Unruly Crowd Vents Frustrations on Airport Privatization, Anti-Semitism, Need for Jobs, Gunshow Approval, and each other’s positions. Astorino Drowned Out on Most Issues. Police Eject One.
- WPCNR CITY HALL BEAT. By John F. Bailey. February 27, 2017:
- In the most unruly, rancorous uncivil meeting at city hall since the New York Presbyterian Hospital meetings in 2001-2003, two hundred persons police said, filled the Common Council Chamber, filled the downstairs rotunda and spilled out down the city steps to hear County Executive Rob Astorino deliver a 10-minute Summation of where the county is on three issues.
- After 10 minutes, the County Executive opened it up to written questions selected by County Executive staff to be asked.
- Ned McCormick opened the meeting with a listing of the groundrules, ending asking the crowd to “please be respectful.”
They were not.
- On touchy issue after touchy issue, people opposed to Astorino’s issues drowned out Mr. Astorino’s answers while persons agreeing with his position shouted the naysayers down across the chamber. The crowd came to air out and they did.
- Mr. Astorino hung tough and never lost his poise or determination and did not walk out or duck as politicians across the country are at their town meetings. His hanging in place like a prize fighter withering wildly flung haymakers kept what little order there was to the meeting.
- He began taking questions at 7:20 PM and took them for 40 minutes.
- Asked first if he believed President Donald J. Trump’s statement that the media is an enemy of the people. Astorino said “It was wrong to call the media enemy of the people. Ethics in journalism is very important to me. Do we have slanted organizations out there? Do we have freedom of the press, Yes. The rule is extremely vital.”
- He was asked if he would have County Police enforce the President’s Executive Order on Immigration (i.e., deporting persons in the country illegally),” Asked if he was in favor of vetting, his answer seemed to be a yes:
- “I want people coming here for the right reasons. I don’t want them coming for the wrong reasons. Pressed if he would enforce the President’s new order, He said “I cannot support a religious test to allow people into this country.” This was met with angry grumbling about Muslims, and loud support
- The topic of the County Executive’s recent veto of the County Legislature’s gunshow ban was taken up.
- Astorino defended the gunshow right to be staged as a freedom of speech issue. He emphasized the fact that persons could not walk out with a gun from the show (except, WPCNR notes you can buy rifles and airguns if you pass a NICS background check).
- Gun opponents in the audience roared him down as he patiently tried to explain his veto. Another questioner complained that gunshow exhibitors were allowed to sell Nazi related books on county (public) property.
- Astorino pointed out that public libraries offer many of the same books. This was met by strong reaction from an audience of persons concerned with anti-semitism.
- At the close of the question and answer period, a speaker asked why the County Executive wasn’t doing more against the rising anti-semitism incidents in the county. The speaker made reference to two bomb threats made in Scarsdale and Tarrytown Monday. The county executive said the county is investigating both incidents. He was criticized for not having a hotline by the speaker. (WPCNR notes, there is such a hotline. If you know of persons discussing anti-semitic actions, call the police.)
- Astorino said such threats were committed by persons filled “with hate and ignorance.”
- The issue that drew the biggest reaction was the County Executive plan to privatize the Westchester County Airport by leasing it for 15 years to an investment firm which he detailed in his preliminary 10-minute address.
- Mr. Astorino said there was a lot of misinformation communicated (by the press) about the proposal, and– (as he was saying the county needed to find new ways to pay for county services and the airport was a way to do that) — the majority of Common Council Chamber crowd, shouted, “No privatization. No privatization!” One individual held up a neat sign saying “Disagree” and Mr. Astorino was drowned out by the racket.
- Ned McCormick, the Communicatons Director called for order. Mr. Astorino calmly stated “There would be no new terminal. There will be no extension of runways, and no new terms (of the agreement, retaining the 254 passenger limit per half hour).”
- There were catcalls and shouts from the street two floors below where an overflow crowd participated in the anti-airport sentiment. Astorino said the County Legislature is still considering the airport issue. He had posted a slide promoting the advantages of the airport “lease,” he said the county is retaining the airport, it is just leasing it to an operator.
- The slide said the airport deal would generate $140 million for police, parks, roads, day care and Social Services, provide better terminal seating, ticketing, dining and concessions, that “Gates Remain at 4, Passenger Cap Stays in Place. No runway extension.”
- There has not been so much heated action in 25 minutes in this chamber in years.
- The evening wrapped up with a question on how the county could diversify the county police with more minorities. Astorino said his administration has met with police departments, and also encouraged more persons of color to take the civil service test is was willing to schedule meetings to discuss how to do this.
- He said he could not respond to climate change controversy because he could only respond to events in his part of the world. He said he did not support the decision to close Indian Point because of its tax impact on Buchanan and Cortlandt towns, and because clean nuclear energy is being replaced by possible fossil fuel sources.
- He also criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo’s threat to cut aid to cities that did not combine delivery of services to make savings. Astorino said Cuomo had not considered the impact school districts have on the tax base in considering the threat of aid cuts if cities did not consolidate services.
- Mr. Astorino wrapped up the meeting at 8:10 and thanked everyone for coming out, saying “This is what democracy is all about.