Even Stephanie Miner admits that her campaign for governor is a moonshot.
As the former mayor of Syracuse and onetime top official in the state’s Democratic Party, Ms. Miner is intimately familiar with the machinations of New York politics. She knows how hard it is to go up against a politician like Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, with his multimillion dollar war chest and formidable name recognition.
That’s why, when she announced in June that she was running for governor on a fledgling third-party line, political observers were befuddled, wondering why Ms. Miner, a self-described pragmatist, would take on such a quixotic task.
Ms. Miner says she wants to disrupt the two-party system, which she blames for corruption, inefficiency and divisiveness. Her running mate, Michael Volpe, is a Republican. They will run under the ballot line of the Serve America Movement, which aims to provide an alternative to the traditional parties.
But she has also been known for years as an outspoken critic of Mr. Cuomo — a rarity among the state’s Democrats, many of whom fear retribution from a governor with a reputation for vindictiveness.
Ahead of November’s general election, which Mr. Cuomo is heavily favored to win, Ms. Miner spoke to The New York Times about her unorthodox campaign, her bad blood with the governor, and why, despite polls predicting she will capture just 1 percent of the vote, she thinks the race is worth it.
The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.
Q. You had to know coming in that it was going to be a long shot. Why did you jump in anyway?
A. I knew all along that it was not going to be easy, but it’s important. It’s important to stand up for values particularly when it is not easy. I feel very reassured at the frustration that people have over the corruption that is almost daily now in New York State. And I feel reassured that people want to have a better government.
We are living in a time of tremendous divisiveness. I feel that being able to stand up and talk about that — that there’s a way that we can be constructive in this divisive environment — is also important.
But so many people think the country is becoming more polarized than ever, and that people are just retreating into their respective political corners. Do you think there’s an appetite for what you’re selling?
I think that there is an appetite for it, but I have to talk about it. You have to remind people: Are we really going to be able to solve our problems if we just label everybody and then don’t talk to everybody because they don’t get a 100 percent on our litmus test?
Look at what’s happening in our state. We’re not solving problems. Victory in our political climate is when you have a snarky 30-second sound bite.
Victory should be accountability for a failing transit system, for a million people leaving New York, for one out of every two children in the major upstate cities being born into poverty. Saying, ‘These are my ideas to stop this.’
Both parties have been complicit in this culture of corruption and politics as usual in Albany. It’s both parties that have refused to do anything to change it.
When you say snarky sound bites, are you talking about the governor’s attacks on Marc Molinaro, his Republican opponent?
Correct. I think if you’re running for office, you should be talking about your ideas, not just attacking your opponent in vacuous smears and overstatements.
How much of your run has to do with your own contentious history with the governor?
It doesn’t, it really doesn’t. I decided to run because of my experiences as mayor of Syracuse. When I said we should be investing in infrastructure, he said, ‘Build your own pipes.’ Or I was talking about the need for innovation in education, and they took money away from our schools. When we were talking about income inequality, we were told instead that economic development projects like film hubs would be transformative.
Those solutions, they were not serious, they were not solving problems, but they were good optics. I have a seriousness of purpose about public policy and accountability and transparency that I think puts me apart from the current administration.
You have long been a registered Democrat. For voters who are trying to find the candidate that best aligns with their ideology, where would you put yourself in relation to Governor Cuomo?
There is no ideology that works 100 percent of the time. What works is when you convene people and ask them to use their best brainpower. I am a pragmatist that believes in solving problems to help people.
Several of your biggest supporters, including the leadership of SAM, the group under whose banner you are running, come from Wall Street. Do you think that’s what voters want, or has that affiliation become toxic?
I don’t think voters care where your money comes from. I really don’t.
I do not accept contributions from LLCs, and I think voters think that there is a broken campaign finance system. But they are much more interested in talking about the substance of your ideas than they are in talking about where the money comes from.
And, that’s where the money is. That’s where people have income to donate to campaigns, so that’s where you go to fund-raise.
Under New York’s unique election laws, if you win at least 50,000 votes on your independent run, your new party, under SAM, will be guaranteed a spot on the ballot for the next four years. How much of your run is about laying the groundwork for SAM’s future?
It was definitely a large part of my consideration. This platform of a ballot line can be used to advocate for real change, whether that be in having higher ethical standards for governance, fiscal responsibility and a seriousness of purpose.
Your platform highlights a lot of economic issues. Where do you stand on the social issues that have become so important — and divisive — in recent years?
The beauty of having a 16-year track record is that I’ve already taken positions, separate and apart from being a gubernatorial candidate. I’ve stood with Planned Parenthood numerous times. Syracuse was a sanctuary city. I have a strong platform on public education. I have stood up actively and said we have to end cash bail now.
Have you had support from other elected officials?
But no one is willing to come out and stick their finger in the governor’s eye?
What will you count as success in this campaign?
I think it already has been a success, because I’ve had a number of people who have become engaged in the process who were not before, and who were feeling very cynical about it. We’ve been talking about real issues of substance. On the professional level, being able to advocate for these serious issues is rewarding.
And on a personal level, I have met lots of very thoughtful and interesting people who want to be involved in making the system better.
There are multiple ways to measure victory in this kind of race. One of them is to say, were we able to galvanize people who will continue to say, ‘We’re not going to sit by and normalize corruption as a part of our democracy?’
Vivian Wang is a reporter for the Metro Desk, covering New York State politics in Albany. She was raised in Chicago and graduated from Yale University. @vwang3