Why Sen. Kevin Parker Got Mad
June 25th, 2011
Last night as the country watched the New York State Senate vote on same-sex marriage things came to a jarring halt. Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who was presiding over the chamber, called session into recess to find out what was happening on the floor. Were you watching? Did you wonder what was going on?
Essentially the Senate rules were changed in a backroom agreement before session started and then changed again during the vote to make sure it would be concluded to make the 11 p.m. newscasts.
Sen. Kevin Parker, a long time proponent of same-sex marriage, was informed by Senate staff that he would not be able to explain his vote. He was livid. He cursed out the governor and eventually stormed to the podium where Duffy was presiding — a number of other Democratic senators followed him, seemingly to calm him down.
Earlier when Sen. Ruben Diaz tried to lay the marriage bill aside he was ignored. Normal Senate procedure allows for any senator to lay a bill aside for debate. It gives legislators a chance to debate the bill then when they vote, they again have the chance to explain their vote. But the rules weren’t the same.
Parker told the Gazette that around 7 or 8 p.m. the Senate Democratic conference met and discussed a deal. “We were informed of he procedure,” said Parker. “Everyone knew Rev. Diaz was going to lay the bill aside but we agreed not to debate the bill after he laid it aside. We would call the roll and all be able to explain our votes. We would be given two minutes each.”
The Gazette and a number of other sources reported the proposed limited debate earlier in the week. I was told to expect it by multiple senators earlier yesterday morning.
But that deal is not what happened. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s aide Steve Cohen was on the floor trying to hurry everything along. Parker says that Cohen was trying to “shut down debate. The cover story was that Dean [Skelos] was upset at Ruben Diaz’s remarks about Republicans and was going to pull the bill if we started speaking. Everyone knows we don’t control Diaz.”
Parker says he was upset most of all because as a minority-party legislator he has little power. Explaining his vote on issues is at times his only resort. Parker says his district is full of people who do not support gay marriage, and although he was a long time supporter, he felt it was important — just as it was for other senators — to explain the thinking behind his vote.
Parker was not the only angry Democrat. A number of other legislators were visibly distraught when they were informed they would not be able to speak.
Parker notes that debate also was curtailed during the budget vote earlier this year because, “It was coming up on midnight and they wanted to make sure it was officially two days early.”
He says however that the biggest mistake he and Democrats made was not standing up to support Diaz’s right to lay the bill aside. “I didn’t like what he had to say. No one wanted to hear it but it was his right as a member. Essentially the lieutenant governor ignored his request, and shame on us not standing up for him,” said Parker.
“Yes, the moment last night was about Tom Duane and Danny O’Donnell and the rights of New Yorkers — I was one of the first people to sign on to the [same-sex marriage] bill. I’ve been a proponent of it but we can’t stand by when the limited rights members have are violated. My constituents have a right to know why I was voting for it. If it took two days we should have let them speak.”
A number of other Democrats acknowledged to me that the governor’s office was pushing hard to move the debate forward so that Cuomo could make the 11 p.m. newscasts. “11, 11, 11,” that’s all they were saying said one Democratic senator.
After realizing he would not be allowed to speak despite his protests, Parker tried to leave the floor. The door he tried to exit was locked. Earlier Duffy had asked the crowd not to leave the chamber during the vote. Cuomo’s people — staff and security — had been in and out of the side door locking and unlocking it all during the debate. At one point a man wearing an ear piece emerged and surveyed the route Cuomo would take. When Parker tried to leave the door was locked again.
“I go to the door, and I tried to leave, and they had us locked in. I tried to leave, and they had us locked on to the floor,” Parker said. Finally he made it out of the chamber. “One sergeant of arms physically grabbed me. I was appalled. I’m a senator.” Parker then made his way through an ante chamber. “A plain clothes cop and secretary tried to close the door again,” he explains, trying to block his exit. “I’ve never seen a member treated in such a manner. I’ve never seen white member treated that way,” Parker, who is black, said. He was again also confronted by another sergeant of arms.
Cuomo was asked by the NY Post’s Fred Dicker at the following press conference, about the vote and why Parker might have been upset. Cuomo said that he assumed the Senate was following its normal rules. But he claimed ignorance as to what the rules actually are.
The rules on the floor weren’t the only things changed on the floor last night. Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group was told by two state troopers that the public was not allowed into committee meetings. Mahoney informed them that was illegal and they responded they were just following orders.
“Let me be clear,” said Parker. “The first mistake was not standing up when Diaz wanted the bill laid aside.”By David King on June 25, 2011, 6:19 pm
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