Minutes into his State of the State speech, just as he finished lauding his gun control legislation and the decrease in shooting deaths statewide since Sandy Hook, Governor Andrew Cuomo was interrupted by East New York Assemblyman Charles Barron, who attempted to yell over the Governor for about a minute, about poverty and homelessness—topics he thinks the Governor has not adequately addressed.
Barron, a 12-year veteran of the City Council, was elected to the State Assembly in 2014.
Assemblyman Charles Barron of Brooklyn interrupts New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State speech. pic.twitter.com/EN3NA5tGJ5
— Derek Gee (@DerekGeePhoto) January 13, 2016
"This is not real," Barron accused, in footage captured by an audience member. "This is not real. Come to the neighborhoods. The poverty is high. He [Cuomo] has a billion dollar surplus, and the poverty is high. Don't believe the hype. Come to the neighborhoods. We're still suffering."
Assemblyman Charles Barron interrupts the governor's speech pic.twitter.com/LHrYbitmyp
— Julianne Peixoto (@JuliannePeixoto) January 13, 2016
Barron also accused Cuomo of not funding schools according to parameters set by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, Politico reports.
— L. Joy Williams (@ljoywilliams) January 13, 2016
"I planned this," Barron told reporters after the fact. "Remember last year? I sat through the whole thing and I almost died in my seat. I don't like the idea that they show these films [demonstrating progress, at the beginning of the address]. This is a hand-picked audience."
Speaking to Gothamist by phone after the address, Barron elaborated. "Sometimes you have to interrupt nonsense to make real sense," he said. "Last year I saw the big gaps between the rhetoric and the reality."
The Governor did not hide his frustration when Barron stood up. "Alright assemblyman, have a seat assemblyman," he said.
“Eeeeeverybody heard you, Assemblyman.” — Cuomo to Charles Barron. #NYSOS
— Azi (@Azi) January 13, 2016
Barron garnered a smattering of boos from the audience as he continued to speak over the Governor for about a minute.
As Barron was escorted from the room Cuomo added, "Just because you yell doesn’t mean you’re right, and just because you stand doesn’t mean you’re correct. That's what this legislature is all about."
Cuomo, also yelling, prompted a standing ovation and loud applause in the Empire State Plaza.
"Just because you yell, doesn't mean you're right!" says Cuomo, who is himself yelling, after Charles Barron heckles him
— Dana Rubinstein (@danarubinstein) January 13, 2016
Reporters caught up with the assemblyman immediately after the incident, in video posted to Facebook by Amanda Ciavarri of News 10NBC in Rochester.
"He [Cuomo] gives some flowery report on how great the state is doing," Barron said. "How do you have poverty in our communities and he's offering a $25 million poverty program at over a $150 billion budget?"
Cuomo's Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, announced on Monday, calls for $25 million in funding for anti-poverty initiatives in ten upstate cities, including Albany, Binghamton, and Buffalo.
"What about the hypocrisy of he wants the homeless off the streets?" Barron added. "Well he helped put them on the streets because he cut the Advantage program, which was a subsidy program."
Asked for his thoughts on Mayor de Blasio, Barron didn't hold back. "De Blasio and the Mayor are hypocrites," he said, adding that he considered the Mayor's affordable housing goal to be a significant lowball, considering more than 59,000 New Yorkers sleep in homeless shelters each night.
Good a time as any to remind you all of Charles Barron's Assembly portrait: pic.twitter.com/upRgyHlZwm
— Jillian Jorgensen (@Jill_Jorgensen) January 13, 2016
So far, Barron says, the reception of his disruption has been mixed. As for his colleagues, "Some people said they're glad I did it, and some people don't want to do anything because they are scared of the governor," he said. "So be it. Sometimes you need dramatic actions to bring change."
Barron says that his next move is to push the issues raised this afternoon with his fellow Democrats in the Assembly.
The politician pulled a similar stunt in 2011, interrupting Cuomo at the Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators annual dinner with shouts of, "Tax the rich!"
"Today was a little different, because it was the Mayor's audience, a hostile audience, and he had the microphone," Barron said. "But I figured that even if he couldn't hear me, I'd get my point across afterwards."
Additional reporting by Miranda Katz.
UPDATE: Barron's office this afternoon issued a formal statement elaborating on the assemblyman's position and his reasons for disrupting the State of the State. The piece has also been updated throughout with a few quotes directly from Barron.
"Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed the most vulnerable members of our society time and time again," Barron stated. "Our homeless Brothers and Sisters are out in the street without any comprehensive support from our state government. The public schools that provide a foundation for economic mobility for our precious children have been deprived the money owed to them by the state. The so called justice system has lost the trust of our communities due to the lack of accountability, transparency and more importantly, a systemic bias in favor of police."
Barron elaborated that NYC schools are still owed $4.8 billion in funding as part of the 2006 settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The $4.8 billion figure comes from a report released this week by the Alliance for Quality Education.
As an alternative to Cuomo's recently-announced $25 million anti-poverty program for upstate cities, Barron asked for a $1 billion initiative to combat poverty state-wide.