In a display of partisan politics the Binghamton City Council moved forward to a vote on a non-binding resolution to welcome Syrian refugees on December 22, 2015. This action was essentially a lame-duck act for Councilwomen Teri Rennia and Lea Webb, both of whom lose their seats on the Council as of January 1, 2016. The issue of Syrian refugees has been a hot button debate across New York State, as we noted in our article, The question of Syrian refugees hits home and leaves questions.
In September 2015, President Obama unilaterally took action to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into America. Since that time several questions have been raised on the inability to perform background checks on these refugees, as well as the known threat by terrorist organization ISIS to infiltrate these refugees. Even with those questions unanswered, Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined a minority of State Governors in publicly welcoming refugees and suggesting their placement in New York. Neither President Obama, nor Gov. Cuomo sought public comment on their decisions, in which Americans – 54% in November and 52% in December – have been recorded in polls to be against.
Taking their lead from President Obama and Gov. Cuomo, the American Civic Association (located in Binghamton, NY) submitted a resolution to welcome the Syrian refugees. Similar resolutions have been made in various cities across New York State. Recently in Utica, NY, the proposal was opposed by some Democrats with the decision made to delay a final decision until 2016. But in Binghamton Democrats pushed for an immediate answer, even as the office of Binghamton Mayor Rich David suggested waiting until 2016 when the proposal could be reviewed and reworked,
“If we wanted to pass something, which the mayor does, I think we should take our time and pass something that has all points of view and … (that) all seven members of City Council (can) contribute to.” – Deputy Mayor Jared Kraham, December 21, 2015
The November 2015 elections saw voters shift the power of the City to Republicans with a 4-3 majority in the City Council. In the very blue Democrat State of New York, the Southern Tier in which Binghamton is located took on a very Republican red stance. From the Binghamton Mayor, the City Council, Broome County Executive, 52nd district State Senator, and 22nd congressional District, all positions are held by Republicans. As such, members of the American Civic Association stated that they held little hope of passing the resolution in 2016 regardless of the statements by the Mayor’s office.
On December 9, 2015, Councilwomen Webb and Rennia (both exiting Democrats) brought the resolution before the Council, and targeted the 22nd as the date of a final vote. The American Civic Association moved quickly, and quietly, to gather signatures in petitions online and in person. While the in-person signatures were stated to be from 550 Binghamton residents, the online signatures contained approvals from people as far away as San Diego, California, in the US and even Rwanda overseas – placing doubt on the veracity of all signatures. The American Civic Association also set forth gathering more than a dozen individuals, many working for or members of the Association, to present prepared public statements for the City Council. News media coverage was sparse, with local talk radio hosts unaware of the resolution or petition just 3 days ago, and television News34 only covering the story on December 21, 2015.
For 2 hours the Binghamton City Council heard from nearly two dozen individuals. Several were from outside the Binghamton area, but were allowed to speak on the issue affecting City residents. In total, 2 people noted that the City Council lacked the legal standing to put forth the resolution as well as the resolution being inappropriate for the City Council to make a decision over. An additional 2 people presented an opposing viewpoint. The rest of the pleas were from the American Civic Association, stating that a vote in opposition was tantamount to a declaration of racism, a capitulation to fear, and a move that would stifle the economic growth potential of Binghamton. [See video of the public comments made]
In the end, with a vote of 4-3 that included Democrat Councilman Bill Berg as well as Republican Council members John Matzo, Joseph Mihalko, and Chris Papastrat, the resolution was voted down. The remaining Democrats – Jerry Motsavage, Teri Rennia, Lea Webb (all of whom will not be on the City Council in January 2016) – voted in favor of the resolution. Upon hearing the decision, members of the American Civic Association were heard shouting insults and blaming partisanship for the result – without regard for the partisanship that forced the lame-duck vote in the first place.