“Our City. Our State. Our Future,” read one banner. “Save Hospitals. Tax The Rich,” read another.
An estimated 50,000 people braved the cold weather at City Hall Thursday, March 5,to protest Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed cuts in areas like healthcare and education. The crowd took up two lanes on Broadway and allegedly stretched all the way towards Canal Street. Union, leaders and local politicians showed up to rally labor and constituents on the potential threat of higher unemployment among the ranks.
“The stimulus money was sent to New York to help New Yorkers,” said Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. “We don’t want the most vulnerable to suffer in these budgets. We want the rich to give their fair share.” Gotbaum is referring to money President Barack Obama designated for New York State (an expected $24 billion) as part of his nationwide economic stimulus package. Tammie Miller, chair of the United Federation of Teacher’s home daycare provider’s chapter, feels that labor should be taken care of “the same way they found the money in the federal and state stimulus to take care of the Wall Street bankers.”
Chants of “No More Bloomberg!” and “One New York!” punched through the tension-filled atmosphere. A huge, yellow sign above the stage, where leaders and officials spoke, read “Protect Our Communities.” Music from the Carlos Jimenez and Mambo Orchestra attempted to keep everyone’s spirits positive. “We will not be divided!” said Denis M. Hughes, the president of New York State’s AFL-CIO. “The men and women here on this street will not give back, will not back down.”
“The cuts shouldn’t be done on the backs of the union,”s aid City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. “Who should put up more? Those who make a little bit more.”
Lillian Roberts, District Council 37’s executive director, cited how the city faced an economic downturn three decades ago and “found a way to work together.” Roberts then took a shot at Mayor Bloomberg when she said, “Today, we face a similar crisis, but our dictatorship has resulted in a war declared on the middle class, the poor and the union. Stop privatizing our work.”
Another theme emanated from the mass of people at City Hall: the belief that only those that caused the crisis should have the monopoly on its painful aftermath. “We did not create this economic nightmare,” said Veronica Montgomery Costa, president of Local 372 (school aides, school lunch workers, school crossing guards, etc.).
“This budget is not about numbers. The budget is about people,” said Dr. Barbara Bowen, president of CUNY-PSC (City University of New York faculty and staff).
Some of those people, potentially at the mercy of city and state government, feel helpless. Cassandra Edwards, a housekeeper at Montefiore Medical Center’s North Division in the Bronx, didn’t hold back her feelings on the situation.
“Paterson supported us for so many years,” said Edwards, 44. “Now he’s turned his back on us. Did he forget about the small people?”
“I’m in double jeopardy,” said Alexandria Sumner, a 23-year-old daycare employee who’s also a student at Touro College. “I can’t win.”