The issue of whether to approve a $2.1 billion “excluded workers fund” to aid illegal immigrants as part of the state budget has set off a deep divide among liberal and moderate lawmakers, with the head of the New York state Democratic Party trying to quell a civil war.
In a rare rebuke, Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs slammed two far-left state senators — Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx and Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn — for accusing moderate Democratic suburban legislators of racism for raising questions or objections about the workers fund.
The state fund is created to aid immigrants — including those who came here illegally — who were excluded from receiving federal pandemic relief.
Jacobs, who also is chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Party, is sensitive to concerns of moderate lawmakers who serve districts with more conservative constituents than some of the so-called “woke” precincts of New York City.
“Every Democrat is united in the desire to see economic fairness, equity and equal justice under the law prevail in our society. Nonetheless, there will always be disagreements in our house over how much, how far and how fast we can go. For most elected Democrats, those differences are driven by the views of the constituencies they were elected to represent,” Jacobs said in a statement.
“To assume that one’s political disagreement with spending any amount of money — no less $2.1 billion — on a program to give undocumented, nontaxpaying, off-the-books workers a humanitarian grant is motivated by racism and not by economics is unjustified, uncalled for, unfair and unbecoming of any public official elected in a democratic system that survives on the decency of civil public discourse,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs singled out Rivera and Brisport for their “unfair public rebuke of other well-intentioned, honest and hardworking Democratic legislators who happen to disagree with them.”
The party chairman said while he respected their “passion and commitment” to help others who need help amid the pandemic, “accusing legislators who give voice to their own constituents’ legitimate concerns over how public monies are spent of racism is wrong, plain and simple.”
“It is not what this debate is about and while doing a disservice to the good works of many who confront and fight true racism every day, it damages the credibility of those who use the charge without merit to simply advance a public position — laudable or not,” Jacobs said.
“Questioning certain provisions of the ‘excluded worker bill’ does NOT make someone a racist. If we, as a party and as a nation, can no longer debate issues like that without being subjected to ad hominem attacks that unfairly question one’s motives, then Donald Trump has truly won and we are no longer a democracy. We will have become the autocracy of the bullies that he spent four years trying to make America into. And, what a shame that will be.”
During a rally for the so-called excluded workers in the capital on Monday, Rivera singled out two Assembly Democrats from Westchester, Amy Paulin and Tom Abinanti.
“I want to talk specifically to the folks that are standing against this … I want to speak specifically to Assembly member Amy Paulin and Assembly member Tom Abinanti,” he said.
“They are obviously comfortable enough standing against the whole budget process because at the end of the day … [2.1 billion] nothing compared to what these folks have given to their communities and the economy as a whole … then guess what, you don’t get to do legislation with me … if you have a bill with me, Amy Paulin and Tom Abinanti, guess what, you don’t anymore.”
Rivera added in a tweet, “I reckon there are dozens of assembly members who are not falling prey to the racist hogwash that this fund will be harmful to New Yorkers. I see no problem moving THEIR bills through my committee on this or any other day.”
Rivera dismissed Jacobs’ criticism in a tweet on Tuesday, saying, “To paraphrase the bard: The gentleman doth protest too much.”
Democratic socialist Brisport (D-Brooklyn) said at the same rally: “I will not work with legislators that enable racists.”
Some lawmakers and advocates are also on a hunger strike over the issue.
Over the weekend, Democrats who represent suburban and upstate districts “freaked out” in private Assembly and Senate conference meetings concerning budget negotiations, saying they will get slammed by constituents in their districts if they are forced to vote on the excluded workers fund that helps illegal residents working off the books and not paying taxes.
Lawmakers are expected to approve the fund despite the controversy, though they removed former prisoners from receiving aid.
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