Mark Ruffalo is obsessed with NY politics

The Hulk takes his cues from a former Ithaca Assembly member, will show up at the Capitol to talk about fracking and wanted you to “Leave It Blank” for Palestine.

Mark Ruffalo visited the Capitol in 2012 to advocate for a fracking ban.

Mark Ruffalo visited the Capitol in 2012 to advocate for a fracking ban. Lori Van Buren/Albany Times Union via Getty Images

You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry about fracking – or any other number of political issues in New York. Mark Ruffalo was going green long before he became the Hulk.

“Do you think we like driving up to Albany from Sullivan County for three hours?” Ruffalo asked over a decade ago, on a visit to the state Capitol to talk about fracking. In 2010, environmental activists were pushing lawmakers to support a moratorium on the controversial fossil fuel extraction method until the state better understood its environmental impacts. Ruffalo, then a full-time Sullivan County resident, said, “I mean, I’m not getting paid to do this … I’m coming up here because I care.” Ruffalo was a well-known actor at the time, but 2010 predated his ongoing stint in “The Avengers” franchise.

Now, 14 years later, and his starpower and celebrity have grown exponentially – he’s definitely (well over) 30, flirty and thriving now. But that hasn’t stopped his New York frack-tivism. The Marvel star returned virtually to Albany in February to advocate against a form of fracking that gets around the state’s long-standing ban. “An overwhelming movement of New Yorkers rose up to stop fracking a decade ago … and now we’re going to stop the gas industry again,” Ruffalo said at a virtual press conference. “People power works.”

Mark Ruffalo speaks at a Columbus Circle rally the night before Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. / Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

While celebrity activists often wade into New York politics, few have been as omnipresent and involved as Ruffalo has been. His advocacy has focused largely on fracking and the environment, but he has also been involved in the fight to keep paper ballots in New York and several other issues. “The great thing about advocating on the state level is one person and one organization can really make a difference,” Ruffalo wrote in an email to City & State. He may play a scientist on the silver screen, but he said he likes to elevate the real brainiacs on the issues he cares about. “I am glad to be able to use my platform to help put the spotlight on the issues, activists and scientists who are really leading the way forward and pushing New York state to be a national and international leader.”

Ruffalo said he fell in love with the Catskills region of the state after filming the movie “You Can Count on Me” in the area. He and his family moved to the town of Callicoon in Sullivan County around 2008. Two years after moving there, Ruffalo learned about fracking. “I decided then that I had to get involved in stopping it in New York,” he said. At the time, he got in touch with the group Frack Action, who asked that he go up to Albany for the 2010 press conference in favor of a moratorium. The group has continued working with Ruffalo ever since, including on the February Zoom rally. “The great thing about Mark is that he’s very well versed in issues he’s involved in,” said Julia Walsh, the founder and director of Frack Action. “And sometimes I think that’s surprising when elected officials meet him to hear the depth of knowledge that he knows he has on the issues.”

Ruffalo has gotten a lot busier – and more famous – since his early fracking days, but he says he still “lend(s) a hand” where he can, whether it was to help promote the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act before it passed in 2019 or to advocate for a ban on carbon dioxide fracking earlier this year. The Legislature quickly passed this bill, “but Governor Hochul still needs to sign it so now I’m focusing some of my advocacy and my social media platform to ask her to sign it,” Ruffalo wrote. He has also focused some of his recent efforts on the passage of the NY HEAT Act, another major climate priority for activists. He created a video on the legislation that he shared on social media in April, urging his fellow New Yorkers to get in touch with state leaders to pass the bill.

Recently, he also promoted the “Leave it Blank” campaign in New York, which was from pro-Palestinian activists urging Democrats to leave their presidential primary ballots blank as a protest against President Joe Biden’s continued support of Israel amid its war in Gaza. “NEW YORK: Our version of uncommitted is #LeaveItBlank!” Ruffalo wrote on X the day of the election. “Join me and submit a blank ballot in the April 2nd Presidential primary to tell Biden: New Yorkers want a lasting #CeasefireNow!” The actor has been a longtime supporter of Palestine.

Ruffalo has also dedicated some of his platform to ensuring that New York continues to use paper ballots. “I got involved with protecting our paper ballots for voting because this was something that former Assemblymember Barbara Lifton was so proud and passionate about,” Ruffalo wrote to City & State, referencing the former Ithaca-area lawmaker who helped shift the state to hand-marked paper ballots in 2006 and flexing his bona fides on local political knowledge. (Lifton now chairs the state Public Campaign Finance Board.) But the law left the state open to touch-screen voting machines, which election security experts warn pose many risks. Ahead of a vote by the state Board of Elections to allow the machines – which they ultimately did approveRuffalo encouraged New Yorkers to make their voices heard in opposition to the machines.

Even before that vote, Ruffalo had been an advocate for legislation that would require hand-marked paper ballots, like the Voting Integrity and Verification Act of New York. “I’ve helped to pass that bill and similar ones in the State Senate three times, but it keeps getting blocked in the Assembly,” Ruffalo wrote. “It’s frustrating and needs to pass this year.” 

In 2022, he shared a City & State article on the issue on X. “@CarlHeastie please protect NY voters & pass A1115C so that we don’t have the same voting machines & issues as states like Georgia,” Ruffalo wrote to the Assembly speaker, referencing a bill that would have banned touch-screen voting machines. “If this bill doesn’t pass again, @NYSAssembly will be to blame!” At the time, the state Senate was poised to pass a ban for the second time. “(Ruffalo has) been a strong advocate for all of the bills to protect New Yorkers’ right to continue voting with pen and paper or (ballot-marking device),” said Lulu Friesdat, co-founder and executive director of Smart Elections, an election integrity advocacy group.

Not all his activism has gone over well. He and other celebs were skewered over a tone-deaf “Imagine” video they recorded in the early days of pandemic lockdown. And we’re still cringing about his and Olivia Wilde’s “We love America” chant to protest Donald Trump’s election. But Ruffalo still has some celebrity-driven ideas for New York, starting with what the state should be doing to reach its ambitious climate goals. He lamented the lack of communication from the state on incentives and programs to help New Yorkers go green, noting there isn’t even a website that aggregates that kind of information, let alone a campaign to promote it. “The state needs to do an I Love New York style campaign for the climate that inspires and empowers people to get involved and become part of the solution and I have been advocating to the state government to do just that,” Ruffalo wrote to City & State. “I know a lot of artists and actors who would volunteer their time for such a worthy endeavor.”