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Protests spread through Capitol

ALBANY -- The State Senate has taken the rare step of shutting down its lobby to the public as budget protestors start arriving at the Capitol for a series of demonstrations in the hallways against the budget being adopted today.

Only senators, staff members and reporters were being permitted to enter the ornate lobby just outside the Senate chamber -– an area usually filled with lobbyists, tour groups and others on session days.

"It’s just part of the additional security that was put in place for the day," said Mark Hanson, a spokesman for the Republicans in control of the Senate.

Some lobbyists were able to make it past the guards, while others who were in the area before the order came down were afraid to leave because they might not get back in. "I have to go to the bathroom,'' said one lobbyist in the closed-off area.

Shortly after the Senate action, the Assembly said it was closing down its public gallery areas overlooking the chamber.

An increasing presence of state troopers –- one with a taser on his belt –- was also seen around the Capitol. Lawmakers are worried the protestors will be able to slow or halt their legislative proceedings as they try to wrap up the budget adoption today.

On the State Street side of the building, security screeners prohibited one group of organizers from bringing marshmallows -– to make S’mores (without the fire) in a planned camp-out in the Capitol tonight. Also being blocked were demonstrators with whistles and any other types of noisemakers.

The first group of protesters was looking to begin forming about 1:30 outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office, before demonstrators move upstairs to the areas around the Senate and Assembly chambers.

UPDATE: Hundreds of demonstrators are scattered in several different areas of the Capitol as of 3pm. A group of state university students have jammed the Million Dollar Staircase, while other groups have formed outside the Assembly and Senate chambers holding signs and shouting at lawmakers. The Assembly has stopped passing budget bills until 6pm while lawmakers await the two biggest and most controversial bills: school aid and health care funding.

The themes in all the different protest points are the same: lawmakers should un-do spending cuts to various programs and impose a tax on millionaires.

"It's not a budget crisis. It's a crisis of priorities,'' Cayden Mak, a University at Buffalo graduate student, said as fellow demonstrators chanted against the budget cuts. Mak criticized the governor and lawmakers for choosing to cut SUNY operating funds again -- which students say has led to larger class sizes and program cuts. Mak also said UB has focused too much on its UB2020 plan and not enough on fighting back against SUNY budget cuts.

"It's preposterous to let the millionaire's tax expire and at the same time ... cut programs for the most vulnerable New Yorkers,'' Mak said.


Organizers said in advance they knew they could not stop the budget budget adoption train in the two houses. But as 5pm approached, they were facing another setback: organizers said they were being told by security officials that their large order from a local pizza joint to feed the hungry crowd might not be permitted into the building.

Meanwhile, the budget marches on. After a break of several hours, both houses are due back in the next hour to begin passing more budget bills. By tonight, the Senate and Assembly vow to pass the final two components: health care and education.


"No pizza. No peace,'' angry protestors shouted this evening as a pizza delivery was initially blocked at the doors to the Capitol by police. Organizers said they spent part late afternoon having to negotiate with officials from the Cuomo administration over the pizza delivery. In the end, some Senate Democrats got the food into the building for the protestors.

The Cuomo administration did not have an immediate comment.


As much of Albany awaited details like school district funding amounts, the Cuomo administration found itself having to respond to things like -- pizza delivery. Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman, said officials were concerned about the mess 70 pizza pies could create in the historic Capitol. He said protest organizers were offered a space in nearby concourse. "They never responded to that offer,'' Vlasto said.


No early budget. Senate okayed the budget before midnight. Assembly on last bill as 1am approaches -- denying Cuomo and Legislature rights to claim an early budget. But it is to be on time by the March 31 deadline -- the first since 2006 when George Pataki was governor.

One arrest -- a man hit a legislative staffer in the head with a drum cymbal. Few dozen demonstrators left in the building now. A state police major, Wiliam Sprague, said they can remain in the building for one hour after the Assembly finishes its business before being asked to leave.

-- Tom Precious

Skelos: Final budget more fair to upstate schools

ALBANY -– Upstate will see a fairer distribution of school aid funding cuts under a new deal compared to the plan proposed earlier in the year by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Legislature’s top Republican said this morning.

“We’re going to have a reasonable distribution so that it’s more in terms of old shares," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said of the “shares" system that allocates education funding along regional population levels.

