ALBANY — The organizers of a petition to block the naming of the Tappan Zee replacement bridge for former Gov. Mario Cuomo are disputing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s assertion that the effort is motivated by political hate.
“I have never met Andrew Cuomo or his late father, Mario, may he rest in peace,” said the creator of the petition, lawyer Monroe Mann of Port Chester. “I have nothing personally against either man.”
The petition now has grown to more than 80,000 names, organizers say.
Mann said his intent is to preserve the Tappan Zee name, a local point of pride for some, which combines the name of a local Native American tribe and the Dutch word for sea.
“I never thought of myself as an activist, but I guess that’s what this is: It’s an activist movement to preserve history,” Mann said. “The idea that this is a political campaign to tarnish Mario Cuomo’s name or Andrew Cuomo’s name is simply not true. I really don’t want the governor to take offense at the petition. It’s not about him or his father.”
Cuomo had claimed the effort was hatched by Republican and conservative enemies of his, and by the Mercer family of Long Island, which has become known as supporters of conservative causes and President Donald Trump.
The petition by Mann, who identifies himself as a lawyer, Iraq war vet, author, actor and film maker, is carried by the online petition site Change.org.
“We know of no connection with the Mercer family,” said Joshunda Sanders, director of communications at North American Change.org USA-New York.
Last week, Cuomo singled out billionaire Robert Mercer and “haters of the world” during “very ugly political times” as being behind the effort. A Cuomo aide cited the website Reclaim New York — which bills itself as nonpartisan and opines on public policy — which has promoted the petition on its site. Rebekah Mercer, Robert’s daughter, is the chairwoman and director of Reclaim New York, although a spokesman for Reclaim New York denied it helped create the petition drive.
”It’s clear as day that this billionaire’s sham right-wing Astroturf group has been promoting and pushing this as their cause,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. He didn’t respond to statements by Change.org and Mann that they aren’t part of a concerted political effort.
It’s unlikely the petition will take Mario Cuomo’s name off the newly opened bridge. The naming was supported by Cuomo and the Legislature in a deal struck late in the session, after the Senate had initially named the bridge for Purple Heart veterans. There is no formal initiative-and-referendum option for citizens under state law, but the petition drive could seek support from legislators to repeal the measure.
Legislators and Cuomo face re-election in 2018.
As for Mann’s politics, state Board of Elections records show he has made only two contributions: $50 in 2011 to a judge candidate endorsed by both major parties and $75 in 2010 to a political action committee for lawyers.
“I think the petition has spread simply through passion, anger, frustration, and the love my petition signers have for New York and its rich history,” Mann said.