21 arrested as progressive groups protest gridlock on key bills

Jun 19, 2013

There were several arrests at the state Capitol Tuesday. Advocates took out their anger and frustration on the Cuomo administration and leaders of the state Senate, after it became clear that a progressive agenda that includes abortion rights and public campaign financing is likely dead for the legislative session.

Government reform groups are angry at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying he is giving up too soon on an anti-corruption agenda that includes public financing of campaigns and greater prosecution powers for the state’s district attorneys.   
“It’s too early to wave a white flag,” Lerner said. “The finish line is the end of the day on Thursday. Don’t stop running the race now,” said Susan Lerner, with Common Cause New York.

But most of the advocates of public campaign financing, abortion rights, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, and other progressive issues reserved their wrath for the leaders of a breakaway Democratic faction that governs the Senate along with the Republicans.

Activists held a sit-down protest outside the office door of State Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, also known as the IDC. They demanded that the bills be put on the floor for a vote, and accused the IDC of abandoning their issues.

“IDC means ‘I don’t care,’” the protesters chanted.

Police moved in, and 21 people were arrested, including several leaders of the reform group Citizen Action, and the president of the New York state chapter of the National Organization for Women, Zenaida Mendez.

Klein, speaking before the sit-in, says he thinks it’s ironic that the advocates are blaming the only faction of senators who all actually support their agenda.

“It’s very interesting that you hammer someone who advocates your position,” said Klein, who says he is solidly pro-choice.

“The last time I checked, I have not seen a Republican stand up and say that they are pro-choice to make up for the lack of votes on the Democratic side,” Klein said.

Klein says the Senate IDC and the Republicans are prepared to vote on an alternative women’s agenda bill that includes nine of Cuomo’s 10 proposals, but does not include the abortion provision. Cuomo has said that anything less than his 10-point plan is unacceptable, and women’s groups have backed him up.

Klein turned the tables back on the women’s groups, saying that if they continue to hold on to the abortion rights provision, they will leave on the table all of the other nine portions of the bill.  

“It’s going to be the decision of these women’s groups to determine the destiny,” said Klein who says it would be shame if provisions like pay equity, paid maternity leave, and anti-domestic violence and human trafficking measures were left behind because of the abortion rights dispute.  

Cuomo did not comment publicly, as he worked behind the scenes with legislative leaders to put the finishing touches on a plan to expand casino gambling in New York and create tax-free zones at college campuses.

The lack of action on abortion rights and public campaign financing comes as a new poll finds the majority of New Yorkers back the governor’s plan to codify into state law the protections in the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision.

Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for Siena College polling says 53 percent said they wanted all 10 points including the abortion rights provision passed, compared to 32 percent who said just pass the other nine items.

The poll also found that New Yorkers, after a wave of scandals and arrests of lawmakers, say legislation to clean up corruption is their top priority.