By Ken Tingley
Outside the Queensbury Hotel on Tuesday afternoon, there were three mobile television trucks preparing for Elise Stefanik's coronation.
Down Ridge Street and past the roundabout on the right, Matt Funiciello was celebrating his own victory at a corner table in his coffee shop.
His candor about important issues like single payer health insurance and a $15 minimum wage were radically refreshing and a throwback to when candidates took their message directly to the people and not their television sets.
He was given a television audience for three debates.
He rattled the political establishment.
And he was taken seriously.
Not bad for a Green Party novice.
He says he will run again, and it will be on the Green Party line.
A customer enters the coffee shop and greets him, saying "I just voted for you Matt. I just want to tell you what a great job you did at the debates."
Funiciello's message was not so much that he was the answer to the problems, as it was an acknowledgement that the established political parties have failed.
"This candidacy was all about that this is not the best we can do," Funiciello said. "We can do better."
Funiciello knows all about doing better.
"I had massive changes in my life about three, four years ago," he said. "I was faced with a massive number regarding my weight. I had stopped coaching. I wasn't exercising and I was up to 330 pounds. It was just a feeling of being unhealthy. I was 43 then, and I didn't want to die."
Funiciello was an obsessive newshound who read multiple newspapers every day, trying to figure out the world with what he called "a cynical shorthand." He often saw conspiracies and evil, and his inability to change it drove up his blood pressure.
"I wasn't seeing any of the good," he said.
He admitted he was often hostile and abrasive with people. So he stopped. He put his political activism on hiatus. He stopped reading newspapers and watching the news -- for two years.
He started biking, running the stairs at the Civic Center and took spinning classes at the YMCA until he had dropped over 100 pounds.
"I think I became less venomous as a person," Funiciello said. "Before I was an anti-war advocate, and afterward I became a peace advocate. There is such a huge difference?"
Another customer approaches, looks him straight in the eye and asks, "Why should I vote for you?" and "How are you going to make a difference?"
Funiciello gives him a staight-from-the-heart answer about how things have got to change and how the country is on the wrong path. They debate back and forth specific issues, and you suspect this is how we used to pick our representatives in Congress.
When the man departs, it is still unclear whether Funiciello got his vote.
Earlier in the day, Funiciello was driving the big pickup truck with the green Funiciello signs in the back while one of his campaign workers repeated over a bullhorn what has become his slogan, "Be brave: vote Green."
But Funiciello is not talking about Election Day being the end. He sees it as a beginning to organizing the Green Party across the district, and talking about the issues the way the Democrats and Republicans will not.
And making a difference, if not in Washington, then at least in how the candidates are chosen. That may be more important than any of the work now being done in the Capitol.