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Local News

January 17, 2012

Man goes on hunger strike to meet with official

Claiming to be following in the footsteps of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, anti-fracking activist Patrick McElligott launched a hunger strike Monday in an effort to pressure a pro-drilling state lawmaker to speak to him about his concerns.

McElligott, a 53-year-old retired social worker from East Guilford in Chenango County, said he decided to begin the hunger strike Monday by staging a one-hour vigil outside the Binghamton office of state Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton. The senator is a proponent of allowing the energy industry to begin horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas trapped in shale.

"What I am trying to do is set up a meeting between Sen. Libous and leaders of the local anti-fracking community," said McElligott, a native of the Delaware County community of Sidney. "I think people need to talk. When people cut off all communication, that is a bad thing, especially when you are in elective office."

McElligott said he will eat no solid foods during the fast and will limit his consumption of fluids to just water and one glass of fruit juice per day.

He said he was inspired by the activism of King and Gandhi because they used non-violent tactics to achieve social change. Gandhi protested British rule of India with a hunger strike lasting 116 days in 1929.

Asked if he will continue the fast indefinitely, he said: "If he agrees to speak to me, I will come off the hunger strike. I will put it in Sen. Libous' hands."

McElligott, who declined to state his body weight, said he sent Libous a series of invitations to meet, but all overtures were spurned by the senator and his aides. "I'm not pretending I can change his mind on fracking, but that does not negate the need for us to sit down and talk," McElligott said.

A spokesman for Libous, Emmanuel Priest, did not return an email message seeking comment. State offices were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a state and federal holiday.

"I am not doing this to be disruptive, to tie up traffic or to be a nuisance," McElligott said. Retired from his job with the Chenango County Mental Health Department, McElligott said his activism is motivated by his desire to defend the quality of New York's drinking water.

From the other side of the hydrofracking debate, pro-drilling activist Richard Downey of the Unatego Landowners Association would only say of McElligott: "It's a free country. You can do what you want. This fellow sounds like he is way out on the bell-shaped curved. We have them, too.

"He's become a sideshow in a sideshow."

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