Skelos said the governor had proposed that up to about 59 percent of his $1.5 billion in education cuts would come from upstate schools. The final deal, the lawmaker said, calls for upstate to be in line for about 51 percent of the cuts.

Lawmakers restored about $230 million from the $1.5 billion Cuomo wanted from schools, which say teacher layoffs and classroom cuts will be coming even with the restorations.

Specific district-by-district numbers won’t be out until early this afternoon, Skelos said. The Legislature is still awaiting completion of a few final sticking points with the education and health care portions of the budget. Skelos said the full budget will be approved by tonight.

Under the “shares" system, Long Island will get 12.9 percent. New York City will see a greater percentage of the cuts than under the Cuomo plan.

Both houses are rushing to try to complete the 2011 spending plan today, though lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly are worried a demonstration by several organizations –- which have promised to take their criticism into the Capitol’s halls and possibly the legislative chambers –- could slow things down.

--Tom Precious

NYS budget: Away we go

ALBANY – The state Senate will begin passing budget bills later this afternoon, officials say, to try to keep alive a push by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to get a 2011 fiscal plan adopted early for the first time since 1983.

The "easy'' ones are on tap for passage. A Senate spokesman said bills have now been printed pertaining to the merger of several state agencies and the so-called "TED" bill: transportation and economic development.

Scott Reif, a Skelos spokesman, said other budget bills could also be ready later today for the Senate to pass.

Still out there in the land of uncertainty known as Albany budget hell: health care and education. Those two areas make up more than half the budget. Negotiators are still finalizing some Medicaid cuts and every rank-and-file lawmaker is waiting to see the district-by-district state aid to schools document that won’t be available until tomorrow at the earliest.

An on-time budget is due Friday. The last time a budget came early was nearly 30 years ago in the first year of the administration of Gov. Mario Cuomo – the current governor’s father.


The Assembly will join the Senate this evening in passing a couple budget bills, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He said the whole spending plan could be wrapped up by tomorrow night.

Earlier in the day, legislative officials flatly ruled out the prospects for taking up any budget bills today. Curious, then, that things changed after word began spreading about a large protest scheduled for tomorrow at the Capitol -- a gathering that could, if demonstrators make it into the Senate and Assembly galleries, slow down the legislative process.

Asked if his chamber was taking any precautions in what could be the Capitol's largest demonstration this year and timed for the day the budget is to pass, Silver said, "I would anticipate that we'll have people who are interested in our proceedings. We're open to the public and that's always been our tradition and if there are any people who are there to do things that are inappropriate, the State Police manage the whole Capitol area.''


Billy Easton, of the Alliance for Quality Education, said he expects 300 demonstrators to try to stay all night at the Capitol. But he said Tuesday evening that organizers were told the Senate visitors gallery was being cut off to the group because they did not have reservations in advance for seating. “When did we end up with a state Senate when public access was by reservation only?’’ he said.

Easton said organizers were told Senator Hugh Farley had been given a large part of the Senate gallery so there would be no room for representatives of the protest groups to sit in the public space overlooking the Senate.

A Senate spokeswoman could not immediately comment on Easton's claims, though she did note that half the gallery was shut down as of today because a metal detector suddenly stopped working.


Scott Reif, a Senate Republican spokesman, said Farley reserved gallery space for 75 local school students and teachers on a field trip; those seats will be opened up to the public when the school group leaves. A Democratic senator, he said, has been given five reserved seats for representatives from the budget protest, he said.

-- Tom Precious

Doug Turner chats starting at 7 p.m. before Obama speech

Bellavia campaign appears over, Collins' begins

News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy reports that the congressional candidacy of Iraq War veteran David Bellavia appears to have ended.

Bellavia was trying to get on the ballot for the May 24 special election to fill the unexpired term of Republican Chris Lee, who resigned Feb. 9. On Friday, state Board of Elections officials informed him that he failed to submit required paperwork for an independent line on the ballot.

The News' topics page on the Chris Lee resignation has complete coverage of the race for his seat.

Meanwhile, Erie County Executive Chris Collins on Saturday formally announced that he was seeking re-election. The News' Joseph Popiolkowski was at the event at Volland Electric, and filed this report.

Geraldine Ferraro dies at 75

Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for U.S. vice president on a major party ticket died Saturday at age 75. Ferraro ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in New York in 1992 and 1998. The Associated Press has more here.

