An ‘edgy, radical’ campaign for Congress

This article was originally published for Straus News.

June 12, 2018

After being knocked off the Democratic primary ballot last month, 47-year-old Sander Hicks didn’t veer from his mission of representing New York’s District 12 in Congress. Instead, he simply chose to run as an independent.

Hicks — a self-proclaimed 9/11 “truther” — is running on a populist platform. He wants to abolish the Electoral College, hold regular town halls and restore diplomatic relations with Iran.

Hicks has served as the president of the Cortelyou Road Merchants Association, a network of businesses on Brooklyn’s Cortelyou Road, and currently operates the woodworking company Zen Space Makers, Inc. in Queens. He believes the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, isn’t progressive enough to represent the district’s “edgy, radical, creative, entrepreneurial side.”

“I’m a lifelong peace activist, and I felt there’s a political vulnerability with the fact that Carolyn Maloney voted for the Iraq War, went along with the economic bailouts of Wall Street and is extremely conservative about Middle East politics [and] Israel,” Hicks said. “I feel that she’s vulnerable to a true progressive challenge.”

One of his key, if controversial, missions is determining the “truth” behind the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Hicks believes former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney covered up the true perpetrators of the attacks, citing the “28 Pages,” a document released under the Obama administration that alleges connections between some of the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi officials. The terrorist group al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attacks.

“There seems to be something really undemocratic and scary about the rigid conformity of opinion when it comes to 9/11,” Hicks said.

Hick’s website lists a five-step plan to restore peaceful relations with Iran; he recently went there for the New Horizon conference, an event for American and European anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist academics, activists and other figures.

His policy platform on the Middle East also includes negating the United States’ stance that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks on his own people.

“For the chemical attacks to happen and then be blamed on Assad, it looks like a false flag attack,” Hicks said. “It looks like they were made by somebody else and then blamed on Assad.”

He cites Bernie Sanders and Paul Wellstone as inspirations, and said he can even understand people who voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

The Greenpoint, Brooklyn, resident had originally run for Congress on the Democratic ticket until candidate Suraj Patel filed a lawsuit against him and former primary candidate Peter Lindner, citing an invalid petition, according to Town & Village. Now, Hicks is focusing on collecting enough signatures to have his name on the independent ballot in November. He needs signatures from either 3,500 people or from 5 percent of the district’s voting population — whichever is less, according to the New York City Board of Elections.

“I’m a blue-collar, fighting progressive, spiritual warrior who believes in nonviolence, but, you know, when it comes to politics you can’t just throw me off the Democratic Party ballot,” Hicks said. “Suraj Patel, I think he made a terrible mistake by doing this petition challenge because now it looks like he’s scared of me.”

While Hicks’ platform and values are a marked shift from the other liberals running in District 12, his lack of funds may get in the way. As of March 31, Hicks had raised $12,411 — a mere fraction of Maloney’s $1,356,589 and Patel’s $1,064,921.

To engage with voters, Hicks and his team of about 20 volunteers are canvassing across the city, an effort that helped attract volunteer policy strategist Michael Pastko onto his team.

“One thing that Sander’s been doing really well is networking and speaking at events that other progressive and left-leaning organizations are putting on,” Pastko said.

One of those events was a debate at Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan, during which he beat Patel in a 2-1 vote.

“I’m proud of that because I hit him hard on his position on Syria, his position on war, his position on foreign policy and violence — and you know what, I admire him because he’s got good positions on immigration and ending the drug war,” Hicks said. “I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s kind of like Bernie Sanders saying, ‘Look, I know it’s bad politics, but I’ve heard enough about the damn emails.’”

District 12 has swung blue in every election since 1961 and has voted for the incumbent since 2013 — but now, Hicks believes, the district needs someone who has some edge and flavor.

“It’s a safe seat for Democrats, so we need to put in a real progressive Democrat, right?” Hicks said. “Whoever usually wins the Democratic primary usually wins because of the overwhelming amount of Democrats, so it’s going to be an interesting theory to say, ‘What about a real, true progressive independent running against the Democratic Party nominee?’”

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