DiNizio’s Dream: From Smithereens to the Senate

Posted March 1, 2005 at 5:55pm

[IMGCAP(1)]After a 25-year career as lead singer and songwriter for the cult band The Smithereens, it’s not surprising that Pat DiNizio explains his outlook on politics in music industry terms.

DiNizio, a New Jersey native who took time off from his musical career to run for the Senate in 2000 as a Reform Party candidate, said that until America’s perception of third-party politics changes, “people will look at independent candidates the same way they buy records — they’d much rather buy something from a Sony label than ‘My Garage’ record label.”

In other words, the little guys just can’t compete.

It was this sad reality of the nation’s two-party system that DiNizio hoped he could help change when he launched his self-described “guerrilla campaign” in 2000 against then-Rep. Bob Franks (R) and Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine (D) for the Garden State’s open Senate seat.

But DiNizio admits that even his popularity as creator of hits such as “Behind the Wall of Sleep” couldn’t make a dent against the multimillion-dollar campaigns and political machines that fight just as hard to keep third parties out as they do against each other. In the end, DiNizio only managed to garner about 20,000 votes against Corzine’s 1.5 million.

But that’s not to say DiNizio has given up on third-party politics. Just check out his Web site — www.patdinizio.com — which includes tour updates alongside a mixture of “subversive political stuff” and you’ll see that the band leader still likes to encourage his visitors and fans to think about current issues.

“What I decided a long time ago was that I’d like to see the rise of a major third political party that is somewhere in the middle, that is a very accurate reflection of the lives and needs of working people, and that’s something that we will achieve,” he said. “As far-fetched as it sounds, it’s just a matter pushing the right buttons and waiting for the right time to do it.”

This new political party would probably not be a revived Reform Party, DiNizio said, since the Reform Party has been eroded and fractured by infighting among its major players, who include conservative commentator Pat Buchanan and party founder Ross Perot. But DiNizio has been in contact with several members of the original Reform Party movement who are working with him to create a new “common-sense party for working people who want to be respected.”

The plan to launch this new third party in New Jersey is already in the works, DiNizio said, though he was hesitant to say whether it would be up and running

in time for the 2006 election cycle, or whether he would even be a candidate again.

“There needs to be a third party for the health of the political system in the U.S., whether I run or someone else runs,” DiNizio said. He added that if Corzine wins his bid for the New Jersey governor’s mansion this November, “it sure does change the complexity in that if I ran again [for Senate in 2006] I wouldn’t be running against one of the richest men in the world.”

But while there are 2.5 million independent voters in the Garden State, most New Jersey political watchers don’t see the state as fertile ground for any sort of third-party movement.

Steve Adubato, an analyst for the PoliticsNJ.com Web site and a Rutgers University lecturer, said that Garden State voters “have clearly shown that they are comfortable with moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats. … There’s no poll, there’s no groundswell that shows people are angry enough to do anything different.”

Joel Benenson, a New York-based Democratic pollster who works frequently in New Jersey, said that the history of third-party candidates in the state, where statewide candidates must advertise in the New York and Philadelphia media markets, is “pretty weak.”

“When you have to play in the most expensive state in the world to play in, it’s beyond a long shot. … I don’t think there’s much room for a third party,” he said.

And despite DiNizio’s previous run in 2000, Benenson and Adubato agreed that he has little to no name recognition in the state beyond those fans who attend his shows.

“This is a fool’s mission,” Benenson said.

“He’s a non-entity” on the political scene, Adubato said, adding that perhaps someone with more instant name recognition who is perceived as community-minded and could heavily self-finance — such as rockers Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi — might be able to make a run at a New Jersey office on an independent ticket.

“But I remember The Smithereens, and they aren’t Springsteen or Bon Jovi,” he said.

Nevertheless DiNizio is looking to build his new party with nontraditional groups, “the folks out there who have no representation,” such as an estimated half million bikers who live in the state. He said that if he were to run again he’d have no problem getting press from the state’s major news outlets.

“At the end of the [last] campaign the political writers knew it was a serious campaign,” he said. “The respect was there and they took the calls.”

But, he conceded, his 2000 campaign could probably be summed up in an e-mail he received not long after the election was over.

“Someone had sent me an e-mail saying, ‘Pat I’m embarrassed to say that though I supported you and believed in you, I couldn’t vote for you. You were the best candidate that couldn’t win.’”

He said he hopes that in the future, voters will be able to choose a third-party candidate without feeling like they are throwing away their vote.

“Americans, at least the working-class rank and file, will always do the right thing,” he said. “And I think that if there’s a new party presented in the proper way it will fly.”