Croton Man Arrested at Galef Town Meeting After Disruptive Conduct

Assemblywoman gets belligerent queries on finances

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Putnam County Sheriff’s Department officers on Saturday morning (Feb. 2) arrested a Westchester County man who disrupted a public “town meeting” with New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and, when asked to leave, refused to stop shouting out belligerent comments or deriding others in the room with such terms as “stooge” and “dog.”

Sheriff’s department personnel later identified the individual arrested as Edward Riley, who earlier in the meeting had refused to give his name to Philipstown.info. Galef said that Riley, a Croton resident, regularly comes to her forums. Riley and about two dozen other members of the public attended one of two meetings Galef held on Saturday at the Desmond-Fish Library, in Garrison.

The incidents leading to the arrest began several minutes into the hour-long question-and-answer session when Riley, one of a number of attendees who in turn asked questions, began pressing Galef for information on her total salary, per diem pay, staff budget, details of benefit plans, and other financial data related to her as a member of the State Assembly or her office aides. “You’ve been in office 20 years and you don’t know” the overall amount of money she gets from the Assembly, he said.

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef addresses the audience on Saturday. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef addresses the audience on Saturday. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

Galef responded that she gets $79,500 as a basic salary, like all State Assembly members, plus another $12,500 for committee work, but did not have the per diem information at her immediate disposition to add to the total. (Per diem payments also can differ from legislator to legislator or year to year, depending on days spent at the State Assembly.) She also said information on per diem stipends and similar data is available from the state, online and elsewhere.

Riley, voice increasingly loud, then told Galef, “Are you saying you don’t know what you get paid? You don’t know what you get paid!”

A woman — who also subsequently refused to identify herself to the news media — then stridently told Galef: “You still can’t answer the question” from Riley. “You’re telling me you can’t spit out of your mouth how much you get paid!”

Two or three other audience members then jumped in with questions in a similar vein, but Riley was the most vociferous, bringing up the issue of unfunded mandates, among other things. “You’ve been in office 30 years,” he shouted at Galef. “Welcome to the new world. You’ve been used to your supporters coming and asking soft questions” at such events. “You don’t know your salary so I don’t believe you know what unfunded mandates are.”

He cited other perceived problems, such as high-cost pensions for government employees, “and you’ve done nothing about it. Why don’t you resign?” he asked Galef.

At one stage, when audience member Mary Finger tried to say something, he accused her of being a “stooge.” When Galef’s staff asked Riley to leave, he refused, telling one to “shut up!” and using derogatory language.

Two members of the Cold Spring Police Department arrived. Riley refused to “step outside” or leave. “You don’t know what free speech is. I’m not going anywhere. This clown and your employees brought charges against me,” he yelled in Galef’s direction. “I’m not going anywhere!”

He remained in his seat as the meeting wound down and refused to speak with Philipstown.info. Shortly afterward, sheriff’s department officers, who had slipped into the back of the room, led him off in handcuffs.

Finger subsequently said that she had been the one who called the police. “You see it,” she said of disruptive behavior and abusive language, “and you’ve got to report it, or things escalate … and you get a ‘Columbine.’”     

Other audience members said they had found Riley’s conduct improper and menacing.

Galef subsequently said some attendees had left during his tirade and others “said they were totally frightened. I deal with a diversity of opinion all the time,” she said. “That’s not the issue” — it was the way the opinions were delivered. “His disruption caused concern. It’s sad. But you have other people in the room who get very worried when something like that happens.”

She added that the police have been present at some of her meetings at times in the past and that now “we’re going to think about it with my other town meetings” going forward.

Other issues: state budget

When not interrupted by acrimony, the meeting covered an assortment of issues, including the state budget; underground fracturing of rocks to produce energy, or fracking; religious liberty; and gun rights.

“The state budget is over $4 billion, with a lot of points to it that we’re trying to digest, along with all the other issues” facing the state legislature, she said. Galef explained that the budget is supposed to be finalized by April 1 and that “this is the time to get your message out” if concerned about government finances. The economy is improving, but slowly, she said. In what some might find ironic, given public distaste for the mega-pay of many in the financial sector, she noted that “bonuses on Wall Street are starting up again. You may not like bonuses on Wall Street, but they give us a lot of money.”

She also noted that state government has been promoting consolidation, merging 24 printing operations into four and combining department human resources’ offices into one. “There’s been a lot of what you may call right-sizing in state government,” she said.

Fracking

New York State is expected to make a decision soon on whether to allow fracking, a highly contentious proposition, and “I don’t know what the governor is going to do,” Galef said. “There’s been a lot of activity from the public about not having it take place” and some upstate communities once viewed as likely to welcome fracking are expressing reservations and rejecting it, she said.

