For decades, Madelyn Hoffman has been an activist and a candidate for public office on behalf of the Green Party. And, for decades, Madelyn has, like most third-party candidates, been met with a united front of opposition by the two-party system that has no room or interest in allowing another organized voice to be a credible part of civic discourse.
Agree or disagree with her–Greens are unapologetically left-wing–she has remained devoted to her core beliefs. The principled nature of the Green Party with respect to finances has left them, as one political observer said, “a voice in the wilderness.” The reality is, in New Jersey, principles don’t mean a damn to profits. Winning elections requires money, and money—increasing amounts of it—is also a prerequisite to getting into debates in certain forums. As distasteful as it might sound, money is also a concrete barometer of viability. That is one of the key reasons why third parties have struggled to make inroads against the Elephant and the Donkey.
For Hoffman, she has had enough. In the coming weeks, she is leaving New Jersey behind and redirecting her ground-level experience and energy to help advance the campesino causes near to her values of environmentalism and social justice in Colombia, South America.
Colombia has a government of three separate branches and a bicameral legislature like the United States. The London-based Economist Intelligence lists Colombia last year as a “flawed democracy” with a 6.72 out of 10. The United States in 2022 is also listed as a “flawed democracy” with a rating of 7.85 out of 10, just ahead of Slovenia and behind Israel. Hoffman said that political activism in Colombia can invite more danger than at home, but she is nevertheless willing and ready to start work with like-minded individuals there.
But why did Hoffman decide to leave?
To discover this, it is important to have some context about her previous work as a Green Party candidate and how she worked to shape it over the years. This makes her departure all the more profound for the Greens and any independents sympathetic to their cause.
She was the Green Party Vice Presidential choice for New Jersey when Ralph Nader ran for president in 1996, then the following year she ran for governor. In 1997, incumbent Republican Christine Todd Whitman defeated Democrat Jim McGreevey by only 26,000 votes. Third-party candidates included Libertarian candidate Murray Sabrin, who came in third with 4.7%, followed by Richard Pezzullo of the Conservative Party with 1.4%, and then Hoffman with the Greens in fifth with 0.4% of the vote. Hoffman was the Green candidate for US Senate in 2018 and 2020, and her final run was in 2021 for governor.
Today, the Green Party is now the largest third-party in the state, beating out the Libertarians. Much of this ascent was credited to Hoffman by Craig Cayetano, a Green Party state co-chair who ran on the local level for the borough council in Hawthorne. Like many Greens, he has not yet secured a victory, but nevertheless has no intention of giving up and is preparing another run in his hometown. He reflected on Hoffman with Insider NJ. “I did not have the pleasure of voting for Madelyn when she ran for governor. I knew of her when she ran, and I was in high school. So, I was kind of involved in political stuff and supported her race, but I couldn’t vote for her back then. When I was involved with the Green Party in 2017, I got a chance to hear more about her and New Jersey Peace Action, which she was involved with for nearly two decades.”
Cayetano said he met Hoffman when he was invited to her birthday party by a fellow activist. She was going to launch her run against Senator Robert Menendez at that time. While Menendez managed to defeat Republican challenger Bob Hugin, he did so after enduring a federal investigation and took a black eye in the Democratic primary against Lisa McCormick, a candidate with no campaign apparatus to speak of, but who nevertheless scored slightly over one-third of the Democratic primary vote. This was a warning to Menendez from Democratic voters, but he still was able to return to office. In the meantime, Hoffman had brought the Greens to third place—a distant bronze, but still a bronze, knocking Sabrin’s Libertarians off the podium.
The Greens are decentralized but during Hoffman’s involvement, Cayetano said there had been positive developments within the party. “She shows up, she’s always at every action, she’s found a way to motivate youth. A lot of the Green Party became younger and embraced more of the ideals that we’ve heard from other people like Bernie Sanders and in the state. It was great to have someone like her with her energy and her knowledge to come out and support us as a party and run under our banner. The party has gotten dramatically younger. From her campaign against Menendez to the campaign to get out against Booker, and then through the governor campaign, we’ve had great races, but we weren’t able to win. But we still would build a younger movement, and we would actually build memberships. A couple of years ago we have somewhere right under 3,000 members register as Greens in New Jersey. Now we’re at 11,069. So, we’ve drastically improved our numbers. But there’s always obviously room to grow.”
The Greens may not be swinging gubernatorial elections any time soon, where Democrats measure their advantage over Republicans with a million-registered-voter advantage. But they nevertheless represent another voice, however drowned out by the political machinery that unquestionably and unequivocally controls New Jersey politics.
