As told by Sally McMahon and Costa Kokkinos
The New York Health Act would create a single-payer healthcare system for New York state, offsetting any damaging healthcare bills that might be passed at the national level by Trump and the congressional Republicans. The bill, which has 108 sponsors in both legislative houses, has passed the State Assembly and must now get out of committee in the State Senate to come to a floor vote; the legislative session ends on June 21. You can read the bill here.
State Senator Marty Golden, who has represented Bay Ridge and many other neighborhoods in the senate for more than fourteen years, is on the body’s health committee. After six weeks of communication with his office, constituent–activists finally met with Golden on the afternoon of May 25 to ask him to support the bill, including Sarah Zorn; Sally McMahon, organizer for Fight Back Bay Ridge; and Costa Kokkinos, organizer for South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance. Golden agreed to be quoted.
Both Costa and I were very clear about who were were and that we each represented more than 400 members. Even though Costa repeatedly called the office to ensure that we were meeting with Senator Golden, when we arrived, he was not there.
We arrived at the meeting on time and spoke with senior adviser Jeffrey Kraus, who told us that the senator stepped out of office without informing Kraus of his destination, and may be back in a few minutes. We and Mr. Kraus exchanged ideas around the NYHA. After 40 minutes, Senator Golden arrived and joined the meeting.
He barely apologized for his 40-minute lateness; instead, he dismissed us with, “You know how it is…”
The senator characterized NYHA as “a bad bill” and shared his major concerns: that he believes Washington should act first on single-payer, and that the bill as written would have a tremendous effect on New York’s industries and economy, which may do more harm than good, and he doesn’t want to take the risk of its being “bad policy.” When pressed about whether it was safe or smart to wait for Congress to decide about healthcare accessibility for New York residents, Kraus admitted, “What’s going on in Washington is insane,” but still insisted that New York needed to wait and see what Washington decides on healthcare before taking action in the state legislature.
When asked to what degree the bill is being discussed within members of the health committee, Senator Golden said, “I cannot honestly tell you that I am discussing this bill” with fellow senators, and “I believe we can’t do anything without the federal government acting first.” When asked if he would put the bill to a vote in the Senate health committee this legislative session, he said it would be “a waste of time” to do so. When asked why Republicans and Democrats in the State Senate have not worked together in the 19 years since the NYHA was first introduced, to edit the bill and address concerns brought up by Senator Golden and Kraus, the senator had no substantial reply.
After 10 minutes of discussion with Senator Golden, he began to get agitated and aggressive. He interrupted female organizers at the table, speaking over them on multiple occasions. When Sarah shared that she was scared for the health of her husband, who has a preexisting condition that costs their family $58,00o per month in pharmaceutical expenses, Senator Golden outright dismissed her fears of losing health insurance coverage, stating curtly, “You’ll be okay. That’s not going to happen.” He then waved his arm to signal he was done with Sarah’s concerns, and shouted, “Next!”
I pressed him that it certainly was going to happen, and he kept repeating to me, “Not going to happen.”
His behavior both before and in the meeting would would be understandable for a junior senator and novice politician meeting with constituents in opposition to his ideology, but Marty Golden has represented South Brooklyn since 2002 [in the Senate; he was elected to the City Council in 1998]. In the meeting, Senator Golden showed us he has no regard and no respect for ideas that do not match with his own.
He showed us a side of Marty that he doesn’t let out at his Easter egg hunts and summer concerts. He showed us his fearful side, his angry side and his disrespectful side. His ideas are rooted in a false façade of fiscal conservatism that is scared of its own shadow and lashes out in anger, or runs away, when confronted with a fiscally conservative bill that will save the state billions of dollars, and provide health insurance access to all 20 million residents of the state of New York.
Marty listed the need to take into account all stakeholders, and listed insurance companies as stakeholders. I asked him to hold a Town Hall to address health care concerns, and he said, “No, that doesn’t benefit me.” I said, “It benefits your constituents.” And he responded, “But it doesn’t benefit me.”
On May 31, Fight Back Bay Ridge and South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance organized a rally outside Golden’s district office, on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. About 150 people attended.
Although Marty told us at the [May 25] meeting that he would be busy in Manhattan that day, and couldn’t come out to speak to the crowd, he was spotted in a tracksuit with a giant American eagle on the back around 3pm. He later went to make a speech in support of John Quaglione [his aide, running for city council]. Additionally, the office was supposed to close at 6pm, but they scuttled away at 5.
Instead of in front of Marty’s office, we were put on the very hot, sunny side of the street—next to giant piles of garbage.
Marty Golden proved us wrong. We believed he was a nice guy that could be spoken with respectfully. We designed the NYHA Rally to have a theme of kind appeal, asking Golden, “Will you be our Healthcare Hero?” After meeting with him, and feeling his disrespect and sexism first-hand, it’s clear he’s not the hero we need.
We need new leadership, and on November 6, 2018, we will vote in a new state senator to represent progressive ideals that enable and encourage innovation in, and leadership from, New York State legislature. We need a Healthcare Hero to take back his seat on November 6—someone that will promise to bring single-payer to our state, and begin the national transition to a healthier and more cost-effective universal healthcare system that’s focused more on saving lives and reducing premiums than shaving costs and increasing profits for insurance companies.
From the thousands of organized progressive activists to you, reading this article: Who will be our healthcare hero?
The most effective way to reach out to Senator Golden and express your opinion is by phone, whether at his district office, (718) 238-6044, or his Albany office, (518) 455-2730. Find out other ways to contact him here.