— Kate Aronoff (@KateAronoff) January 4, 2017
While Governor Andrew Cuomo was announcing his intention to overhaul John F. Kennedy Airport at a luncheon for business interests and union leaders on Wednesday afternoon, a group of about 20 young environmental advocates blocked a hallway outside of his executive chamber in Albany. Chanting "Trump's a climate emergency, Cuomo show some urgency," they called on the Governor to openly denounce President-elect Donald Trump's climate change-skeptical cabinet picks, and support the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, legislation passed by the Assembly last summer that would set statewide limits on greenhouse gas emissions and increase storm resiliency efforts in low-income communities, among other measures.
Their action coincided with the first day of the legislative session in Albany.
Seventeen protesters refused to move at the heeding of state police, the Times Union reports, and were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, a violation. The sit-in apparently rankled Cuomo Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa, who took to Twitter to accuse the protesters of fueling unnecessary divisions within the Democratic Party. DeRosa called the protest a "counterproductive sham," and dismissed it as the type of action that led to Trump's victory.
In New York State's defense, DeRosa referred to environmental protection regulations already in place, including a ban on fracking. Adding that there is "real stuff to protest," she said that such actions make "our side" look "silly & not serious."
This counterproductive sham is one of the reasons we lost in 2016...I hope our side gets it together fast...too much st stake https://t.co/UhswilHWPS
— Melissa DeRosa (@melissadderosa) January 4, 2017
Protesters and their allies challenged DeRosa, countering that many of Cuomo's liberal commitments—the fracking ban and, most recently, free college tuition at public universities—are the result of grassroots organizing.
@melissadderosa with all due respect, Melissa, what you perceive as a counterproductive sham is what many others see as democracy in action.
— Winnie Wong (@WaywardWinifred) January 4, 2017
Defending his colleague on Thursday, Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said that the protesters seemed confused (he said he spoke to one of them), and that the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act calls for some measures that are already being pursued—for example, Cuomo's December 2015 proposal to make 50 percent of electricity in New York State renewable by the year 2030. "Rather than protesting people who are leading on your issue, why not work with them and protest those who are opposed?" he said.
Protesters countered that they are still waiting for Cuomo to explicitly prioritize the Act, which also calls for larger reductions in greenhouse gases than currently mandated in New York.
"We're aware of the Governor's commendable Clean Energy Standard," protester Lindsay Meiman told Gothamist via email. "The Climate and Community Protection Act is what gives it the crucial force of law, and goes further, mandating that all anthropogenic climate pollution be eliminated from all sectors by 2050."
"This is about more than any one policy," she added. "This is about our Governor stepping up with more urgency in response to the existential threat Trump's billionaire cabinet poses for our future."
DeRosa ultimately agreed to schedule a meeting with the protesters, sneaking in a final jab at their tactics.
.@melissadderosa Great. We're back in town next Friday. What time works for you and the governor?
— Sam Adler-Bell (@SamAdlerBell) January 4, 2017
"Given our strong record in this sector, yesterday's protest for protest's sake was, to say the least, confusing," Azzopardi said Thursday.
Later, he sent a softer statement. "We believe opposition helps make us do our job better and public debates are a healthy part of a vibrant democracy in every form," he said.
Meiman dismissed Azzopardi's claim that the protest was unnecessary; that his office would have been happy to simply set up a meeting, if the group had asked. "We're not operating on the same playing field as we were before Trump was elected," she said. "We need to do more than we were doing before."