Hoffman was finally fed up with running for office after the Murphy-Ciattarelli race, though. She told Insider NJ she plans to write an article about her decision to go to Colombia soon, but while she is going to relocate, she is not going to disappear from New Jersey’s activist and the Green Party scene. “I’m not leaving my political work behind. I’m not breaking ties with anybody in New Jersey,” she said. “I’m still going to be part of the Green Party of New Jersey. I will be supporting people as best I can. I have a lot of experience running for office in New Jersey, so I’ll be a resource for people in that way. But, I think what clinched it for me was in 2021, when I ran for governor against Murphy and Ciattarelli. Did you know how much money a participant in the debates for governor had to raise? $490,000, just to qualify to be in the debates.”
According to Hoffman, the Elections Commission was supposed to wait until September to give candidates time to raise the money. “That’s what it says in the law that governs this. The thing is, they announced who was going to participate in the debates at the beginning of August. Now, to qualify this, I could have had 10 years or 1,550 years and still never come up with the $490,000. In order to get that kind of money, you got to play politics in a certain kind of way, and as a Green, we don’t play that way. We’re not about collecting large sums of money from people who can afford to donate that.”
The requirements, Hoffman said, have also dramatically increased from her first bid for governor to her last. “What the Election Commission has done over time is, they’ve said it is 100 times the amount of the largest contribution permissible by law. So, at this point, an individual can donate $4,900. Therefore, you can multiply that by 100, and you have the requirement of $490,000. Back in 1997, it was about $2,100 for the largest maximum contribution from an individual.”
Reporters would ask her why she was running. She said she was asked frequently why, if they couldn’t raise the money like other parties, did she try. Raising money directly correlates to political visibility, something she acknowledges, but she and her fellow Greens are steadfastly opposed to having “big money” influence in their politics. “When I ran for governor in ‘97,” Hoffman said, “we were going to cap contributions at $500 because we didn’t want the difference between the highest and lowest donors to be so large that you would dance to the tune of the biggest. We thought that would be newsworthy in and of itself, that a political party growing in New Jersey is making a conscious decision to be more democratic in terms of the people who would be allowed or have influence in making decisions. But it wasn’t newsworthy that we did that. The news was ‘you can’t win if you don’t raise enough money.’ In this past election in 2021, despite the pandemic, people from the campaign and I went to every county in the state. We did what we could on minimum budget to get the word out, to plant our lawn signs, to make connections with people.”
New Jersey is no stranger to third-party endeavors, and some do, in fact, get enough attention to raise some alarm bells among the D and R power players. Usually the response is to bury the outsider or bar them from debating, taking up time that would otherwise go to themselves or potentially prove harmful to a strong incumbent. In CD-9, Republican candidate Prempeh joined with Libertarian Armstrong to demand a debate with incumbent Democrat Bill Pascrell, as a rare example of third-party “inclusive grievance”, a debate which never materialized.
In 2020, it looked as though in the midst of the pandemic, the Greens would have a more high-profile candidate to champion their cause. Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, former war correspondent, anti-war activist, and Presbyterian minister, had taken up the Green banner in a bid for Congress, to represent CD-12. The Green Party’s enthusiasm would be short-lived, however, as his candidacy was ended due to FCC conflicts. Hedges left the race, but not without leaving some scathing criticism for the state of American politics at the time. “Demagogues are always vomited up in societies beset with political and economic decay,” he said in a report by Insider NJ. “I witnessed this in the former Yugoslavia. They manipulate a legitimate rage among a betrayed working class and the working poor to set neighbor against neighbor. Trump supporters are not, however, our enemies. Our enemy is the tiny cabal of corporate oligarchs that have seized control of the two ruling parties, the three branches of government, the media, academia, our health services and the economy. They have usurped our rights to exclusively serve corporate profit. The consent of the governed has become a cruel joke. The politicians and leaders of the two ruling parties are selected and anointed by our corporate masters. They are corporate puppets. Without corporate money and support they would not be in power. They do not work for us. And they know it. This is especially true in New Jersey, which has one of the most corrupt Democratic Party machines in the nation.”
CD-12 was contested by incumbent Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, the victor, who defeated Democrat-turned-Republican Old Bridge councilman Mark Razzoli. In distant third came the independent campaign of Robert Forchion, Jr., better known as “NJ Weedman,” and Kenneth Cody of the Truth, Vision, Hope Party in last place.
In 2018, Diane Moxley, a former Democrat who joined the Greens, launched a run against Democrat Tom Malinowski and Republican Leonard Lance in CD-7. The attorney garnered 0.8% of the vote. As the Green Party is an unquestionably left-wing party, unafraid to call itself socialist, Democrats might be inclined to view the Greens as a threat, especially in very tight races, where they could draw off the further left-leaning voters. Malinowski, however, handily defeated Lance by 16,000 votes while Moxley captured just under 2,700.
