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Green Party Finds Some Traction In Upstate New York

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This month, Republicans and Democrats will nominate candidates with the lowest favorability ratings on record. Some voters are looking for alternatives. On the right, there's the Libertarian Party, on the left, the Green Party. The Green Party hasn't gained a lot of traction nationally, but it's a different story in a corner of upstate New York. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has the story.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: I visited Matt Funiciello bakery on the outskirts of Glens Falls, N.Y., a mill town on the Hudson River about an hour's drive north of Albany.

MATT FUNICIELLO: These are our hearth ovens. Both are from France, but this one's actually, I like to say, the BMW. It has a German burner unit in it that is fairly easy to fix and repair.

MANN: Funiciello bakes artisan bread that he sells to shops and restaurants. The last few years, he's also emerged as catalyst for a surge in Green Party activism here, running for Congress in 2014 and again this year.

FUNICIELLO: So they're looking for an alternative. Would it be me, you know, the communist guy who bakes bread? But a lot of them realize I'm not a communist guy who bakes bread, that I'm actually probably more capitalist than anybody else in this race.

MANN: Two years ago, Funiciello won about 11 percent of the vote - not bad in this Republican-leaning corner of rural New York. He also drew strong endorsements from some of the region's big newspapers. They backed him over the Republican and the Democrat.

And Funiciello won backing from national heavy hitters on the left like activist Ralph Nader who ran for president as a Green in 2000. Nader came to Glens Falls, campaigning and raising money for Funiciello.

RALPH NADER: Matt's the only one, really, who's from - of, by and from the district and has a business here.

MANN: What's different this year is that Funiciello's not alone on the ballot. There's now a local Green candidate running for State Senate. And Robin Barkenhagen is running for the state assembly as a Green in a race where there's no Democrat. Barkenhagen is the only candidate on the left.

ROBIN BARKENHAGEN: It's been a struggle. It's been, you know, obviously uphill for many years. But Matt made a big breakthrough and brought a lot of us around to decide we could organize and get things done this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FUNICIELLO: And the amount of public money that is put into private corporations...

MANN: Funiciello, the baker running for Congress, is convinced that this is a year when more voters will go Green. He thinks Bernie Sanders' strength in the Democratic primary showed people want cabinets who are more progressive and who won't take money from big companies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FUNICIELLO: Corporations are not human beings. The workers who are in this plant, the workers who live here in Fort Edward - they're human beings.

(CHEERING)

MANN: Funiciello led a rally outside a General Electric factory in Fort Edwards, N.Y., an hour's drive from this bakery. GE is closing this plant, laying off workers. Funiciello was joined by Jill Stein, who's expected to be the Green Party's candidate for president. She thinks Greens can capitalize on voter anger over income inequality and international trade deals.

JILL STEIN: We've been told third parties are, you know, small and they don't count and they're just spoilers. Well, that's what they said to the abolitionists.

MANN: The rise of the Green Party here does give Democrats fits. You hear the word spoiler a lot. The Democratic candidate for this House seat is a retired Army officer named Mike Derrick.

MIKE DERRICK: So I will try to tell people that a vote for Matt, you know, is a wasted vote because Matt Funiciello will never get elected to Congress.

MANN: It is still a long shot for any of the Green candidates here to actually win their races. In the House race, Republican Elise Stefanik is heavily favored to hold her seat. But in this part of upstate New York, it does appear that Greens have sunk real roots, establishing themselves as a serious part of the political debate. For now, they say, that in itself is progress. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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