An unlikely pair of anti-prohibitionist insurgents are running statewide campaigns in New York designed to challenge the political status quo. Randy Credico, a comedian turned activist turned senatorial candidate, is challenging incumbent Charles Schumer for the Democratic Party senatorial nomination, while hedge fund manager turned madam turned convict Kristin Davis is running for governor on the Anti-Prohibition party ticket.
Credico is familiar to the activist community as a relentless organizer against the Rockefeller drug laws from his post at the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice
, while Davis's notoriety comes from her prosecution and four-month imprisonment as a "Manhattan Madam" who procured prostitutes for deposed former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Both are proving adept at milking the media for all it's worth in a bid to bring their anti-prohibitionist messages to the public eye.
By all accounts, neither has a chance of winning outright. In the latest Siena Poll of New York politics, Credico was pulling 11% against Schumer, up from 9% last fall, but still hardly a close race. Davis has not figured in any polls, but is running as a third party candidate in a year when Democrat Andrew Cuomo appears to be a shoo-in in November.
Still, both are committed to doing all they can to bolster their campaigns and get the spotlight focused on their issues. Last week, the Credico campaign handed in signatures in a bid to qualify for the Democratic primary, while the Davis campaign is in the midst of a signature drive of its own.
"I'm exhausted, I just spent 38 days on the petitioning drive," said Credico on the way back from Albany after handing in signatures. "I'm sick. I have some bronchial problem. If Paterson signs the medical marijuana bill, I might be able to get some relief. We have enough signatures to get on the ballot. Now we have to wait to see if Schumer challenges us," Credico said.
That may be unnecessary, given that the state Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs told the New York Daily News Sunday that Credico and his allies had not turned in enough signatures to make the party ballot. But whether he makes the Democratic ballot or not, Credico will be in the race. He is also on the ticket for both the Libertarian Party and Davis's Anti-Prohibitionist Party.
"Randy submitted 7,000 signatures himself, and one running mate submitted 6,500, and the third guy was supposed to submit 9,000, but only handed in 500," said Roger Stone, a Republican political operative who is friends with Credico and is advising Davis. "The next morning, the Democratic state committee was peddling the story that Randy had fallen short. I think the third guy was working with Chuck Schumer in a Nixon-style dirty tricks operation. Why does Chuck Schumer fear competition? Why deny people a vote?"
Stone might know a thing or two about political tricksters. He has a long history of political shenanigans, most notably a role in the infamous "Brooks Brothers riots" in Florida in the disputed 2000 presidential election, where mobs of angry Republicans rushed election offices as officials scrutinized chads. He denies any involvement in that.
"I'm a libertarian Republican, not a religious right or Moral Majority Republican," Stone said. "I'm pro-freedom, I favor gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, casino gambling, and prostitution. The only way to get the pimps and drugs out of it is to regulate it. It's a $10 billion industry -- let's legalize it and run out the mob, the pimps, the guys who exploit women, let's empower women."
He is also critical of New York's drug laws. "The Rockefeller laws were racist," Stone said bluntly. "If you were a rich white kid, you could get a break. I think there's a difference between cocaine and marijuana, and I'm not for the legalization of heroin, but until someone can convince me marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol, I say legalize it. It's a harmless herb that grows from the earth, and the idea it's a gateway drug is horseshit. New York has millions of marijuana users and they didn't all turn into heroin addicts."
Whatever Stone's motives, he is pushing both anti-prohibitionist campaigns and played a key role in getting Davis into the governor's race. "I met Roger Stone on a Sirius radio show, and afterward, I approached him about lobbying for the legalization of prostitution," said Davis, whose blonde bombshell looks belie a keen intellect. "That was right after a woman who had worked for me was killed by the Craig's List killer in Boston. I feel very strongly she would still be alive if prostitution were legal. If one of his earlier victims had felt comfortable calling the police, he might have been caught before he killed," she said.
