Chris Churchill (Times Union)
January 8, 2018
Gary Greenberg isn't accusing Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a quid pro quo, which translates as "something for something." The activist says he gave the governor something, but got nothing.
I've written about Greenberg previously for his role as the fiercest fighter for the Child Victims Act, legislation that would eliminate the disgraceful statute of limitations for sexual-abuse crimes against children. It's a personal fight for Greenberg, who was molested in Cohoes as a child.
Watching Greenberg fight for the CVA has been like watching a man repeatedly bang his head against a wall. Each year, he and other advocates lobby hard for the legislation but fail with a state Legislature comfortable with the status quo.
Last year, though, Greenberg sincerely believed the result would be different. He thought he had the most powerful man on Albany on his side.
That would be Cuomo.
Repeating a story he relayed on Fred Dicker's WGDJ radio show, Greenberg told me he attended a fundraiser late in 2016 during which the governor pledged to fight for victims of childhood sexual abuse.
"Don't worry. I have this," Cuomo said, according to Greenberg.
A few days later, Greenberg received an email from the Cuomo campaign — a request he pay at least $15,000 to celebrate the governor's birthday at a private performance of "A Bronx Tale."
You'd have to be dumb as a rock to pay that much to see a Broadway musical, especially one that received mixed reviews. But the money wasn't about the show, of course. It was about Cuomo's re-election.
Greenberg says he felt obligated to give. He assumed it was the way to seal the deal and make Cuomo's pledge a reality.
"The way I looked at it, I couldn't say no," Greenberg said.
So he didn't. He gave $15,000.
Greenberg is not a neophyte unfamiliar with the grubby ways of Albany. He's a former Albany County legislator and a minority owner at the Vernon Downs casino. He knows how things get done in this town.
Nevertheless, Greenberg watched in shock as the CVA failed again last year. The bill sailed through the Assembly, but Sen. Majority Leader John Flanagan never allowed it to come up for a vote.
Greenberg is furious at Flanagan, a Republican, but also blames Cuomo, a Democrat. He accuses the governor of essentially breaking a promise — especially considering that big chunk of money from Greenberg's bank account.
"If was my understanding that the governor was going to push for the Child Victims Act," Greenberg said. "If you're not going to do that, don't ask for my money."
I've read some of the emails between Cuomo's campaign and Greenberg. They're icky in the way requests for money often are, but I saw nothing that hinted at a quid pro quo or anything illegal.
Also, as a Cuomo spokesman noted Monday, the governor had announced his support for the Child Victims Act long before Greenberg's donation.
Still, you can see why Greenberg felt compelled to give. He wanted the governor to flex political muscle for the bill.
Should we be relieved that big-money donors don't always get what they want?
Perhaps. But remember that what Greenberg wants is better protection for New York's children. He's not some developer looking for a tax break.
Currently, New York's statute of limitations bars child sexual-abuse victims from proceeding with civil and criminal cases once they turn 23. The limitation, among the nation's strictest, is a disgrace. It protects predators instead of children.
The Child Victims Act would remove the limitation while creating a controversial one-year window for past sexual-abuse victims to file civil lawsuits.
Richard Azzopardi, spokesman for Cuomo, on Monday said "these victims deserve justice and we continue to meet with advocates to fight for the best way to get this through the Senate."
That's great. Bravo. Hands clapping.
But the Cuomo administration said similar things last year, and the bill sputtered to its death anyhow.
Will this legislative session be any different? Can reform finally pass?
It should have new momentum after all that we've seen in recent months, after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Matt Lauer and many other powerful men. The environment has changed.
Many of the high-profile cases prove what backers of the CVA have long been saying: It often takes years for victims to come to terms with what happened to them and muster the courage to speak out.
Greenberg noted that Cuomo, facing re-election and planning a presidential campaign, may really feel national pressure to act this year.
"You want to say that you're the governor of a progressive state and you've gotten things done," Greenberg said. "Well, he hasn't gotten this done, and it's the issue of the day."