Bellavia petitions will not be challenged

Neither major party candidate will challenge the designating petitions filed by independent congressional candidate David Bellavia, paving the way for the Iraq War veteran to become the fifth candidate on the ballot for the 26th Congressional District vacancy.


UPDATE: Bellavia unlikely to be on ballot


Democrat Kathleen C. Hochul's campaign said Thursday it would not interfere with Bellavia's filings, and Republican Jane L. Corwin followed today.

"We respect and value David Bellavia's service to our country and have not filed any objections to his petitions," said Corwin spokesman Matthew Harakal.

The major party candidates reacted to a challenge issued Thursday by Tea Party candidate Jack Davis, who said he would not challenge the Bellavia petitions and called on the Democratic and Republican candidates to do likewise.

The special election to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Republican Chris Lee will take place on May 24.

--Robert J. McCarthy

Minor candidates make presence known in race for Lee's old seat

Today was a day for minor party candidates to weigh in to the developing race for the vacancy in the 26th Congressional District, with Tea Party candidate Jack Davis leading the way.

Davis, who has promised to spend $3 milion of his own money in his fourth bid for the seat, said he will not contest the designating petitions of another minor party candidate -- David Bellavia. He called on Republican Jane L. Corwin, a Clarence assemblywoman, to also refrain from challenging the efforts of the Batavia veteran of the Iraq War to qualify for the ballot.

"David Bellavia has more than earned his place on the ballot," Davis said. "The Jack Davis campaign will not challenge the nominating petitions David Bellavia has filed. Jane Corwin should do the same.

"The Corwin campaign should stop trying to keep David Bellavia off the ballot," he said. "She should do the right thing, and, as our campaign does, respect David’s defense of democracy and respect the wishes of the people of this district to have a fair and open election."

The Corwin campaign did not immediately respond to the Davis challenge, while a spokesman for Democrat Kathleen C. Hochul said she has no plans to challenge the petitions.

Bellavia, meanwhile, who has applied for his own line for the May 24 special election, issued one of his first public comments of the campaign by questioning the U.S. military role in Libya.

"When a president is so detached from vital world affairs, so intent on fiddling while the Middle East burns, I know it is time to act. We need a House of Representatives that will push President Obama even harder to lead -- not follow -- in global affairs," Bellavia siad.

"My opponents Jane Corwin and Kathy Hochul have been silent on foreign policy, perhaps because they have never traveled to another country except as tourists. I have seen the world as it really is, and I believe the United States should lead the world’s democracies in supporting freedom and democracy in Libya and other Middle Eastern nations," he added. "We should be helping Libyan citizens remove the brutal Qaddafi regime, but we cannot stop there. We need to ensure that after Qaddafi’s departure, adequate planning and resources are available to establish freedom and civil rights for the citizens of Libya."

--Robert J. McCarthy

Greens name prankster as candidate for Congress

   The Green Party, which qualified for a "permanent" line on the New York State ballot in last year's election for governor, has nominated Ian L. Murphy as its candidate for the May 24th special election in the 26th Congressional District.

   Murphy, you may recall, writes for a satirical Web site called the Beast and delivered a prank call to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at the height of the protests over Walker's plan to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights.

   Posing as right wing billionaire David Koch, Murphy discussed tactics with Walker about how to trick Wisconsin Senate Democrats into returning to the state after they left rather than vote for Walker's public unions plan. A tape of the call was later reported widely throughout the media.

   The Beast has also pulled prank on notables such as Mayors Anthony M. Masiello and Byron W. Brown.

    So when the Green Party issued a press release naming Murphy as its candidate for Congress, The Buffalo News corroborated the information with the state Board of Elections -- a credible source.

    -- Robert J. McCarthy

Brandishing Tea Party credentials, Davis opposes action in Libya

   Count Tea Party congressional candidate Jack Davis as among those questioning President Obama's authority to order military action in Libya.

   Brandishing his new "Tea Party" credentials, Davis said Wednesday the Constitution stipulates that only Congress has the power to declare war.

   "Congress did not declare war," Davis said. "The American people neither understand nor support this war.  There is no clear definition of victory and no exit strategy.  President Obama has put our nation, our military personnel, our blood and our treasure at risk in an unlawful conflict.

   "If elected, I will aggressively defend the exclusive right of Congress to declare war," Davis added.
    -- Robert J. McCarthy

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |