Politics and policy clashed as a group of protesters that included Democratic candidates for State Senate Ross Barkan and Andrew Gounardes rallied outside State Senator Marty Golden’s offices January 29 to denounce comments he made recently regarding the increasing rate of opioid addiction in New York.
The controversial remarks, which were made to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, were: “It’s not a ghetto drug. It’s happening to doctor’s kids.”
Besides Barkan and Gounardes, protesters who spoke represented the Working Families Party, the Alliance for Quality Education, the Drug Policy Alliance and Bay Ridge for Social Justice.
Barkan thought Golden’s comments were unacceptable, saying, “Marty Golden’s language was racist, disgusting and shameful, and his apology came too late, and, to be honest, didn’t really accomplish very much and it didn’t really express the proper amount of contrition.
“I’m hoping that we can raise awareness about the opioid crisis, that we can be out here actually proposing solutions,” Barkan said. “People should know what Marty Golden thinks about the opioid epidemic. They should know that he has a very backward view of the world, and that’s unfortunate.”
The comments were published January 23, and Golden released an apology on January 29 addressing “anyone who was offended by [his] choice of words” after facing growing public outrage.
Gounardes said he was “offended” and “kind of shocked” by Golden’s comments, calling them “offensive and divisive,” representing “racist and classist tropes.
“To suggest that some people’s lives are worth saving and not others, really does a disservice to those who need to believe not just that they can get better, but that their lives are worth saving in the first place,” he said.
Gounardes also called for the New York State Senate’s Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction to diversify its membership, as all 31 members are white. Golden is a member of the task force.
Both Gounardes and Barkan said they will be releasing their own platforms on opioids in the coming weeks.
Maria Bautista, a representative from the Alliance for Quality Education, called Golden’s comments “egregious.” She said she thought Golden’s apology was not an apology and, for the future, wants politicians to “walk the walk.”
“If you are backtracking what you’re saying, what are you doing on the other side to make sure that communities are getting the resources they need to address the issues,” she said.
In response to a request for comment, John Quaglione, spokesperson for Golden, released a statement about the protest, saying that while Golden was in Albany today, “… his two Democratic opponents joined a handful of local fringe groups members for a ‘protest’ outside his district office. As we enter into an election cycle, uninformed criticism of Senator Golden’s efforts to fight against heroin and opioid abuse, secure pivotal funding for local schools and more, is to be expected. Senator Golden is proud of what he has accomplished for his constituents and for New York and will put his record up against any of his opponents.”