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Protesters turn up the heat in spirited give-and-take

Fracking. The New York SAFE Act. Abortion. The Moreland Commission. Education.

The protesters arrived in droves outside WNED’s headquarters in downtown Buffalo hours before Wednesday evening’s New York gubernatorial debate, looking to get their voices heard and their signs seen.

But unlike many of his past appearances in Buffalo, this time Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had reinforcements.

And that set up an often-heated dichotomy between Cuomo supporters, many of whom were represented by local unions, and other protesters who oppose some of the governor’s policies on a range of issues.

“Cuomo’s gotta go” was the rallying cry from those opposing the incumbent governor’s quest for a second term. “To Albany,” shot back his supporters.

Alternating chants of “four more years” and “no more years” was another frequent exchange.

Signs included: “Frack is Whack.” “The SAFE Act does not keep you safe.” “Cuomo’s Got to Go.” And, a young boy holding a sign stating “Thank You Gov. Cuomo for helping me have a future in WNY.”

“This is democracy in action,” said Jim Rosenbeck, a member of the Genesee County Libertarian Party supporting candidate Michael McDermott. “People should have the opportunity to express their opinion.”

Express it they did – for about two hours.

Rosenbeck said he was “embarrassed by the current (Cuomo) administration” and finds the “two-party system objectionable.” That’s what brought him out Wednesday.

Others, including Joel Zarpentine of Holley and Shawn Lembke of Middleport, traveled to downtown Buffalo to object to the Cuomo-led SAFE Act.

“I don’t do this for myself, I do it for all the others across New York State,” Zarpentine said, carrying a bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me Flag.”

Kathy Scarpinski called the governor’s support for late-term abortion rights guarantees a case of liberty and justice being withheld from the lives of all New Yorkers.

“I find it entirely disgusting,” Scarpinski said. “And, I pray for him all the time.”

But, the numbers favoring another Cuomo administration – fueled by organized labor – eclipsed those favoring any of the other three candidates.

“He’s been good for Buffalo and for the economy in general,” said Lynne Pierce, a member of Local 1199, SEIU, who works at Women & Children’s Hospital.

Antonella Rotilio, who credits Cuomo for the attention he has given to Western New York, said supporting Cuomo just makes common sense for local residents: “What was Buffalo before Cuomo came?”

Opponents of fracking, the controversial drilling process for natural gas, who have followed Cuomo during his many local appearances over the last few years, said they are making no endorsements in the race, but would continue their push for a statewide ban.

“We expect our governor to protect the public health and safety of New Yorkers, which means adhering to the scientific research that increasingly and overwhelmingly continues to show the dangers related to fracking,” said Rita Yelda of Food & Water Watch.