New York’s top Republican on Tuesday insisted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologize for “divisive rhetoric” he used when he contended there is “no place in the state” for “extreme conservatives” who oppose abortion rights and gay rights and favor legal assault weapons.
Cuomo’s comments, made in a radio interview last Friday, have touched off a national political firestorm, prompting the governor’s administration to attempt to clarify the intent of his message when he argued New York has “no place” for the hard right.
State GOP Chairman Ed Cox jumped into the fray Tuesday, arguing the remarks were not only offensive to conservatives but to those following Roman Catholic doctrine as well. Cuomo, who supports taxpayer-funded abortions and opposes parental notification mandates, has said he remains a Catholic.
Cox, the son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon, called on Cuomo to apologize to “good Conservatives and Catholics for his statement that they have ‘no place in the state of New York’ and to all New Yorkers for poisoning New York’s politics with divisive rhetoric at a time when New York needs to be united to address its continuing economic problems.”
Cox’s blunt criticism of the first term Democratic governor was mild in comparison to the backlash Cuomo got from Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, who represents portions of Otsego and Delaware Counties.
“He’s an intolerant bully,” said Tenney. “I don’t think people who oppose his SAFE Act (year-old legislation restricting gun ownership) are extremists. I don’t think people who are pro-life are extreme.”
Tenney also argued that the words from the governor’s lips will have political consequences for him. “At this point, I don’t see how any Republican or conservative in this state could ever support him for governor,” she said. “If they do, they’re just self-serving opportunists.”
Retired New York City Police Officer Joe Marmorato of Hartwick, a gun rights advocate, called the governor’s comments “disturbing.”
“One of the problems we’re facing is that many gun owners aren’t even registered to vote,” Marmorato said. “We need to get them registered and make sure they vote. If these people came out to vote, we could change a lot of things.”
Otsego County Democratic Chairman Richard Abbate defended Cuomo, contending Republicans were trying to twist his remarks to make it appear that the governor was taking a snipe at gun owners and abortion opponents.
“He wasn’t talking about everyday citizens,” Abbate said. “He is talking about extreme politicians and candidates on the far right who would stop at nothing for their agenda.”
Abbate said he believes Cuomo will withstand the controversy over his statements.
“He is a very popular governor who works hard for New York state,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have him at the helm.”.
In an effort to clarify the statements Cuomo made during the radio interview, one of his aides issued a letter stating that the governor “has never demonized the opposition to his gun law nor stance on protecting choice nor marriage equality. The Governor is a gun owner and a Catholic. His faith is very important to him and he respects the Second Amendment. The governor was making the point that he makes often: New York is a politically moderate state and an extremist agenda is not politically viable statewide.”
Delaware County Republican Chairwoman Maria Kelso said the fact Cuomo aides are trying to explain what the governor meant to say suggests the administration is doing damage control.
“He meant every word he said — until he heard the backlash,” Kelso said. “When you’re the governor, you should think before you speak. Those are words you can’t take back. What he said is absolutely appalling. Who is he to be the judge and jury of New Yorkers?”
The governor’s statements, said Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, suggest he needs a refresher course in searching for common ground with those on the other side of issues than himself, rather than engaging in “cat-calling.”
“We need a helping hand,” Lopez said, “not a stick whacking at a beehive.”