Religious and gun rights

Another questioner, who refused to give his name, protested to Galef about having his tax money pay for birth control services under the new federal health care program or having to accept a proposed state law to keep abortion legal in New York if Roe v. Wade, the national Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, is itself overturned. “Why should I pay for having my fellow human beings killed?” he asked.

Galef said she supports Roe v. Wade and that many Americans back contraception and “think it should be part of health care.”

The questioner continued, complaining that religious liberty is threatened and asking “why is it OK in one context” when, in another (as he interpreted the law) “a person cannot even say a silent prayer in public school? I feel like I don’t have a choice.” He went on to question Galef about vouchers to give parents some financial help when sending children to non-public schools.

“I don’t support vouchers,” Galef answered. “There isn’t enough money for the public schools.”

A Marist College student, Robert Califano, objected to New York’s tighter new gun control law. “Why should I be denied the right to buy an assault rifle?” He claimed the Second Amendment when written assured the public that “we were able to have weapons on an equal basis with the government” and that muskets “were the assault weapons” of the 18th century. He also asked Galef: “Do you think the legislation that passed could have prevented Sandy Hook?” the massacre of young school children and faculty members in Connecticut.

“I think it could have,” Galef replied. “It’s not a panacea” but could curb gun violence, she suggested. Moreover, she told Califano, “I think in the long run you can still have your guns.”


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4 thoughts on “Croton Man Arrested at Galef Town Meeting After Disruptive Conduct

  1. Mr. Riley also accused the audience of lobbing “softball” questions at Sandy Galef, which could not have been further from the truth. Questions about the minimum wage, speed limits on dirt roads and state aid for schools are front-and-center issues to the people of Philipstown, and Mr. Riley sought to disrupt our chance to speak with our legislator about issues that are important to us with his performance. That he challenged Mrs. Galef to reveal her salary–which is public information already–was a complete waste of the audience’s time, not to mention his aggressive, bullying demeanor was menacing and intimidating those of us who wish to participate in civil discourse.

  2. While there’s no excuse for Mr. Riley’s overly aggressive behavior, it should serve as a sign of the frustration and growing backlash against the excesses of government on every level that taxpayers are feeling. Personally, I have nothing against Mrs. Galef except to say that she’s been in office much too long. I don’t care how nice she is or even what her record has been, she should have been term-limited out years ago; she’s gotten too comfortable in her position spending other people’s money which is what it comes down to for all of Big Government, from Washington D.C. to Wappingers.

    Politicians, for the most part, exist in the warm cocoon of their highly insulated world, removed by many degrees from the tax slaves who pay their rather large salaries, benefits and other perks that the private sector populace can only dream about. So now Ms. Galef will have an excuse to have police (no doubt armed) at her town meetings. No doubt some of her constituents who attend will think twice about what questions they pose to their legislator.

    The current state of affairs in New York with our ever increasing taxes and bureaucracy is simply unsustainable.

  3. We live in a society, a military industrial complex with profiteers who engage in un just wars, profit through weapons, killer drones in foreign countries manned by men who return to their families after a day’s work. targeted assassinations, basic human services eroded by those who want to “shrink government” for their own profit, unregulated banks exploitative and greedy, corporate takeovers. We have deeply troubled and poor health care system regulated by insurance companies. Congress can no longer be trusted to truly be for the people as old ossified members function through ideologue glasses. This country tortures, assassinates, and has little interest in working people or a just society. There is enormous anger that mimics a government that functions most undemocratically and with extraordinary violence. Is it any wonder people are angry, frustrated, hopeless, and yes, violent? I forgot to mention our prison system is archaic, violent and reflects the tenure of a violent society. People feel powerless and anger deepens. May I add, the suicide rate for our enlisted men and woman has crashed through the ceiling. Is anyone listening? Surely there must be a better way where compassion and dignity rule and perhaps one day justice.

  4. Sorry I got there late and missed all the excitement. From the bios of the panelists, you could see this is a very one-sided discussion on campaign finance reform. Corporate money is bad but union money is OK, because they agree with the panel. Nobody complained when John Kerry got tens of millions in support from George Soros and Peter Lewis in 2004. In 2012, Sean Maloney got millions in support from Jonathan Soros. The Communists, I mean Leftists, only want their money in the system.

    It fittingly closed with Mr. Dadey suggesting the audience talk to their Republican “friends” about finance reform (like they were so stupid they did not understand) and a local college professor (oh no, more academia!) telling the team to put their message into short, effective sound bites for “the commoners.” Spoken like a true Comrade. Let’s see if this paper reports the whole story, I doubt it.