Reopening slowly and the state Senate meets remotely

NYPD officers arrest a protester in Union Square during a rally responding to the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police.
NYPD officers arrest a protester in Union Square during a rally responding to the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police.
NYPD officers arrest a protester in Union Square during a rally responding to the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police.

Reopening slowly and the state Senate meets remotely

Rounding up the week’s political news.
May 29, 2020

We haven’t heard much from former New York City Transit President Andy Byford since he departed New York for greener pastures. It was a messy breakup after a toxic relationship; it makes sense that he would take some time for himself. But after three months, he’s ready to move on. Byford has returned home to England to be London’s Train Daddy. Though he'll be missed by his adoring fans across the pond, to London, we simply say: treat him well. Keep reading for the rest of this week’s news.

State Legislature meets again

After nearly two months of remaining on the sidelines during the coronavirus crisis, the state Legislature reconvened a mostly remote session to pass a slew of coronavirus-related bills. It was the first time meeting since the Legislature passed the state budget at the beginning of April. Over the course of three days, both chambers passed more than 30 bills, most of which related to the coronavirus response. They included several rent relief measures, including a limited voucher program for landlords with tenants who are facing financial hardships and an extended eviction moratorium that forbids landlords from ever evicting tenants for rent payments missed during the pandemic. Tenant advocates strongly denounced the voucher bill, calling it “totally inadequate.” Lawmakers also passed a bill extending the look-back window for one year to file lawsuits under the Child Victims Act. The original yearlong window to bring lawsuits regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred was set to end in August, but many cases were not able to be heard due to the pandemic halting most court activity. And in what turned out to be a slightly contentious matter, legislators repealed a nearly 200-year-old law that made it illegal for groups of two or more people to wear masks in public. Notably, many Republican state senators who made the trek to the Capitol chose not to wear masks on camera.

Reopening continues

It has been two weeks since five upstate New York regions entered the first phase of reopening, and because those areas haven’t experienced any red flags, upstate leaders expected more businesses to begin reopening on Friday. But as the day grew nearer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stayed mum on the issue, sowing confusion and frustration. The next phase includes the return of office jobs, in-store shopping at retailers and limited hair salon service. The delay left many upstate leaders fuming, and some even said they would encourage businesses to reopen regardless of the governor’s directive. However, Cuomo announced on Friday that those five upstate regions had the green light to move forward to the second phase of reopening. Meanwhile, two of the state’s most populous regions, the mid-Hudson Valley and Long Island, entered the first phase of reopening last week, leaving only New York City closed now. But Cuomo said that the city is on track to begin the first phase on June 8. Mayor Bill de Blasio began laying out some preliminary plans for reopening.

Protests erupt after police-involved death

Protests erupted across the country after the police-involved death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in Minneapolis after a police officer put a knee into his neck while placing him under arrest on the suspicion of using counterfeit money. Grimly reminiscent of Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island in 2014, among Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” Although the officers involved in the incident were fired, so far only one is facing criminal charges. In Minneapolis, thousands of Black Lives Matter activists and others took to the streets at various protests, some of which turned violent. For several nights, the city was burning, including when protesters set fire to a police precinct. In New York City, at least 70 people were arrested at a Union Square protest over Floyd’s death. The New York City Police Department said that several of its officers were assaulted, including one who was hit over the head with a garbage can. The same day that Floyd died, an unrelated racist incident sparked outrage in the city: A white woman was filmed calling the police on a black man who asked her to put a leash on her dog in Central Park, falsely claiming that he was threatening her, and repeatedly specifying that he was “an African American man.” Observers noted that while the man, Christian Cooper, walked away from that encounter, there was the possibility that he could have ended up like Floyd if officers had shown up. The woman, Amy Cooper (no relation), was fired from her job after the video went viral.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.