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21 Arrested as Progressive Groups Protest Gridlock on Key Bills

NYS NOW President Zenaida Mendez is one of 21 arrested at a sit in outside Senator Jeff Klein's office
NYS NOW President Zenaida Mendez is one of 21 arrested at a sit in outside Senator Jeff Klein's office

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

Government reform groups are angry at Governor 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.   Susan Lerner is with Common Cause.

“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.”

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.

They held a sit down protest outside the office door of Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, also known as the IDC. They Klein, demanded that the bills be put on the floor for a vote, and accusing 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 New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women, Zenaida Mendez.

Senator 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 prochoice.

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

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

Governor 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% said they wanted all ten points including the abortion rights provision passed, compared to 32% 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.