Elephants, Skinned Cats and de Blasio at 1199 Rally Against Spitzer Cuts

“When elephants fight, the grass gets hurt.”

That’s according to Bronx Assemblyman Jose Rivera, who spoke at today’s SEIU 1199 rally opposing Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed health care cuts. Rivera said he told Spitzer those words himself at a half-hour meeting the previous day before leading the crowd in a chant: “You cut back, we’re gonna fight back.”

He joined Assembly members Jose Peralta and N. Nick Perry. “This proposed cut is a very deep cut — one that may not heal,” Perry said to the thousands of union members who marched in the rain on Third Avenue from 26th Street to 40th Street before gathering in front of Mr. Spitzer’s office. Perry said he believes Mr. Spitzer will eventually come around to their position, and offered the following mind-bending metaphor: “There’s many ways to skin a cat and sometimes you end up on the wrong side of the road.”

1199 SEIU President Dennis Rivera, who Mr. Spitzer has criticized for making what he calls “backroom deals” without the public interest in mind, said the governor is being “dishonest” and shouldn’t bring his “personal dysfunctional behavior” into their “institution of love.”

“You take great pride in how mean you are, how tough you are, how you can steamroll people,” he said. “We are about love. We are about taking care of people who are coming to our hospitals when they are most vulnerable… We don’t need your macho, ‘I am king of the land’” attitude.

Melissa Mark Viverito, who worked for 1199 SEIU in New York as a Strategic Organizer before joining the council, called the proposed $1.2 billion-dollar cut “not responsible government.”

“I actually voted for this guy,” said Council member Hiram Monserrate. “I didn’t come to pick a fight with him but I’m here to send a message.” Monserrate said, “come hell or high water,” the Council will work to make stop the “devastating policy.” James Vacca chimed in, “I’m here to say no cuts, no way.”

Council member Bill de Blasio made a short statement about supporting healthcare workers before leaving the stage. After his speech, the Observer asked him to speak more specifically about Mr. Spitzer’s proposed cuts. “I don’t think anyone is being dishonest,” he said carefully. “There’s different positions but honest positions…Despite the tension, there’s plenty of room for people to find common ground.”

– Gillian Reagan