “grown fat,” on the number of manufacturing contracts that are unnecessarily expensive, citing a recent article he read in the Economist about something called a Razor, an experimental drone designed by the MITRE Corporation and the University of Virginia, that is created on the cheap by 3D printers and is controlled by an Android smartphone loaded with free apps.
“Those fill the same niche as B52’s,” he said. “We can be doing all the same spying, if we chose to do so, utilizing this technology.
“What are we worried about?” he asked. “It’s this living in fear that causes to spend more on our military than all other countries combined.”
The candidate said while he believes in strong defense, he feels the United States does not need to intervene in other countries’ affairs in the pursuit of oil and natural gas.
“We have other options that don’t involve hurting people, including our soldiers.”
GUNS, POLICE MILITARIZATION
Funciello said while he’s “not going to pander to gun owners,” he feels people outside of the district don’t understand that hunting feeds people here.
“When I was younger, I loved to hunt and had guns, a .22 and 22-gauge shotgun, like most country boys do — I love the meat.”
Citing the ethical issues swirling around a recent incident in Glens Falls in which a local man was hauled off by five armed officers for allegedly violating an order of protection and the skyrocketing, “no-knock,” police raids across the country, Funciello said he was worried about the militarization of municipal police forces that has been escalating since the Clinton era.
“For a city of only 14,000 people, that seems like overkill,” he said, referring to Glens Falls. “We starting to treat them like a branch of military and they’re not.”
Funiciello said many say the country is headed for tyranny:
“I think a well-armed populace is a warning,” he said. “We need to make sure government is at least wary of us as a population — we have the right to bear arms beyond venison.”
Funiciello said the current system of centralized agriculture needs to be reformed.
“Washington decided in the 1950s that we would have a topdown dairy industry in the state and the current state of the farming industry has reflected the change — most of them are dairy,” he said.
Funiciello said a century ago, wheat was king and the North Country, which he said was once referred to as “the region’s breadbasket,” was allowed to die in favor of a subsidized system.
“When you pay less farmers less than what their output costs, by necessity, you’re reducing them to what is typically referred to as ‘welfare,’” he said. “Call it aid or subsidy or anything you choose — setting up a system that requires government regulation is a means to control all elements of the system.”
Funiciello, who spoke to the Valley News from his bakery in Glens Falls, said he likes to use his business as an example of the microeconomy he’d like to reintroduce as a federal representative.
Citing a mill in Jefferson County from which he purchases his flour, the candidate said the area is seeing a resurgence of that kind of local production and distribution.
“It’s more environmentally sound and this immediate dispersal of food, unbleached and unbromated flours in the region, is something that I cannot get from the Midwest.”
Funiciello said the rise of public interests in farmer’s markets for locally grown food has shown the public that they are able to eat locally for the same price.
“The growth of this regional economy is something we need to start bolstering by switching to other sustainable farming.”
Funiciello said the Farm Bill is problematic and no one really understands it.
“The problem is hundreds of terrible things paired with the two good things: help regulating agencies aid small farmers as they try to assimilate infrastructure rather than being the tyrannical hen that keeps us from developing these new systems,” he said.
Funciello said he has spoken at the state senate and assembly on a number of occasions in support of a livable wage and in favor of single-payer health care as well as advocating for a total reform of the state’s corrupt Industrial Development Agencies.
“We should be tired of paying subsidies to businesses only to have them lay off 200 workers,” he said. “This is what happens in post-NAFTA world and we need to elevate our workers to a level where they can pay own bills and not receive what is typically called ‘welfare.’”
Asking corporations to spearhead a change in living standards is something he views as, “foxes guarding the henhouse.”
Funiciello will face anti-cancer activist Donald Hassig in the Green Party’s primarily on June 24 and is currently collecting signatures for the ballot.
The candidate served on the Green Party’s national committee for six years and is a staff veteran of multiple political campaigns.
He said he doesn’t see Hassig as a serious candidate.
“He seems well-informed, but dropping out of race in the eleventh hour to endorse a Democrat means that he and I see the Green Party very differently,” he said, referring to Hassig’s decision to endorse Owens in the 2012 race.
“I’m not a career politician like the other candidates and I think that’s what we need right now. It’s important to build alternative parties so that voters aren’t forced to, once again, choose which one they want — a Big Mac or a Whopper,” he said. “Those of us who like a nice salad made with local organic greens are always left without an option. It’s long past time that we as voters change that corrupted structure and reimplement a truly democratic process.”