‘Occupy Albany’ vs. ‘Governor 1 Percent’By DANNY HAKIM and THOMAS KAPLAN
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was not in Albany on Thursday, but Occupy Albany demonstrators came to the Capitol anyway, in a protest that seemed more about the governor than anything else.
The Cuomo administration has taken a relatively hard line against the demonstrators, requiring them to vacate a state-controlled portion of a park across the street from the Capitol. The governor’s office has said the state is simply enforcing a curfew, but The Times Union of Albany reported Thursdaythat the curfew was created by the governor’s administration just last week.
The governor’s posture toward Occupy Albany, along with his opposition to a so-called millionaires’ tax in New York State, has highlighted a potential vulnerability on the left for Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who has governed mostly from the center. Occupy Albany is a small offshoot of the Occupy Wall Streetmovement, which is based in Lower Manhattan and whose members have been critical of economic inequality and corporate influence.
“I wouldn’t vote for him again,” one Occupy Albany protester, Jackie Hayes, said Thursday, shortly after delivering a speech in the Capitol in which she referred to Mr. Cuomo as “Governor 1 Percent.” That nickname has become popular among the protesters, who argue that Mr. Cuomo, in opposing higher state income tax rates for the wealthy, is championing the interests of the top 1 percent of earners.
Ms. Hayes, a 29-year-old graduate student at the State University of New York in Albany, said the governor should drop his opposition to extending the tax surcharge for the wealthy — a common refrain among the protesters. “I think it’s an economic policy that’s absolutely indefensible,” she said.
Mr. Cuomo has said he supports a federal millionaires’ tax, but opposes it at the state level because, he believes, it places the state at a competitive disadvantage with its neighbors and could prompt high earners to relocate.
In a radio appearance on Monday, the governor expressed support for free speech, but he said the state would not make any special exceptions to accommodate the Occupy Albany protesters.
“We believe in the right to demonstrate,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We also believe in the rule of law, and we enforce the law, and that’s how the state handles it.”
The Cuomo administration has pushed Albany officials to enforce park rules strictly, including a curfew that would have required protesters to leave the park, at least at night. But local officials, including Mayor Gerald D. Jenningsof Albany, who is a close ally of Mr. Cuomo, as well as Albany law enforcement leaders, have declined to interfere with the protests.
“They’re wonderful people,” the Albany County district attorney, P. David Soares, a Democrat, said in a telephone interview. Mr. Soares said law enforcement officials had found representatives of Occupy Albany to be “very reasonable,” noting that the protesters decided of their own volition to suspend their drum-playing late at night out of respect for people who live in the area.
“There’s children, there’s grandmothers and grandparents and families that are there protesting,” he said. “There are people singing songs and eating cider donuts. They’re doing it peacefully — they’re letting their frustration and opinions be heard and exercising what they’re entitled to under our Constitution.”
Occupy Albany protesters, seeking to avoid a confrontation with the State Police, have moved to a city-controlled portion of the park near the Capitol. By Tuesday, demonstrators had set up 44 tents. Nearly 100 protesters showed up at the Capitol on Thursday.
“I would think this is the type of thing we should be encouraging, not discouraging,” said Assemblyman John J. McEneny, an Albany Democrat who visited the protesters on Tuesday. Mr. McEneny said he was surprised by the governor’s response, saying, “It would be out of character from what I would expect, particularly for a Democratic governor.”
Joanne Kathleen Farrell, 47, a freelance writer and Democratic advocate, has been collecting a list of policy changes that Occupy Albany protesters are seeking. The handwritten list she brandished included increased taxes on the rich, no more layoffs of state workers, legalization of marijuana, a ban on hydraulic fracturing, the creation of a State Peace Department and fines for the news media for disseminating misleading statistics.
She said she felt let down by Mr. Cuomo: “The governor is going to treat us like this, like I’m invading my own neighborhood? I don’t think so.”
But Mr. Cuomo generally enjoys extraordinarily high approval ratings as measured in public opinion polls, and even some of the protesters are still supportive.
George Stangle, a 53-year-old self-described “jack of all trades” who is looking for work, said that while he was disappointed in the governor, whom he supported in the last election, he would probably stick with him. “He’s a Democrat, and I’m a Democrat,” Mr. Stangle said.