Fulton County

Protesters in Fulton County, Albany push for reopening of ‘nonessential’ businesses

Participants express their anger and frustration over the closure’s economic impact
Protestors rally for Gov. Cuomo to re open New York State at the round-about in Broadalbin Friday, May 1, 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Protestors rally for Gov. Cuomo to re open New York State at the round-about in Broadalbin Friday, May 1, 2020.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

FULTON COUNTY — Approximately 20 protesters attended a “Rally to Free NY,” held Friday in Republican stronghold Fulton County at the roundabout where Routes 30 and 29 intersect in Vail Mills.

The event was organized by Broadalbin Town Board member Dave Bardascini, who was wearing an “F-Cuomo” facemask.

Most of the protesters wore masks and some maintained a social distance of six feet, while others clustered together. As people drove their cars and tractor trailers into the roundabout, many of them honked their horns in support of the protesters.

Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino not only said his deputies were aware of and monitoring the protest, but added that he respects the protesters’ first amendment rights to gather and express themselves. However, he said he did ask Bardascini to stay out of the center of the roundabout and to refrain from obstructing traffic.

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“We’re hoping they follow the directives with the masks and with social distancing, but if not, I don’t plan any enforcement action beyond being educational,” he said. “We’re not going to go in there and arrest people, and we have no authority anyways to arrest people for not having a mask on.”

City of Amsterdam resident Pam Swart, whose husband, retired Amsterdam firefighter Dave Swart, died after contracting COVID-19, commented on the protest after seeing social media posts about it.


“I heard there’s going to be a protest today at the round about against the governor’s rulings. Should I bring Dave’s ashes?” she asked in her social media post. “I would if I thought it would make a difference. But if they are doing this, it won’t.”

Unlike some protests in other parts of the U.S., including Michigan, none of the Vail Mills protesters were armed. However, most of them expressed varying degrees of frustration and anger in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closure of “nonessential” businesses in attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The majority of the Vail Mills protesters also said they were skeptical of the dangers posed by the virus to less densely populated parts of the state.

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“I’m a Vietnam combat veteran. We didn’t fight to be treated like this by Cuomo who thinks he’s a king,” said one man wearing a Trump hat and carrying a “Free Upstate” sign. “Upstate New York is red. We didn’t elect him, the city did. I think we should be treated differently than the city, as far as opening up businesses.”

Several protesters held American flags, while one held a yellow “Gadsden flag,” an early American flag which depicts a rattlesnake over the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Bardascini, a retired Amsterdam Police Officer, held a re-elect Donald Trump flag. He said his decision to organize the rally is not connected in any way to his duties as a Broadalbin Town Board member.

“I thought we had to do something,” Bardascini said. “I want to see upstate responsibly open up, slowly. We can go to Walmarts. We can go to lumber yards. We can go all-over, let’s responsibly go to ‘mom and pops,’ maybe even hair salons, let in one or two customers at a rip.”

The Rally to Free NY demonstration in the hamlet of Vail Mills was held in conjunction with other protests in New York state Friday, including one in Albany, all aimed at expressing the economic pain brought on by Cuomo’s shut-down orders. The protests appeared to be linked through common social media messages promoting the cause of reopening the economy, one of which was posted to the Fulton County Area News Facebook page. The information posted for the Vail Mills rally included information arguing that the fatality rate for the virus might be lower than the federal and state governments have estimated.

 

Bardascini said the information in the social media post wasn’t written by him, and that he’s not responsible for it. He followed with a statement that more people died during the 2017-18 flu season than have officially died from COVID-19, so he’s not sure what to believe.

“Wait until the numbers are done,” he said. “I mean — it’s serious — it’s nothing to sneeze at, but we need to reopen.”

Some of the signs held by protesters criticized Cuomo directly, making statements like “Cuomo Robbed My Graduation, #Justice4theclassof2020,” “Dirty Andy is a Criminal, a Murderer, a Tyrant, a Dictator, a Commie, a Scumbag” and “Free Upstate N.Y. King Cuomo.”

Last week, Cuomo said the state will use guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reopen portions of upstate New York after May 15. The key benchmark will be a decline in hospitalization rates for 14 days.

Eric Rinaldi, a village of Broadalbin resident, attended the rally Friday. He carried an American flag, a mask with the symbol of confederacy on it and a skeleton gripping crossed revolvers. On his hat was another confederate flag symbol. He said believes slavery was wrong, but he believes the U.S. Civil War was a war of “northern aggression” and he considers himself a rebel, like Robert E. Lee.

Rinaldi said he’s fearful the trillions of dollars being spent by the federal government will result in the country going bankrupt, but he welcomes the idea of New York state going bankrupt. He said he hopes the federal government doesn’t bail out the state.

“I feel for the police and firefighters, but not the teachers. The teachers I had were terrible, they taught American history with a liberal slant,” he said.

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Rinaldi said he thinks the state has “overblown” the impact of the virus, which he called “a glorified head cold.” He said he thinks the state should allow the economy to reopen, with precautions.

“I’m a reasonable person. I don’t mind protective gear. I don’t even mind the social distancing for a little while. I’ve been practicing social distancing my whole life,” he said. “To take people’s livelihoods away… Do you know how many people that are going to suffer more because of [the shut-down rules] than from what this disease is going to do?”

Kaitlyn Bardascini, age 17, attends Broadalbin-Perth High School and takes cosmetology classes at HFM BOCES. While she said she has been taking her classes online since the shut-down, she’s fearful she won’t have the practical skills necessary to pass the exam she needs to be a hairstylist. She said she can’t afford to pay for “Paul Mitchell Beauty School,” so she’s not sure what she’ll now that school buildings will not be reopening for the end of the 2019-20 academic year, which Cuomo announced Friday.

She wore an “F-Cuomo” mask, just like her father’s, at the rally.

“Tell me why I can go to Home Depot … but I can’t get an education?” she said. “I get that [schools are crowded], but people aren’t following social distancing at stores. I don’t think the risk is necessarily exaggerated, but government shouldn’t control how we handle our health.”

As of Friday, 75 Fulton County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, about 9.1 percent of the 828 people tested from that county, according to the covid19tracker.health.ny.gov website. The tracker showed 37 new people tested for the virus and 4 new positive cases.

The Fulton County Department of Public Health issued two advisories between Thursday and Friday asking people to contact the department and self quarantine for 14 days if they had been to certain locations in the county. The Thursday release asked anyone who was at the “Sand Pit” in Meco on April 24 between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. to contact the county at 518-736-5720 and to quarantine until May 9. The Friday release asked anyone who was at the Advance Auto Parts in Johnstown between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on April 26 to contact the county and quarantine until May 11.

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