A St. Lawrence County man plans to run as a Green Party candidate in the race for New York's 23rd Congressional District seat.
Donald Hassig lives in Colton and since 2000 has run an advocacy group called Cancer Action NY, dedicated to stopping the spread of chemical carcinogens. He believes he's ready to challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, a Democrat from Plattsburgh.
Hassig kicked off his campaign with a party in Potsdam that was attended by local Green Party members, college professors, students and friends. He said he doesn't expect to win the race but hopes to pull in at least 1,000 votes and spread more information about his fight against carcinogens.
Donald Hassig says he plans to run as a Green Party candidate against U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, in the upcoming race for New York’s 23rd Congressional District.
Hassig will need to get signatures from 5 percent of all registered Green Party voters in the 23rd District to petition his way onto the ballot. According to the New York State Board of Elections, there were 863 members of the Green Party in the district as of November 2011, so Hassig would need 45 signatures.
Hassig grew up on a 130-acre farm in the small St. Lawrence County town of Lisbon.
"I just developed this huge love of nature," he said. "My dad loved the land a lot, and he wanted us to be farmers and to learn about that."
The family raised its own cattle and grew its own fruits and vegetables. Hassig said that by the time he reached college age, he didn't eat anything other than what was grown on the farm.
Hassig said he gradually became more interested in environmental issues. The first big debate he got involved in was centered on an incinerator proposed by the St. Lawrence County Solid Waste Authority in the 1980s.
"It was cool the way it ended up being something that mattered that much: the production of dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from incineration of municipal solid waste," Hassig said. "That was an issue that I followed and became gradually more and more convinced that it was much more of an issue than merely whether or not to incinerate solid waste; it was beyond that. (There was) this whole matter of these other chemicals that are similar to dioxins."
Cancer Action NY
Plans for the incinerator were eventually defeated at the hands of citizen activists and environmental advocates like Work on Waste. But for Hassig, the conclusion of that fight only marked the beginning of a decades-long war against "persistent organic pollutants" (POPs).
Hassig spends at least 10 hours a day reaching out to local government officials, educators, media and others about the harmful effects of carcinogens.
"We've also worked a lot on trying to get people to understand that the first step in POPs exposure minimization is to have the parents and the kids know what the scientists know about the diseases that are caused by POPs exposure, how you get exposed to POPs and how you minimize your exposure to POPs," Hassig said. "So we go to schools, we go to colleges, we go to community groups, we deal with other environmental groups - we try to deal with government a lot - to get everybody working on this matter of educating parents and kids, and community leaders, too."
This congressional bid isn't Hassig's first foray into politics.
In 2002, he sought the Green Party line in the race for New York governor but lost the nod to Stanley Aronowitz; incumbent Republican George Pataki went on to win a third term.
But that taste of politics was enough for Hassig to try a congressional run that same year. His campaign was called the "Hassig Green Congress Campaign."
"I did it back then for a totally different reason than I'm doing it now," Hassig said. "It's kind of the same if you want to cut deep enough; it's all about loving the Earth and believing that the people that love the Earth should be leading the way out of this nightmare that we find ourselves in. Back then I ran for Congress because I thought it was the right thing to do. (Now) I'm running to prove that you keep losing when you're all about loving the Earth and protecting the environment and public health."
Hassig said he'll address economic growth and job creation in his campaign, but the focus won't just be on the economy.
"That's what got us into this mess: only putting money as the top priority," Hassig said. "It's all about the money. And I'm saying we could create a whole new economy that's based on caring for the important things - like protecting the environment first - and we would be producing all new products. There'd be this huge change in the amount of economic activity going on, because it wouldn't be the oil companies and the petrol and chemical companies, and the pharmaceutical companies, and the agricultural giants. They wouldn't be the ones doing the business. The people would be doing the business."
Green Party co-chairman Howie Hawkins told the Enterprise he's aware of Hassig's bid but no endorsements have been made. The Green Party does not co-endorse other parties' candidates.
Neither Owens nor Republican challenger Matt Doheny offered any comment on Hassig's potential candidacy.