City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito refused to take questions from reporters today about Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera’s disavowal an honor she arranged for him to receive—and which Mayor Bill de Blasio has labeled a bad idea, and took credit for convincing him to decline.
In an op-ed in the New York Daily News last week, López Rivera wrote that he will march in the parade “not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.” Yesterday, de Blasio told reporters that he is “very happy” that the recently freed Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional leader turned down the designation of “National Freedom Hero,” despite having previously defended it—and said that he should never have been offered the first-ever honor.
On NY1 last night, the mayor acknowledged he had played a role in persuading the ex-convict to refuse an official role in the celebration.
“It is really great to stand in solidarity with him,” the speaker said when the designation was first announced last month. “Thank you to the parade for recognizing him. Again, an issue that maybe a prior board would have been afraid to do but it’s the right thing to do and I’m so glad that he’s going to be joining us here today.”
Mark-Viverito—a longtime supporter of López Rivera who has considerable influence with the parade leadership—had petitioned for his recent release for years and sent him emails, visiting him regularly and even asking Pope Francis to help him.
But when she entered City Hall at around 11:25 am today, she ignored and walked past the Observer and other reporters who tried to stop her for an interview. She did not hold her monthly pre-stated meeting as it is custom not to hold one ahead of a budget meeting.
When the Council’s stated meeting concluded at about 3:30 pm, she rushed into a conference with Council members after she inserted language into the city budget today mandating that the $26 million plan to offer legal services to undocumented immigrants facing deportation not exclude those convicted of serious crimes. This appeared to be an act of defiance against the mayor, who has insisted that foreign nationals found guilty of offenses like rape, murder or terrorism should not receive public dollars for their defense.
At around 4:30 p.m., reporters chased after the speaker as she was leaving City Hall and attempted to ask her questions about the mayor’s remarks and whether she felt betrayed, as well as about the last-minute budget maneuver for legal services for immigrants.
The speaker kept walking with her staffers, ignoring reporters as they followed her past security toward the exit. A Newsday reporter yelled, “You’re the speaker, can’t you speak?” and she directed reporters to her spokeswoman, Robin Levine.
The FALN claimed responsibility for a string of deadly bombings in the 1970s and early 1980s, including the blast that killed four people at the Wall Street-area Fraunces Tavern in 1975. López Rivera was never accused of detonating any of the lethal explosives, but was sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, robbery, transportation of explosives and firearms and an attempt to escape federal prison.
Former President Barack Obama commuted his prison term to end earlier this month.
López Rivera’s supporters say he is a political prisoner and freedom fighter. His critics, such as NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, describe him as the ringleader and bomb-maker for an organization that killed and wounded numerous civilians and first responders.
O’Neill was one of a number of prominent figures to announce he would not participate in the cavalcade, as was Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Virtually all the event’s corporate sponsors also backed out over the award for the Puerto Rican militant.
The police commissioner told reporters that his decision remains unchanged, despite López Rivera turning down the special designation.