July 20-Aug. 2, 2006
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Vice President Cheney guest at GOP fundraiser
UTICA — An estimated 200-plus people gathered in Liberty Bell Park in Utica Friday, July 16, to protest an appearance by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney at the Hotel Utica.
Cheney was visiting the Mohawk Valley city in order to support New York State Sen. Ray Meier, who is running for a seat in the U.S. congress as a representative from the 24th district.
The protesters represented a broad base of opposition to Cheney and the administration he represents. According to a recent Gallup poll, Cheney’s approval rating was as low as 20 percent, lower than the worst approval rating suffered by former president Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
Among those on hand to demonstrate against the vice president were representatives from the AFL-CIO, Pax Christi’s Utica branch, the Green Party and an Ithaca-based branch of the International Socialist Organization. Accompanying such organizations were many individuals simply opposed to the administration and its policies. Several protesters wore costumes. A handful wore outfits resembling those of Guantanamo prisoners, while others sported Dick Cheney and George W. Bush masks despite the heat.
Across the street from the park, a small contingent of Young Republicans and other administration supporters gathered under a blazing sun to welcome the vice president. Maryangela Scalzo, a parishioner from St. Mary of Mt. Carmel, was among those who had gathered to support Cheney. “It’s an honor that he’s coming here. It shows how important this congressional district is,” she said, echoing sentiments from many commentators who have pointed out that the 24th district is considered critical for a Republican party determined to maintain control of congress. She also said that the gathering of supporters was less of a counter-demonstration against those gathered across the street than a show of support for the beleaguered vice president. Marlene Faroni, a parishioner from Holy Family in Vernon, was unaffiliated with any of the organizations represented at the demonstration. Although her history in activism is limited, Faroni said she is galvanized by the current war in Iraq. She compared President George Bush to the very dictator the war in Iraq deposed saying, “He allegedly reads the bible but he doesn’t practice what’s in it.”
Activist Jeff Miller said that the coalition’s loose structure reflected the short span of time organizers had to assemble the demonstration. Activists had just one week to organize the demonstration. He said that the coalition was comprised largely of “friends, neighbors and co-workers.”
“I’m impressed with what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short period of time,” he said. Miller said the goal of the demonstration was, “To shine a light on the long path of lies that follows Dick Cheney wherever he goes.”
Miller was among many of the demonstrators who echoed comments by Meier’s Democratic opponent, Michael Arcuri, who told several regional newspapers that he believes Cheney’s appearance damages Meier’s election efforts. “I can’t believe that anyone, Ray Meier included, would think that bringing Dick Cheney here would help him,” Miller said. A veteran activist and a member of the Utica branch of Pax Christi, Cynthia Banas, was on hand to demonstrate specifically against the war in Iraq. Through the Delegation of the Fifth Christian Conference Calling for the Lifting of Sanctions, Banas spent one year in Iraq in 2001. She went again from October, 2002 through April, 2003 through Voices in the Wilderness.
“There is so much suffering and death and this has to stop,” she said. Father Fred Daley, the former pastor of the recently closed St. Francis de Sales Church in the Cornhill area in Utica, was among those who spoke at the event. Father Daley addressed the many interests represented among the protesters. “All people of good will must come together and say no to evil, no to war and no to the policies that denigrate and separate people,” he said.
Another St. Mary of Mt. Carmel parishioner and Young Republican, Anne Giacovelli, noted that the demonstration across the street was well within the rights of the participants.
“I think everyone has a right to an opinion and they can show it in the voting booth,” she said. Cheney’s appearance netted $200,000 for Meier’s congressional campaign. Tickets for the reception were $150 apiece and attendees were able to have their picture taken with the vice president for $1,000.
During Cheney’s speech, a Peace Potluck Dinner was held at St. Francis de Sales Parish Hall. Attendees were asked to contribute $2 and men wore paper black ties, a gesture lampooning the formal affair transpiring at the Hotel Utica.