Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NOW NY State in the news re: Monserrate

Legislative Gazette, Albany, NY
Women's rights groups say judge went too easy on Sen. Monserrate
By Elyse Ann Mickalonis

December 14, 2009
After New York state Supreme Court Justice William M. Erlbaum announced his decision on Dec. 4 to sentence a Queens' senator to three years probation for assaulting his girlfriend, women's rights groups say they are disappointed.

They are now awaiting the decision of the Senate's committee of special inquiry's investigation of the senator, hoping he will be forced from the legislature's upper house by Democratic colleagues.

Hiram Monserrate, D-Queens, was acquitted in October of felony charges which would have forced him to give up his seat in the Senate. Due to his misdemeanor conviction, he could have spent a year in prison, but received probation for assaulting his girlfriend — a move Marcia Pappas, the president of the National Organization for Women-New York state, did not agree with.

"We think it would have done him some good to sit in jail for a year to think about what he did," Pappas said, "but we hope the special Senate committee takes action and does the right thing and expels Monserrate."

On Oct. 20, Senate Democratic Conference Leader John L. Sampson, D-Manhattan, created the special committee of inquiry on Monserrate. It is chaired by Sen. Eric T. Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, and made up of Andrew J. Lanza, R-Staten Island, a former chair of the Senate Ethics Committee; John J. Flanagan, R-East Northport, a former chair of the Senate Ethics Committee; James S. Alesi, R-Perinton, a former chair of the Senate Ethics Committee; Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean; Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon; Diane J. Savino, D-Staten Island; Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers; and Toby A. Stavisky, D-Queens.

"Initially we were outraged, but you know we have to accept the judge's decision and we said, 'Well, at this point we have to move forward and try to convince the committee to do the right thing,'" Pappas said. "We know that many of the people on that committee care about the safety of women and we hope they will put their money where their mouth is and expel Monserrate."

NOW-NYS, along with advocates for the New Agenda, a women's rights organization, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee, an organization "dedicated to building a new generation of pro-choice Democratic women leaders in New York state," wrote a letter to Sampson spelling out their concerns with Monserrate continuing to serve in the Senate.

The letter was accessible via each group's Web site for people to sign as a petition. The petition was hand-delivered to the committee members by Pappas on Nov. 23 in the state Capitol.

"We've received lots of emails from women that are very concerned and outraged and are asking what they can do to help, to make sure that Monserrate does not stay in the Senate," Pappas said. "At this point the only thing we can tell them is that they have to keep calling their senators, calling the special committee to make it known to the Senate that they think it's wrong for him to stay."

Amy Siskind, president of The New Agenda, said she was upset with the way Monserrate's case had been handled.

"The judge's decision is disappointing," Siskind said, "but the main point for us is that he is a public figure and he needs to step down immediately and we're hopeful that the Senate panel will continue to deliberate and that, that will be their conclusion."

"If not, we plan to stay active along with other women's organizations around the state," Siskind added.

Although Siskind was disappointed with the judge's decision, she did agree with part of it.

"The judge is right in terms of giving him some counseling and community service,"

Siskind said. "He should serve that as a citizen, but not as a public figure."

"Whether he's guilty of a misdemeanor or felony assault, he's not fit to be in public light," she said, adding that whatever the special committee decides could set an example for "not only the politicians," but "people at large."

Pappas said she has not received any word from the senators regarding the petitions she delivered.

"All I can say is, I hope they've read it and I hope they're paying attention and we can go from there," Pappas said. "We're never confident that these legislators are going to make the right decision, that's why we feel we have to keep speaking out and express what women are really feeling."

"So many women are feeling that he needs to go, but they don't have that venue to convey that," Pappas said. "That's why we're here."

Siskind agreed.

"We've submitted it [the letter] to the senators and we're continuing to monitor the situation and what the senators are doing," Siskind said. "We're just waiting for the news of what their decision will be and obviously they know where all the multiple organizations that are in here stand."

"We're waiting for what the Senate will come up with," Siskind added.

Pappas agreed and said the committee's decision could provide hope for constituents.

"I think this is a chance for this committee to show the voters out there that they have the ability to make the decision on what is right for women and not just what is going to get them reelected," Pappas said

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