"My platform is pro-freedom," said Davis, adding that some of her issues are getting more play than others. "We've sort of moved into being most vocal on marijuana and gay marriage," she said. "These are the two issues that resonate most with people. New York is broke, deeply in debt, so we're looking at marijuana not so much as a social issue, but as an economic one."
Davis acknowledged that actually winning the governorship was unlikely, to say the least, but said her campaign was more about getting the issues addressed and getting enough votes to get the Anti-Prohibitionist Party official status in New York. "People say you can't expect to win, but that depends on your definition of winning," she said. "Andrew Cuomo has approval ratings over 60% and $23 million in campaign funds, but voting for me sends a clear message to the career politicians that these issues need to be heard. If we can get 50,000 votes for the party, then we're officially recognized and can lobby for our issues. Every single vote matters. Every vote for me shows the career politicians that New Yorkers care about these issues, that they want legal marijuana."
The anti-prohibitionist tag team has been doing some joint appearances, Davis said. "Randy is on my Anti-Prohibitionist Party petition as the Senate nominee. We just did an event over the weekend. It was a signature drive kickoff slash birthday party for me," she said. "There were maybe 300 people there."
Davis's notoriety has both helped and hindered her campaign, the former madam said. "It's a double-edged sword. Compared to sex, people by and large are not so interested in politics," she explained. "Sex gets people interested, and I'm an interesting character, but on the other hand, the mainstream media has been skeptical. The Post and New York One have not covered the campaign at all. I hope that once we're on the ballot, and they see this isn't a hoax, they'll start taking us a little more seriously."
"She's been able to use the celebrity that came out of her brush with Eliot Spitzer to her advantage to continue to point out the inequities of the criminal justice system," Stone said. "She went to prison, and he went back to his town house."
If politics makes strange bedfellows, anti-drug war politics makes even stranger ones. Stone is a libertarian Republican, Davis describes herself as a libertarian, but Credico comes out of a left-leaning social justice perspective. They don't agree on everything. For instance, Credico has come out in favor of allowing a mosque to be built near the former World Trade Center site, while Davis opposes it. Similarly, Credico touts an anti-war, anti-interventionist foreign policy, while Davis doesn't touch those issues.
"In the end," said Stone, "Credico and Davis become running mates and are on the same side. The drug war is one of the issues that motivates them both."
Whether he makes the Democratic ballot or not, Credico isn't going away. "We're going to start a war of attrition against Schumer," the activist/comedian turned candidate vowed. "We'll be making inroads in the black, latino, lesbian and gay communities, we'll be making inroads with people upstate concerned about their mortgages and credit cards. "I know Schumer is not happy I'm in the race," said Credico. "I'm the last person he wants challenging him. I have a show biz background, I have charisma."
But he also has street cred dating back to his days agitating against the Rockefeller drug laws. "I worked with the families of prisoners, I worked with the African-American community. That's what helped get me over the top. Women whose kids were incarcerated came out and canvassed for me. Schumer has nothing to offer them," Credico said.
Credico compares and contrasts his career with Schumer's and finds the incumbent fares badly. "I ran a civil rights organization, and he conducted himself as someone opposed to civil rights, as manifested by his support of the Patriot Act, the drug war, ID cards, the wall on the border, and other repressive measures. He's anti-civil rights, not for constitutional or civil rights for most Americans."
The Schumer campaign did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
"I'm for civil rights, human rights, a clean environment, and pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia," Credico elaborated. "Schumer was going to waltz right in there without having to talk about this, and New Yorkers deserve better. Why is he an avid supporter of the drug war? Why isn't he as progressive as [Republican senators] Sessions and Hatch on the crack/powder sentencing disparity?" the long-time activist asked.
"I'm for legalization of marijuana," Credico continued. "We should be able to grow marijuana here, without taxing it. Let's not give the government any more layers of power. Prohibition has to be abolished. We have to talk about this. The drug war is a Trojan horse to incarcerate people of color for social control."
The Republicans and Democrats in New York have shown little taste for challenging drug war orthodoxy, but insurgent candidates Credico and Davis are determined to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to justifying prohibitionist policies. Let the games begin!
(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)