By Angelo Stagnaro
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Pro-life supporters and members of two Republican organizations Jan. 21 urged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue a formal apology for saying that "extreme conservatives," including those who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, have "no place in the state of New York."
Cuomo, a Democrat, "is insisting that political and religious conservatives should leave New York state," said Phil Orenstein, 71, president of Queens Village Republican Club, the nation’s oldest Republican group, founded in 1875.
"So if you’re pro-life, support the right to bear arms and (support) traditional marriage, your opinions and beliefs are too extreme" for the governor, he said.
Orenstein made the comments at a news conference held outside Queens Borough Hall on the steps, despite the bitterly cold weather.
He began by quoting Cuomo from a Jan. 17 interview on the public radio show "Capitol Pressroom." In it the governor criticized some Republican candidates running for office on their opposition to the SAFE Act, a measure that among other things requires universal background checks on gun purchases and bans assault weapons.
Cuomo said "moderate Republicans" voted for it but the Republicans who oppose it have a "problem."
"Their problem is not me and Democrats. Their problem is themselves," he said. "Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right to life, pro assault weapon, anti-gay. Is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are."
His remarks prompted Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference, to tweet a message the same day: "My governor thinks there’s no place in NY for people like me. Can I get a state grant to relocate?"
On Jan. 19, Cuomo issued an open letter to the editor regarding the New York Post’s coverage of his remarks. The story had the headline "Gov. Cuomo to conservatives: Leave NY."
Cuomo’s letter said the Post "distorted" the interview, making it seem he believes "conservatives should leave New York. The governor did not say that, nor does he believe that."
Included was the transcript of the interview, which, the letter said, makes it clear Cuomo was just observing that "an extreme right candidate cannot win statewide election, this is a politically moderate state." Cuomo, it said, believes it is "fine to be anti-gun control and anti-choice — as he respects both positions."
Cuomo, a Catholic, supports expanding access to abortion in New York state.
"We insist that Governor Cuomo immediately retract his statement and issue a formal apology to his constituent New Yorkers whose religious beliefs and political viewpoints he has just condemned," said Orenstein at the news conference.
"Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives need to stand together in a bipartisan coalition since our individual liberties are under siege," he continued. "If a sitting governor told pro-choice New Yorkers to leave the state we should likewise all stand together in protest."
Cathy Donohoe, 51, also addressed the crowd. She is president of Bridge to Life, an advocacy and charitable group for young mothers, including unwed mothers.
"I was born and raised in Nassau County and am now raising my family in Queens," she said, "Who is our governor to tell any New Yorker, regardless of what he or she believes, that they don’t belong in New York? I was also raised to believe in the sanctity of human life, and I will continue being an advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves, especially our unborn children."
She said only 17 percent of New Yorkers in a recent survey showed support for abortion on demand through the ninth month of pregnancy. Are these 17 percent "the only ones … welcome to live in New York?" she asked.
Margaret Wagner, 49, of the Far Rockaway Republican Club, told the crowd Cuomo’s remarks "terrified me."
"No one has the right to dictate the options of others especially when it comes to moral questions," she said, adding that the governor was setting "a dangerous precedent."
"It’s anathema to a democratic society founded on the principle of equality with basic freedoms protected by public officials and governors swearing" to uphold the U.S. Constitution, Wagner said.
Copyright (c)2014 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS – 3211 Fourth St NE – Washington DC 20017 – 202.541.3250