By Ygal Kaufman
William Bryk has never been to Oregon. That didn’t stop him from challenging incumbent junior Senator Jeff Merkley in his all-but-sewn-up primary race. Merkley won with an emphatic 93% of the vote (156,402 votes). Bryk came in second with 4% (6,680) and Pavel Goberman, who we interviewed for our last issue, came in third with 3% (4,943). I spoke to Bryk by phone in the aftermath of his defeat this past week.
I asked why he ran in Oregon (and for that matter Idaho and Alaska as well…).
“Very simple: In most of these states, either the incumbent was unopposed in the primary or there was a substantial risk that there would be no democratic candidate at all. We live in a country—unlike Pavel’s—where you can actually vote against everybody and therefore prevent them from being elected. So I offered myself,” he says, seriously, enunciating every syllable.
He refers to Goberman’s home country of Russia. Bryk had previously pointed out a place on Goberman’s website, www.getenergized.com, where Goberman accuses him of fraud. He doesn’t mind the allegation.
Bryk was an attorney with the New York Department of Corrections when he retired in 2010 and undertook his first out-of-state campaign. He entered the Democratic primary for a senate seat controlled by the Republicans in Idaho.
“They were very… polite,” he says, quite politically, about the Idaho Democrats’ reaction to his entry into their race. “But they also went out of their way to find a candidate against me as quickly as they possibly could.
Which of course is fine with Bryk; it’s pretty much why he runs in the first place. The argument against it would of course be that he forces the party, which is often not running a candidate because they have no hope of winning, to waste money more strategically allotted to a more winnable race elsewhere in the state.
“The function of an opposition party, after all is to oppose, if nothing else. The Democratic party in Idaho was not even fulfilling that basic function,” he says defiantly-ish. The thing is, he doesn’t get fired up. He doesn’t really take himself or his quest that seriously, yet he has a much firmer grasp of the issues than a long-shot bid like his would believe.
“The incumbent US senator was totally unopposed. No primary opponent, no Democratic opponent,” he says matter of factly. At least until Bryk threw his name in the hat. Problem solved, the Democrats started hustling, though they still eventually lost the seat.
I asked if he’s really ready to move here if he wins one of these times.
“My wife being a practical person, took the point of view that if they were going to nominate me, we’d learn that after the primary and we’d pack up.” Bryk has no illusions about the odds of him actually having to move to one of the places he runs, but he does occasionally fare better than he did here.
“In Idaho, I did quite well. I pulled over 30% of the vote,” he says, still without too much excitement. He’s still positive about his experience here, despite his relatively low number of votes.
“In Oregon? You know I came in second…”
Alaska’s primary is coming up in August, so Mrs. Bryk is still not out of the woods in terms of possible moves. But she’s his biggest supporter, even curating a blog, www.cityofsmoke.com, which collects his work from the decade he spent writing for both the New York Press and the New York Sun. He wrote about, among other things, “oddball eccentrics.” One’s mind bursts with the possibilities of Bryk interviewing himself… or, even better- Pavel Goberman.
I mention to him that Goberman had some choice words for him which I opted not to print in our recent article on Oregon’s other quixotic candidate; Goberman is firmly of the belief that Bryk’s run is illegal.
Bryk roars to life, laughing out loud.
“I can understand that.” He continues, “Even if Pavel was elected to public office, at the very least, he would do us no harm, and he might kick over a few carts that might need kicking over.”
Bryk even admits he more or less approves of the work Senator Merkley has been doing.
“In a democracy, the majority rules. His consistent support for the policies of the majority leader, Harry Reid,” he says that is the problem.
His only real beef is that Merkley has not properly rocked the boat on nuking the filibuster. While Reid went for it on nominations only, Bryk endorses doing it for legislation as well- in the name of progress.
“If Harry Reid doesn’t like me, that’s life. The good people of Oregon would know where I stand.”
I ask if his shot at Reid comes from a disdain for the type of lifelong politicians who become wealthy in office.
“I’m not dogmatically against professional politicians, I was one for most of my life,” he replies wryly.
But he’s clearly a bit of a gadfly, in the nicest sense. He’s a thorn in the side for the sake of being a thorn in someone’s side. An attitude that has kept people honest, though sometimes annoyed, for centuries.
Bryk cites an anecdote of historical politics, one of his favorite rhetorical pastimes. It was from a campaign in a Louisiana local sheriff’s race some time ago. He does a voice that sounds like a gold prospector from the 1800s.
“Twenty years ago when the sheriff was first elected. He didn’t have a finooklin’ cent. Now he’s a millionaire.”
Bryk pauses for effect.
“For God’s sake, you should elect someone else so they can have a chance!’”