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Libertarian Michael McDermott Runs for NY Govenor

 Michael McDermott is the Libertarian candidate for Governor in New York. McDermott is also the newly minted head of the Libertarian party. 

He says there are many obstacles for his party before election day, like getting on the ballot and staying on the ballot.

"Hold on this is our lawyer. Hey Gary, any word?"

The call is about yet another challenge to one of his down ballot candidates. Lawyers for Senate Republican Carl Marcellino are making their fifth and final attempt to kick off the ballot Libertarian challenger Gigi Bowman.

"Well, I told her to expect it. They're going to every length and money is no issue. They just want to bleed her to the point where she depletes all her resources."

Resources, or money, are a perennial issue for even major parties like Republicans and Democrats. For minor parties, like Working Families, Libertarians, or the Green Party, McDermott says that the system is rigged.

"The arduous petition requirements, is probably the biggest thing. To get on the ballot, you have to get so many signatures."

McDermott had to get 15,000.

"And they immediately come in and challenge the signatures."

“They” being the major parties, Republicans and Democrats. And not just one challenge, but a challenge at each layer of the court.

"And they go through each one to see if you got it right or if you didn't get it right. If someone is not in your district, you can't read someone's name, there's like 42 points that they try to attack to make signatures invalid and not being professional petition gathers, mistakes are made."

The way around the ballot petition process in New York is through what's called automatic ballot access.  That's where a political party gets 50 thousand votes for their gubernatorial candidate, and for the next four years all of their candidates get a much lower threshold for getting on the ballot. And that's what McDermott is really campaigning for. He'd love to be Governor, but with automatic ballot access, McDermott says Liberterians can start eroding what he calls the concentration of power that the two main parties have.

"We're doing it so the people of New York are empowered to be able to get on the ballot and start winning elections and I think it's going to be a game changer. And all I need is 50 thousand votes for that."

Still, 50 thousand is a lot, especially when you don't have the ad money and main stream media coverage that the major parties have. So McDermott's first stop of the day is at a social media production company where he films a series of short infomercials that can be uploaded and shared cheaply. Then we arrive at Stony Brook's college radio station where Bruce Allen Michael hosts a libertarian talk show.

"On WUSB, Stony Brook 91.1 FM and on the web at...."

For 10 minutes, McDermott has the ears of maybe a 1000 people. He lambasts the state board of elections for placing him at the bottom ballot where voters can easily get confused. McDermott says professional politicians use the board of elections to stack the deck to keep average people like him out of office.

"Would that be better if I spoke quicker and was more polished, had on a five thousand dollar suit and a bodyguard behind me. I'm just one of the people. And if we get fifty thousand votes than that means we have the ability to put one of the people on the ballot in every election and we'll start winning seats starting next year."

Election officials point out that bipartisan boards of elections date back to the state's constitution of 189x and that it's more fair than, say, a state like Connecticut, where a single elected official oversees the elections. But Howie Hawkins, the Green party candidate for Governor, says it's those bipartisan commissioner who keep the minor parties out.

"The major parties get commissioners, the minor parties don't. That should be civil service jobs, they should not be linked to partisan politics."

The campaign for Democrat Andrew Cuomo did not respond to multiple queries, and the campaign for Republican Rob Astorino declined to comment. Larry Levy is dean of the National Center of Suburban Studies at Hofstra University and a longtime political observer. He says it's true it's not possible for an average person to run for statewide office. But that may not be a bad thing.

"People here are fairly sophisticated and even though some folks consider politicians to be a dirty word what they really want are good politicians, professional politicians who will work hard to get their issues through and block the ones they oppose."

McDermott calls himself an average guy but admits not many average people run governor. Last week after a debate with Cuomo, Astorino, and Hawkins in Buffalo, McDermott drove home opting to sleep in their car rather than spend money on a hotel.

McDermott has been divorced twice and foreclosed twice. He says he earned $12,000 this year working as a real estate broker and lives in his daughter's basement. McDermott said his lack of political sophistication helps; it just may take three or four campaigns to prove it.

"Well, I think that's a real shame and we've lost something, but... maybe it's a simple approach. And I'm sure I'll get lots of chuckles 'ho, there's that McDermott guy again, that idiot, he doesn't know what's going on.' Well, I'll learn real quick what's going on and I'm gonna try to find people who at least feel that they have a right to be represented--truly represented by one of their own."

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, a National Murrow, and he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.