Matt Funiciello, a baker who lives in Glens Falls, is the Green Party's candidate in the race for New York's 21st Congressional District.
LAKE PLACID — Matt Funiciello, the Green Party’s candidate for Congress, has reached a state of balance.
“Campaigning is just one of the many things I’m doing,” he said. “I have to take time to enjoy life, something I’ve only learned in the past two years.”
Funiciello, a baker who has never held elective office, said his first campaign stop outside of Glens Falls would be the first, in what he hoped would be, a series of open-ended discussions with voters.
“I want to start getting out and talk to people about the issues and, specifically, find out what they think of what I’m saying.”
His appearance at the Green Goddess Cafe was one part stump speech, the other, a flicker of a bygone era in politics, the Mr. Smith-type citizen activist rallying the public with fiery oratory.
Funiciello gathered about two-dozen voters around and told his story.
The candidate spent his formative years on a small subsistence farm in Wilton, Saratoga County, a childhood steeped in flinty northeastern traditions. He hunted for most of his life and played hockey — badly, he added — before bouncing back and forth from Ottawa for summer holidays after his parents split.
Funiciello returned to the States in 1988 and flirted with a journalism degree before opening Rock Hill Bakehouse in South Glens Falls in 1992. The Rock Hill Cafe followed in 2002, a business that regularly sees the 47-year-old clocking 50-hour weeks.
The candidate told voters his campaign is structured around three main platforms.
The first is the reduction of corporate welfare, a federal redistribution policy of capital that he said does nothing to benefit the working class.
“Make the 1 percent pay their fair share,” he said. “Why are loans not being made available to young people for tractors, to develop microeconomies?”
He told the tale of General Electric in Fort Edward, located about 45 minutes north of Albany.
“We gave them lots of money to set up plants,” he said. “They stole Tesla’s ideas and gave them to Edison. Over the 40 years that followed, we saw the building of the middle class.”
But the growth, while a keystone of the modern economy, is now coming at the expense of the working class, he said, citing the company’s financial practices.
“Today, they borrow money at zero percent interest. Who pays the interest? We do.”
Funiciello said profits are filtered into the GE Capital Bank, which then lends it back out to the taxpayers at an inflated interest rate.
“They pull in a $1.2 billion in profit per month,” he said.
He explained when General Electric then opts to relocate to right-to-work states — like the company’s decision last fall to move capacitor production to Florida along with 200 jobs — it decimates communities.
The candidate also said agricultural subsidies only benefit a small number of corporate farmers who have an unsustainable monopoly on agriculture.
“Their products are toxic, which doesn’t benefit the food-buying public,” he said. “It doesn’t benefit illegal immigrants, and it doesn’t benefit those trying to develop a normal farming economy.”
Citing the burgeoning local food movement in the North Country, Funiciello said subsidies should be given to local farmers to make it easier to get their projects into markets — or for the production of wheat on North Country farms, a fledgling industry that, he said, should be supported.
His second plank is single-payer health care.
Citing a Harvard Study from the 1990s, Funiciello said single-payer care costs half of what taxpayers already spend per person.
“The current system is a catastrophe,” he said. “It’s already socialized — it’s terrible, and I have to pay for it.”
The candidate himself remains uninsured.
“We can’t afford it,” he said.
Third, he said, is a livable wage.
Funiciello said workers at his business are paid 10 percent higher than the industry average, about $15 per hour. “I want to pay as much as I can,” he said. “This is still an issue that needs to be discussed with voters.”
The candidate, taking a question from a voter on the escalation of the rail traffic transporting crude oil across the region, said the federal government needs to step up efforts to explore alternative energy sources, like solar roadways that use photovoltaic technology to generate renewable energy that may be used by homes and businesses.
He also denounced fracking, citing possible ill health effects alongside what he perceived as deals that give property owners the shaft, and called for a tax on stock transactions.
Funiciello said transactions on the New York Stock Exchange, which has average daily trade volume of $169 billion, should be taxed by a half-percent.
“Why don’t we just keep it?” he asked. “We’re just giving it back to them.”
On a national level, the candidate called for a consumption tax.
“I’m about disbanding income tax that is not progressive,” he said. “The working class should be taxed at a far lesser rate.”
MONEY IN POLITICS
Funiciello, almost coyly, asked the crowd if they were familiar with the Republican primary that saw voters select Elise Stefanik, 30, as their candidate for the general election in November.
“That race cost $68 per vote,” he said. “That’s not democracy. That’s people from outside of the district seeking control. Those taking money, they’re not your candidate, and they don’t care what your needs are.”
American Crossroads, a super PAC co-founded by former George W. Bush policy advisor Karl Rove, spent a total of $800,000 in mail and television ads over the final three weeks of the primary, a development that Matt Doheny, an investment banker from Watertown, later blamed on his loss.
“If you are thinking of running for office, especially an office of any significance, you simply can not run until you understand what these national or local super PACs intentions are and what they will or won’t do in your race,” Doheny said in a statement the morning after losing all 12 counties in the district to Stefanik.
Doheny, who is continuing to evaluate his options for moving forward, said a spokesperson on Tuesday, noted at the time that he fared better in Herkimer County by several percentage points, the only part of the district that wasn’t exposed to American Crossroads ad buys.
Stefanik ended up winning the county by two votes once the official totals were released.
Stefanik, a former Bush staffer, repeatedly refused to denounce those ads, arguing that she had no control over outside groups.
Funiciello acknowledged his financial disadvantage and cited the farmer’s market in Glens Falls as an example of what can happen when the public binds together:
“We did that,” he said, calling it an example of a successful alternative system. “Let’s just call it ‘representation,’ not politics,” he said.
The candidate, whose speeches often drift into prime red meat territory with allusions to tyranny and police militarization, said he’s the only candidate who can carry the red-tinted district, one that outgoing representative Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) carried by less than a percentage point in 2012.
At a forum in Old Forge last month, he recalled, one voter said, “I’m a Republican, but I’m getting greener by the minute.”
“There’s nothing Aaron Woolf can say to make Republicans cross over,” he said. “I think he would be very passive.”
He called Stefanik a “very scripted candidate.”
“She’s saying all the perfect things she’s supposed to say to be elected,” he said.
The candidate said Republicans aren’t all tea party-types, calling them “hardworking, smart people with views often similar to mine.”
Funiciello said he has spent less than $4,000 on the campaign so far.
Q2 fundraising numbers released on Wednesday, July 16 showed the candidate raised $5,314 in donations from 70 donors, all but one of whom chipped in $250 or under.
“Even if I get 1 to 10 percent of the vote, it’s 1,000 times better than they have,” he said, referring to his opponents. “This isn’t a marketing campaign. It’s a discussion with citizens.”
Ray Losso, a retired professor and forester who came from Jay to meet Funiciello, said he was impressed with the candidate.
“I feel a great indebtedness to Mr. Funiciello for courageously choosing to provide an alternative to the uninformative and misleading rhetoric that passes for knowledge coming from all of the other political organizations, in particular, the Republicans and the Democrats,” he said.
Funiciello said he was just a regular guy trying to engender change:
"I'm not sure if what I'm doing is the right way," he said. "But it's an answer."