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Cuomo speaks at Democrats' fundraiser in Holbrook; protesters outside attack Common Core, school tax cap

Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at the Suffolk County

Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at the Suffolk County Democratic Committee Dinner at the Villa Lombardi on Monday, April 28, 2014. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo headlined the Suffolk Democrats' spring dinner Monday night, which drew a record crowd of 550 inside Villa Lombardi's.

But outside the Holbrook catering hall, more than 2,000 chanting, placard-carrying protesters attacked the governor's stands on everything from the Common Core academic standards and gun rights to fracking and hurricane relief.

The bulk of the protesters were local public schoolteachers and parents from both Nassau and Suffolk -- and some from as far as Hastings on the Hudson in Westchester County -- who criticized Cuomo for implementation of the Common Core standards, and the 2 percent tax cap for severely damaging local schools.

"We are the children's advocates and we will not allow these people to abuse our children," said Beth Ziff-Dimino, president of the Comsewogue Teachers Association.

Police had no estimates of the crowd that lined sidewalks up and down Holbrook's Main Street for a quarter-mile, at places five and six people deep, and spilled onto the side street north of the catering complex. Protesters chanted, drivers honked their horns in support and leaders with megaphones tried to persuade those entering not to go in.

But inside, Cuomo made no mention in his speech of the protests. He spoke about his record, touting the state's job creation and efforts to rein in property taxes. "Property taxes are the most serious tax in the state and they are doing the most damage," said Cuomo, explaining that his property-tax cap and rebates planned for next year will keep people from leaving the state. "More jobs now exist in the state than have ever existed before."

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, vowed that the county will deliver Cuomo a big turnout in November, and later downplayed the impact of the protest. He noted the event had a record crowd that brought in $410,000. "Anytime you have serious issues there are always going to be people who disagree," he said.

The protest also affected those who went inside. "I was very uncomfortable," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), calling it "the biggest demonstration" he's seen in a long time.

He said he was impressed with the demonstrators' fervor, but said, "I felt I get more done inside than standing outside."

However, one Suffolk legislator, Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), who also runs with Democratic support, said that as a longtime union activist she did not feel comfortable crossing picket lines.

Beyond teachers and parents, 100 to 200 gun owners protested Cuomo's Safe Act, including one holding an oversized placard showing a colonial patriot in a tri-corner hat with an automatic rifle. "I'm here to protect my Second Amendment rights," said Sal Thiem of Wantagh. "This just shows there are a lot of people unhappy with the governor."

Michelle Mittleman, who had lived in Freeport until superstorm Sandy moved her to rented quarters in Westbury, said the governor has been too slow with helping victims, noting her 11-year-old son has been "sleeping in a walk-in closet for months."

Other protesters were there to support passage of medical marijuana legislation and to oppose hydraulic fracturing, a form of drilling for natural gas.

"Mission accomplished," said Tony Felicio, president of the Connetquot Teachers Association who led the protest, estimating local unions turned out 2,000 to 3,000 protesters. Felicio also warned the event is just "a warm up" for next month, when Suffolk hosts the state Democratic convention.

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