By Liz Benjamin
August 29, 2014
Our report on State of Politics yesterday about a march and vigil to call out Gov. Andrew Cuomo for failing to exercise his clemency powers appears to have touched a nerve.
Minutes after we posted an item about the event, which is to be held outside the Mount Kisco home Cuomo shares with Food Network star Sandra Lee on Sept. 6 – three days before the Democratic gubernatorial primary – our phone started ringing off the hook.
On the line were members of the Senate Democratic conference and one Senate candidate whose names were listed on a flyer for the vigil as “participating or supporting.”
They were calling to make sure we knew that they had no intention of actually showing up on the governor’s doorstep to protest anything at all, though one senator did assure me that he’s very much in favor of clemency “when it’s appropriate.”
Those who went out of their way to call (either in person or via emissary) were: Sens. Jose Peralta; Liz Krueger; Gustavo Rivera (“I’m very busy in my primary campaign and in my district,” he said); and Brad Hoylman.
Also not attending: Former NYC Comptroller John Liu, who is challenging Sen. Tony Avella, an IDC member, in the Sept. 9 primary; and former Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, who called this afternoon to say that he had been asked to sign on to a letter described as “harmless” that would express support for clemency, but did not agree to participate in an event that is “clearly an attack on the governor.”
The Sept. 6 event is being supported by a number of organizations and individuals that have made clear their disappointment with Cuomo this campaign season, including NOW-NYS (which endorsed his primary opponent, Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout), the Village Independent Democrats (also backing Teachout), and Democratic gadfly/donor Bill Samuels.
Several actors from the Netflix hit “Orange is the New Black” are scheduled to participate, as is “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” star Kathryn Erbe.
The vigil is being organized by Allen Roskoff, who is president of the Jim Owles Democratic Club and an outspoken – and often controversial – LGBT activist.
In a series of telephone and email conversations yesterday, Roskoff said only one person – Liu – had actually renegged on attending this event.
The others, he said, made it clear to him that they’re supportive but weren’t able to make it that night.
Roskoff also accused the governor and members of his staff of “strong arming people to not participate in a peaceful vigil for clemency” instead of “debating a primary opponent and governing the state.”
One source did say that calls had been made after our blog post appeared by “interested parties” connected to Cuomo seeking information about who planned to attend. But that source refused to name names.
Cuomo has exercised his clemency power far less than his predecessors – something that has drawn criticism from the left, including from comedian/activist Randy Credico, who is mounting a long-shot primary challenge to Cuomo this fall.
In December 2013, Cuomo issued three pardons to New Yorkers who had completed their sentences, but “whose legal status and rights were hampered by their criminal records,” according to his office.