Published August 19, 2010
A Native American tribe is calling on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to either apologize or resign after he said on a radio show that Gov. David Paterson -- who's trying to rustle up millions in cigarette taxes from the tribes -- should grab "a cowboy hat and a shotgun" and demand the money.
The mayor made the comments last week during an on-air discussion about the cigarette tax the state of New York wants to impose on Indian tribes starting Sept. 1. The hike has already touched off a court battle, but Bloomberg called for Paterson to flex some frontier justice.
"I said, you know, get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there's ever a great video it's you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, 'Read my lips -- The law of the land is this and we're going to enforce the law,'" he said.
That didn't sit well with the New York tribes.
"If it were any other race of people, he would really have been ridiculed over the words that he said," said J.C. Seneca, a Tribal Council member with the Seneca Nation of Indians.
The Seneca Nation passed a resolution Saturday condemning the comments. They said the mayor was taking "contradictory positions" by targeting the tribes while at the same time expressing support for constitutional protections of those looking to build a controversial Islamic center near Ground Zero.
"Mayor Bloomberg's cavalier attitude and inflammatory remarks, by which he encourages armed conflict as a means for resolution, evidences tremendous disrespect," the resolution said. "Mr. Bloomberg's hypocritical support of constitutional protections, only when they don't impact the New York City budget, coupled with his uneducated and uninformed statements on the issue, serve to fan the flames of aggression, and undermine the potential for peaceful resolution of these matters, while perpetuating a long dormant policy of Indian termination which dates back to the days of General Custer's failed battle of Little Bighorn."
The nation said that the mayor should resign "effective immediately" over his "inflammatory and racially insensitive" remarks -- or at least apologize.
That's not all. The Seneca Nation called on Paterson to "publicly condemn and distance himself" from Bloomberg and stated that the nation's president reserves the right to file a complaint alleging a "human rights violation and a hate crime" with the Justice Department and several other agencies.
On top of that, the Seneca Nation filed a complaint over the cigarette tax in federal court and claimed it was giving the state government until Thursday to respond to their demand to postpone its enforcement. Otherwise, the nation will go to court Friday to try to block the tax, President Barry Snyder said in a written statement.
Paterson's office had no comment.
But Bloomberg is not backing down. Spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti said the mayor is not planning to apologize or resign.
"There will not be an apology forthcoming," she said. "What the New York City mayor's office is looking to do is to have the tribes follow the law."
The tax on the tribes is part of a broader tax package aimed at filling in New York's gaping deficit. Under the plan, the state tax on cigarettes would go up $1.60 per pack -- the move is expected to raise $440 million for New York's in-the-red budget, with $150 million coming from the new tax on Native American cigarette sales.
When the state tried something similar in 1997, Native Americans in New York protested on the New York State Thruway, blocking the road and setting tires on fire -- an incident Bloomberg referenced in his remarks last week.
The latest proposal calls for a tax on wholesalers.