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New York State NOW President Zenaida Mendez, being arrested at a sit-in at the Capitol. Photo: Karen DeWitt
New York State NOW President Zenaida Mendez, being arrested at a sit-in at the Capitol. Photo: Karen DeWitt

21 arrested as progressives push for action in Albany

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A senior Cuomo administration official says Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders struck a late night deal to authorize four upstate casinos and to allow votes on 10 separate women's rights bills including an abortion proposal that appeared to have been blocked in the Senate.

According to the Associated Press, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was scheduled to be announced today.

And legislative spokesmen immediately disputed some elements of the agreement.

Michael Whyland, spokesman for the Assembly's Democratic majority, says the chamber still plans to vote and approve all 10 items as a single bill. A Senate Republican official late Tuesday night said there was no commitment to bring the abortion bill to the floor.

The reported deal came after several arrests at the state Capitol.
Advocates took out their anger and frustration on Cuomo and leaders of the State Senate, after it became clear that hopes faded for the progressive agenda.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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 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 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."

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 percent said they wanted all ten 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.

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