With the start of his administration on Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to set a new tone in Albany with a ribbon-cutting and the removal of more than 200 tons of concrete barriers on the State Street entrance to the capitol.
“This capitol has become a physical metaphor for the isolation and alienation of our people,” said Cuomo in his inaugural remarks, referring to barriers and barricades in and around the Capitol that were put in place because of heightened security. “This is the people’s meeting place and they should be invited in, and today my friends we will reopen the Capitol, literally and figuratively.”
The changes include the removal of 29 concrete barricades that were erected on State Street during the administration of Gov. George Pataki and the opening of the second floor of the Capitol, which had previously been mostly closed to the public. The barriers on State Street have been a nuisance and an eyesore since they were put in place and the restrictions on movement on the second floor, which is the governor’s floor, have hindered access by reporters and the public.
Referring to the changes, Cuomo said, “It is a symbol of a new approach, to reconnect with people, to build back trust and defeat the power of special interest with the power of the people.”
According to a spokesman for the governor, the executive order to remove the barriers was the product of continuous discussions with the state police, as there were concerns over safety. The removal, which was done by Department of Transportation employees, was paid for by Cuomo’s campaign funds.
In commemoration of the opening of the second floor, Cuomo cut a ribbon stretched across a doorway that in the past was guarded by an officer from the state police. “Cutting the ribbon is symbolic of opening up the second floor,” said Cuomo.
Assemblyman Bob Reilly, D-Clifton Park, who attended the governor’s open house at the Executive Mansion, said the symbols of the day were good, but needed to be accompanied with more substantive measures that would really reflect the theme of openness.
Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said the gesture was meaningful and suggested that it should be followed by the removal of economic barriers that are crushing New Yorkers. “I totally support the metaphor,” said Tedisco, with the understanding that it’s not going to create one new job.
Referring to Cuomo’s advocacy for increased access to the Capitol, he said, “Let them into the economy also.”
Cuomo described the symbolic gestures of his first day in office as having the effect of removing a veil of secrecy that previously surrounded Albany and said now he needs the people to join in.
“The people aren’t engaged, and that’s going to have to change,” he said. “If there is a silver bullet in the barrel to recapture Albany, it is the re-engagement of our citizens.”
The importance of symbols was not echoed throughout the administration, though, with Cuomo's secretary Steve Cohen saying that Saturday was not about metaphors.
Workers began removing the barriers early in the morning on New Year’s Day, with Cuomo supervising the removal of the final barrier shortly after his inaugural address in the early afternoon. He thanked workers for giving up their holiday and lamented the fact that he couldn’t help them.
Here is the Executive Order:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed an Executive Order, the first of his administration, removing physical barriers erected in and around the New York State Capitol in order to give the public greater access to their government. As a result of the Executive Order, a series of concrete barriers stretching the length of the Capitol along State Street will be immediately removed
The order also reopens the Hall of Governors on the second floor of the Capitol to the public. The Hall, where many of the executive chamber offices are located, has been closed to the public since 1995.
"This is more than just a symbolic gesture, this literally reopens areas of the Capitol building that have been closed to the public for years," Governor Cuomo said. "In order to restore faith and trust in government, we have to tear down barriers that have excluded people from the governing process. Today we take the first step in that effort."
When I came to the Capitol on Wednesday I realized that the 3rd floor Majority offices were also open to the public. Here is the video of Leader Skelos opening the way for more openness.