Hundreds of death penalty opponents, led by Gov. Cuomo and the daughter of slain U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, rallied Tuesday at the State Capitol to protest efforts to reinstate capital punishment in the state.
And Cuomo pledged to the 400 demonstrators at the rally organized by Amnesty International that he would sacrifice his prerogative of granting executive clemency to life prisoners if the State Legislature would pass his proposal of life in prison without parole as an alternative to capital punishment.
"This governor does not want to be the person to bring back to the great state of New York the biggest mistake we ever made," Cuomo said to cheers. "Everybody but South Africa and the Soviet Union have given up on the death penalty," he said in reference to industrialized nations.
The demonstration was called in anticipation of a legislative attempt to override Cuomo's March 20 veto of the death penalty, the seventh time he has rejected an execution measure. Assembly supporters of capital punishment believe they have the best chance in years of overriding him, just one short of the necessary 100 votes.
Although the Republican-controlled State Senate has exactly the necessary number of votes, leaders have held off on taking the measure to the floor, because one death-penalty supporter, Sen. James Donovan, R-Chadwicks, is undergoing treatment for cancer and is not expected back in Albany until mid-June or later.
Kerry Kennedy, 29, recalled that her father, a U.S. senator from New York when he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan while on the presidential campaign trail, built a career as a tough-on-crime prosecutor before becoming U.S. attorney general and still opposed the death penalty.
"Let's disassemble the electric chair," she said. "Let's shut down the gas chambers, let's throw away the needles. They won't bring back my father. They'll just take someone else's."
New York is one of 13 states that does not allow the death penalty.
Legislative supporters of the death penalty were pleased that attendance at the rally was less than expected, noting another protest by landlords one hour earlier drew at least twice the crowd.
Assemblyman Vincent Graber, D-West Seneca, said he expects 4,000 to 5,000 police and other law enforcement officers to gather here June 12 for a pro-death penalty rally.
Graber and Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, laughed off Cuomo's challenge to put the death penalty bill on the floor immediately so Donovan's absence could kill the override attempt. "The governor's not a member of the Legislature," Volker said. "He did his thing. Now, I'll do mine."