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Green Party congressional candidate Matt Funiciello in Glens Falls


GLENS FALLS — Much has been made of Matthew J. Funiciello’s outsider status. As a baker and Green Party candidate for New York’s 21st Congressional District, he has earned the distinction. But what is truly striking about Mr. Funiciello is how sensible he seems, even when his outspoken views buck the dominant views of the two-party political discourse.

He works, he talks, he reads. He’s clean-shaven. Even in a black t-shirt rather than jacket and tie, he passes for a mainstream candidate.

Yet, as late afternoon sunlight streams through his cafe’s windows, he says the most astonishing things.

“I don’t really see myself as a leader,” says Mr. Funiciello, who owns and operates the Rock Hill Bakehouse and Cafe on Exchange Street. “When I think of a leader, I think of the captain of the football team. I was just a terrible hockey player. But I read a lot, I’m thoughtful, I’m earnest and sincere. I’m definitely in the struggle, and I’m not afraid to use the word ‘working class.’ And I can do one thing the other candidates can’t, and that is tell the truth. I would not run for any office if I felt I had to lie.”

The last Green Party candidate, Donald L. Hassig, attracted less than 2 percent of the votes in the last congressional election. Does Mr. Funiciello really think he can win?

“Yes, I do,” he said. “I’m not saying my chances are great. As a horse race, my chances are small. But when it comes to my faith in the human beings of this district, then yes, I do.”

Mr. Funiciello favors a single-payer health care system and sustainable agriculture. He opposes hydro-fracturing, public bailouts of private corporations and military interventions overseas.

Mr. Funiciello eschews money from corporate donors, something that sets him apart from his opponents, he said. He also claims to be the one true businessperson running in the race, though he doesn’t like that label.

“There are very few business people anymore” he said. “There are a lot of people on the corporate dole. “When I think of a businessperson, I think of the Monopoly man. I don’t think we should accept these false definitions anymore.”

Mr. Funiciello has been involved in the Green Party for many years and has worked on the campaigns of presidential hopeful Ralph Nader and New York gubernatorial candidates Howie Hawkins and Malachy McCourt.

“He’s accomplished a lot in his personal life,” said Peter LaVenia, Mr. Funiciello’s campaign manager. “He’s a very well-rounded candidate. He’s the type of person we like to see come up. It took a lot of persuading over the decade but we’re very glad to have Matt.”

Mr. LaVenia attributes much of the interest in Mr. Funiciello’s campaign to growing dissatisfaction with the country’s economic and political systems in the wake of the 2008 credit crisis and resultant recession.

And it is the same pervasive influence of business interests that brought the country to the brink of financial collapse that restrict the free interchange of ideas, according to Mr. Funiciello.

“There’s no appropriate place to have political discussions or conversations anymore. That’s one of the reasons why this cafe is here,” Mr. Funiciello said.

Judging by the customers, friends, family members and employees who wander into and out of Rock Hill Bakehouse Cafe on a slow Monday afternoon, Mr. Funiciello’s claims that his business is a true melting pot of opinions and perspectives appear to be true. An older, well-dressed couple grab a bite while young employees clean and prepare the store for closing.

And walking around downtown Glens Falls with Mr. Funiciello, it’s clear that he knows his way around his home community. He points out several public works projects he feels were ill-advised, as well as a few restaurants and cafes he wants to see succeed.

But Mr. Funiciello, who often gets up in the middle of the night to work in his bakery, is at a distinct disadvantage. He doesn’t have the money or the time to travel the expansive district in order to reach potential voters. He has to wait until the summer, when he will bring on extra help at the bakery, before he can begin to travel. Meanwhile, his opponents, Republicans Elise M. Stefanik and Matthew A. Doheny, and Democrat Aaron G. Woolf, have been hard at work for months getting their names out to supporters.

However, according to Mr. LaVenia, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from SUNY Albany and has taught at Clarkson University and schools in the capital district, Mr. Funiciello can turn his weaknesses into strengths by focusing his efforts.

“We can stay competitive because we have the ideas, we have the candidate and we can figure out how to best spend our money,” Mr. LaVenia said. “We can make our political ads as targeted as possible.”

The campaign, which recently unveiled a PayPal site for collecting online donations, has raised $4,000 in the span of a month, according to Mr. LaVenia.

That amount is less than the hundreds of thousands of dollars the other candidates have raised thus far in the race and much less than the more than $7.7 million spent in 2012 race by candidates and outside interest groups.

But Mr. LaVenia is confident that it is enough to gain more than the 418 votes Mr. Hassig received that year.

Mr. Hassig dropped out of the race shortly before the general election to endorse incumbent Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. Mr. Funiciello has vowed to not repeat Mr. Hassig’s last-minute withdrawal.

“I’m a much better candidate than the other three. Why don’t they drop out of the race and endorse me?” Mr. Funiciello said.

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