Despite outperforming the Libertarian Party, the principled concept of putting people before profit has not been able to materialize results at the ballot box in a meaningful way. “I worked my tail off all three races on a minimal budget,” Hoffman said, “and I was also working at the same time as a professor. For three years out of four, 95% of my time went to campaigning. Despite the ‘Trump effect’, the hyper partisanship, people are lining up behind the Democrat or the Republican just based on that. But people still want another alternative. Every single poll you see, a majority of people want another choice, they want a viable third party. The problem is, we don’t have the thousands of dollars to put into advertising. So, we went door to door, and I didn’t have the money or the time like Bernie Sanders up in Vermont.”
Hoffman said that Sanders had the advantage of a less populous state compared to New Jersey and was able to reap the rewards of that. “I don’t regret a single moment of the work because I am, and I’ve always been, a grassroots organizer. I know in order to make change, you have to work. You’ll have to talk to people. Until this past 2021 election, I had a glimmer of hope.”
If Phil Murphy is the champion of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Hoffman and many of her fellow Greens are unimpressed. His environmental goalposts might seem ambitious to some, but to others, the timetables are so far out as to be immaterial. Hoffman also criticized the governor for flip-flopping his position on banning New Jersey’s bear hunt.
Among their policy goals, the Greens have been calling for ranked-choice voting, something echoed by other New Jersey movements such as the Forward Party (co-chaired by former Governor Christine Todd Whitman) and the NJ Moderate Party, which was established essentially to support Tom Malinowski and give Republicans opposed to Tom Kean, Jr., the chance to not vote as a Democrat but still vote for a Democrat.
The Greens harbor no great love for former congressman Malinowski, as Hoffman said he had been in favor of ranked-choice voting but then backtracked. “I wrote in the name of the independent. I didn’t vote for either Kane or Malinowski because I have deep, serious problems with the two of them. It’s so hard to stand up to the strength of the pressure coming from these folks.”
Looking back at the summer of 2020, which was marked by protests and demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd, the January 6 insurrection by Trump supporters a year later, and the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, Hoffman said that it was necessary to demonstrate and make statements in response to these events. However, she is opposed to participating in any activities that were designed or orchestrated by the Democratic Party as a means to further grow the Democratic Party itself. Never letting a good crisis go to waste, Hoffman said that “Democrats were very involved in organizing, responses. It’s not that I oppose responding to it. I think it’s necessary to respond to stuff like that. But I wouldn’t go to those protests if I felt that they were designed to strengthen the Democratic Party. Why? Because the Democratic Party’s had 50 years to work to codify Roe v. Wade and they hadn’t tried. Now they get to say, ‘oh, jeez, this is terrible. Let’s vote out the Republicans who stand for this and get us in the House’. I feel like in the United States, the most important doors to change are slammed shut. And in New Jersey, with a one party machine, I don’t know where to go. As a party, we’re going to try to field as many candidates as possible for the state assembly races coming up. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for strategizing in that way and doing what we can to field those candidates. I guess I could still run for office at the age of 80 and nobody would look at me,” she said, an acknowledgement of the plethora of octogenarians occupying public office.
In Colombia, Hoffman says she will be involved with the cause of the campesinos, or agricultural workers who have been striving for political and social reform in the Latin American country. She is progressing in her knowledge of written and spoken Spanish, although she says it is unlikely she will get involved in trying to run for office in Colombia. Instead, she plans to have an advisory role. “I’m going to assist the campesinos in whatever way they ask me to. I’ve also spent time with people who are fighting against fracking. In Colombia, there are people who are fighting against gold mining, one which would be the biggest gold mine in the world, right in the heart of Colombia, and the environmental impacts would be terrible and widespread. So I’ve been working with them on that.” Hoffman acknowledges that such work is not necessarily safe, either. Getting on the wrong side of powerful figures can have perilous consequences, and some of her Colombian friends and contacts have relocated for their own safety. “They’ve moved to Europe because of concern for themselves and their family, so, I’m not going to a place where the politics are clean.”
Cayetano was appreciative of Hoffman’s work and is optimistic for the Green Party’s future, even as she makes her home in Colombia soon. “Madelyn’s energy is there. We respect and wish her the best on this next journey. It’s not the end of the story. It is going to be continuing her work and our activism. It is what keeps her going, and she will still stay on the national level. She’s still going to be involved with New Jersey, she’s still on our Policy Committee here in New Jersey.”
With Hoffman’s departure, then, the Greens are losing one of their great on-the-ground foot soldiers, but will retain her guidance for the future. Likewise looking forward, stymied by politics in New Jersey, Hoffman has set her sights on new fights where, she hopes, her experience and knowledge can help champion the campesino cause.