Goodell accused of racist language
Several times in his floor debate over a bill to change the state’s public assistance system, Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, used phrases like “real world” or “working world.”
At least one member of the Assembly thought Goodell’s choice of words was tinged with racism — and his consternation touched off a lengthy and contentious debate on the Assembly floor. While Assemblyman Charles Barron, D-New York City, never actually called Goodell a racist, he did say that Goodell’s words were racist.
“It never ceases to amaze me, the condescending, disrespectful manner in which they talk about people receiving Social Services,” Barron said on the Assembly floor on June 5. “How dare you say that in the real work world, like theirs is fake. That’s insulting and racist and I believe that they say these things …”
AN ARGUMENT ENSUES
At that point, Goodell stood up to make a point of order, though Barron kept talking and criticizing Goodell for trying to make the point of order. While Acting Speaker Michael Blake, D-Bronx, was asking Goodell why he was rising to speak when he hadn’t been recognized, Assemblywoman Crystal People-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said Goodell was allowed to rise. Under Rule 5, Section 6, paragraph b of the Assembly rules, arguments are prohibited that question in any way the character, motive or attribute of any members, directly or indirectly. Goodell asked that the debate be focused on the merits of the bill and not a characterization of a member or their comments. Blake gave the reminder, but Barron pressed on.
“I didn’t call him a racist,” Barron said after Blake’s reminder. “What he said was racist.”
Peoples-Stokes sided with Barron, saying she believed he was speaking on the merits of the bill.
“Mr. Speaker, I — with all due respect to my colleague, I do think that Mr. Barron was speaking on the merits of the bill. Sometimes you have to create this kind of legislation to combat the attempts of others that are instituting racist policy. So, it wasn’t directed at a person or a member, it is about the content of the bill and its value in removing some of the dialogue that comes out of policy that is administered in a way that is not fair to all people of all races. And so, I would also remind my colleague, Mr. Barron, that um… in order for us to really have good communications in our chamber, opportunities to remind people of things that perhaps they don’t want to be reminded of doesn’t bode for good conversation. And so, I – I think if we can, you know, really just keep even-keeled. This is good legislation that Ms. Hunter has put forward. If it clearly can work in New York City, it can work in New York state. And so, I hope at the end of this conversation, we all are voting yes for this really good piece of legislation that will promote not just good spirit, but offer good policies for the citizens that we all represent across the state of New York.”
Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-Geneva and Assembly minority leader, then rose, angry over the type of language that was being used in the debate over the public assistance legislation. At one point in Kolb’s attempt to make his point, he said, “We’re going to have a problem,” which prompted Barron to ask, “Are you threatening?”
Goodell then rose, again, saying there had been no discussion prior to Barron’s comment about racism, though Barron disagreed, saying, “Yes, it has.” Blake said Barron could continue because his comments had not been directed specifically at any specific member of the Assembly. Goodell continued interrupting in an attempt to ask for an appeal of Blake’s ruling.
Peoples-Stokes chided Goodell to stop interrupting Barron while also asking Barron to complete his remarks without using language that would upset Goodell, Kolb or Assemblyman Andrew Raia, R-East Northport, who had at that point joined the fray.
“My mission in life, there’s nothing I could say to not upset them,” Barron said. “And so, I no longer try. And it’s not about him — it’s about me not allowing coded racist ideas to proceed without addressing them. And when you speak of us in some work world that is not the real world, then you’re talking something very negative about people who don’t want to be on Social Services. This bill stops them from punishing them for missing a time at work. We would love to have an opportunity to be in the workplace and not have to be on welfare at all. But we live under a racist …”
At that point, Goodell rose again requesting the floor to speak on an appeal. Blake said Goodell had such a right, though Barron wasn’t happy with the ruling.
“If he ain’t going to play by the rules, I’m not,” Barron said. “You can’t have him interrupting every time talking about something he’s read out of some rules. This is interrupting me. I would have been finished by now.”
Blake then gave Goodell he time he is allowed under Assembly rules to discuss his opposition to Blake’s ruling. Goodell said his comments on the legislation had been focused on the process the state should undertake to get public assistance recipients into job training programs and if the Democrats’ legislation would be too onerous on local Social Services departments.
Additionally, Goodell pointed to the makeup of Chautauqua County, which Goodell said is 91 percent caucasian.
“It has nothing to do with whether you’re white, black, brown, whether you’re Hispanic, whether you’re English, whether you’re Russian,” Goodell said. “It doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with that. It has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with racism. So, when a member of this Assembly stands up and talks about the merits of a bill, a bill that affects, in my county, almost exclusively white, Anglo-Saxon Americans, to stand up and accuse that member’s comments of being racist and try to hide behind the fact that you didn’t name that member because, as though we didn’t know he’s the only member that spoke on it, like that’s some sort of smokescreen that we can hide behind, leads all of us in this chamber down a rat hole. Instead of focusing on the merits of a bill and talking about whether it’s good or bad or whether it helps our residents or not, whether — instead of focusing on whether it moves the state of New York forward, we slide down that role of calling names and comments, derogatory terms, and racism is one of them. And no one’s comments on this floor should be accused of being racist or sexist or any other derogatory term when the focus of that discussion is on the merits of the bill. And we all should feel free to stand up and – and speak our convictions about a bill. Whether it’s good or bad, whether it helps our society move forward or not, without having our comments characterized incorrectly as being racist or any other mischaracterization.”
Goodell said Republicans in the Assembly had worked to avoid name-calling and attacking people for things they’ve said during debates. That is different from past legislative sessions, Goodell said, where members were attacked for their competence, intelligence and understanding of legislation. Goodell also pointed to his role as a floor leader, as assistant pro tem, to see members working cooperatively and professionally while focusing the Assembly’s work on the legislation at hand rather than personal attacks.
“Where we’re suggesting that if you don’t agree with us you’re racist, or a flaming liberal, or a radical conservative, or any other derogatory name you can think of,” Goodell said. “We all have that list because we all have been called those names one time or another by our opponents or people that are not well-constrained or professional. So, the choice my friend, today, is it acceptable on the floor of this Assembly for a discussion that has nothing to do with race, to be accused of racism? I’m personally offended, and each of you should be as well.”
Members applauded after Goodell’s closing.
“And, therefore, I believe, the member’s comments that suggests that any discussion about improving the way we deal with people to help them leave poverty is in any way motivated by racism, let me tell you this: My comments about how we can improve helping people get out of poverty is because I want to help people get out of poverty,” Goodell said. “I want them to maximize their benefits. I want them to move forward in life. That’s my focus. It’s not racism. It’s not sexism. It’s none of those other isms. I’m focused solely on what we can do, the best way we can work together as Republicans, as Democrats, as Liberals and Conservatives, to help the people in poverty improve their lives. That’s my focus. I hope that’s your focus. And I hope nobody in this room thinks that doing the best we can do to help people who are in poverty improve their lives is racism.”