Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tasini Profiled By New York Times

I know I am not supposed to reprint articles in full, but I also provide the link to go look at the Ties' advertising.

A Democratic Bid That's Anti-Clinton All the Time
Published: June 26, 2006

With his glasses, balding head and leprechaunish smile, Jonathan Tasini doesn't look like a political threat to anyone. But he has become a thorn in Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's side as she seeks a commanding re-election victory this year to provide momentum for a possible presidential run in 2008.

Mr. Tasini is not, however, waging his attacks from the right, as one among the legions of so-called Hillary-haters. Instead, he is trying to rally fellow Democrats against her over a single theme: Mrs. Clinton's early and vociferous backing of the Iraq war, an issue that many Democrats believe will become more contentious as the midterm election approaches.

Mr. Tasini, 49, is gathering signatures to get on the Sept. 12 primary ballot, in a year when Mrs. Clinton faces a divided and weak Republican opposition. And while he acknowledges the odds are against him, his anti-Clinton campaign has attracted increasing attention in recent weeks, winning the endorsement of a variety of Democratic clubs and nearly forcing a resolution onto the floor of the state Democratic convention last month calling for the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.

"I am convinced that the majority of Democratic primary voters agree with me," he said the other day as he waded through the noontime crowd in Bryant Park collecting signatures. "And if this race were not about name recognition, celebrity and her $25 million in campaign contributions, I would win."

Political analysts say Mr. Tasini embodies the frustration that is building on the left toward more mainstream Democrats like Mrs. Clinton. In her case, a strong showing by Mr. Tasini could foreshadow the challenges she might face in 2008 with Democratic presidential primary voters, who tend to be more liberal than the Democratic electorate as a whole.

It may be tempting to dismiss Mr. Tasini as a pesky agitator, given that almost nobody outside of politics has ever heard of him, that his campaign employs only four paid workers and that he has raised a pittance — about $100,000, with all but $15,000 spent — against a woman who is widely seen as the most formidable Democrat among the potential presidential contenders in 2008.

But Mr. Tasini's campaign has, to some measure, become a vehicle for liberals who are disenchanted with Mrs. Clinton on other issues as well, including her support for a ban on flag burning, her support for tougher work requirements for welfare recipients or her attempts to reach out to opponents of abortion.

Recently, Barbara Ehrenreich, the political essayist and author, sent out a fund-raising solicitation on behalf of Mr. Tasini accusing Mrs. Clinton of turning her back on core liberal beliefs. "I know the right sees Clinton as an archliberal, but there is less and less evidence for any liberal inclinations on her part," Ms. Ehrenreich wrote.

Mrs. Clinton's support among Democrats in New York remains strong. Recently, 74 percent of registered Democrats in the state told pollsters for the Siena Research Institute that they thought favorably of her. But even that poll, conducted this month, indicated that there might be reason for some concern in the Clinton camp, as her overall approval rating fell to 54 percent from 58 percent in May.

Beyond that, Mr. Tasini, who asserts that New Yorkers are frustrated enough with Mrs. Clinton's war stance that they would abandon her if the right candidate came along, likes to cite another recent poll, by the Zogby Group. That survey found that when given a choice between an unnamed antiwar candidate and Mrs. Clinton, 38 percent of the registered voters in New York said they would support Mrs. Clinton, while 32 percent said they would vote for the unnamed candidate.

But Mrs. Clinton's advisers point out that most public polls have shown her level of support to be relatively consistent in recent months and that any declines have been within the polls' margins of error.

Mrs. Clinton's advisers say they would not be surprised if Mr. Tasini collected the signatures he needs to get on the ballot. But they argue that her position on the war — she is opposed to an immediate pullout in Iraq but does not want an open-ended military presence there either — is broadly shared by New York Democrats.

"Senator Clinton is proud to have the strong and overwhelming support of Democrats across the state," said Howard Wolfson, a Clinton spokesman.

The developments in New York have drawn close attention from liberal activists around the country who believe Mr. Tasini's doggedness will allow him to rough up Mrs. Clinton and send a message to national Democratic leaders that the party's ideological base cannot be taken for granted.

"Even a respectable showing by Jon Tasini will shake up the leadership of the Democratic Party and make them take another look at just who Hillary Clinton is," said Marcy Winograd, an antiwar activist who ran an unsuccessful primary challenge against Representative Jane Harman of California, a hawkish Democrat.

"I have such respect for him," continued Ms. Winograd, who is a friend of Mr. Tasini's. "It's one thing to go up against Jane Harman. It's another to go up against someone with that kind of name recognition on a national scale."

This is not the first time Mr. Tasini, a union organizer who earned a bachelor's degree in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, has taken on a powerful institution. As the president of the National Writers Union, he sued The New York Times on behalf of thousands of freelance writers in a case that wound up before the Supreme Court. The case, Tasini v. The New York Times, was decided in 2001 in favor of the plaintiffs and led to the establishment of a compensation fund for freelance writers.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Tasini has shown that he is not beneath engaging in stunts to grab headlines. He recently went on a 600-mile bicycle ride around the state and gathered 2,500 signatures for the antiwar resolution he introduced at the state Democratic Party convention.

As it turned out, party leaders worked furiously to block the resolution from going to a vote in order not to embarrass Mrs. Clinton.

"For the Democratic Party to not want to debate the most important issue of the day —— " he said, breaking off in exasperation, and pausing to find the right words. "How could you not want to debate the Iraq war? What is the party afraid of?"

Mr. Tasini was born in Houston but spent part of his childhood in New York State and now lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. He remains a stranger to most New Yorkers, but he appears able to put people at ease when he introduces himself on the street, employing a cheery, hail-fellow-well-met manner. He seems to be finding new supporters every day, as was the case when he and a small group of volunteers walked around Union Square last week collecting signatures to get on the primary ballot.

"So you want to run against Hillary Clinton?" Derek Bermel, a 38-year-old composer from Brooklyn, asked Mr. Tasini after being cornered for a quick sales pitch. "Yes, I do, primarily because of her position on the war," Mr. Tasini responded eagerly, after having been turned away by one person after another.

"Well, let me sign that," Mr. Bermel said. "I'm ashamed of Hillary. I don't know who she thinks her constituents are."

Mr. Tasini has gained some traction among a handful of liberal clubs, picking up endorsements from the Village Independent Democrats, Brooklyn Democrats for Change, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and the Downtown Independent Democrats.

"He is a symbol," said Yayoi Tsuchitani, explaining why her group, the Village Independent Democrats, voted overwhelmingly to endorse Mr. Tasini. "Hillary has really disappointed her base," she continued. "She has forgotten her New York liberal following and basically abandoned us."

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