NEWARK — The entire act took no more than five minutes, and the suspect banner survived no more 10 minutes before it was pulled down, but that didn’t matter to the two men who hung it on village property without permission.
Matthew Edge and his unnamed accomplice arrived in Newark Wednesday afternoon, March 5 with one goal in mind — to commit a crime.
“It’s an act of civil disobedience,” he said. “If Gov. Cuomo can accept money in campaign contributions from special interest groups then we can hang this banner.”
Edge is the spokesperson for the political activist group Money Out of Politics Democracy, or MOP Democracy. He is one among several activists traveling to all 62 counties across the state to hang banners in prominent places. Emblazoned across the banner in blue, red and black print is “Cuomo, no more empty promises on fair elections.” The message is a demand by MOP Democracy that Cuomo keep his promise for campaign finance reform by keeping Fair Elections in the state budget, Edge said.
The group said in a press release that campaign finance reform is intended to introduce fair electoral systems where they are not already in place and where the system instead favors larger political campaign contributions, often from special interest groups, over smaller donations from the average voting population. According to Edge, the New York Public Interest Research Group reports that Cuomo now has $33 million in campaign funds, and 99 percent of the money comes from donors of $1,000 or more.
The banners are a form of guerilla media, Edge said, as is videotaping the entire act. MOP Democracy intends to display 99 banners, representing the 99 percent.
“Activists are skeptical that Gov. Cuomo is doing more than political posturing,” Edge said. “He expects New Yorkers to believe he's a man of the people, but we suspect he has no intention of keeping fair elections in the state budget, for to do so would be to bite the hand that feeds him.”
Edge rose at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning in Buffalo to continue his journey from county to county. When he arrived in Newark, he had already left behind a banner in Canandaigua. He set up a video camera to film the act and then in 20-degree weather with fingers growing stiff from the cold, the duo climbed the Newark gazebo and tied the 15-foot banner to the columns using rope just above the “no trespassing” signs hanging on chains across the steps. Then they paused to look over their handiwork before packing up the camera and heading to Penn Yan.
Edge’s parting words: “Let’s go before we get arrested.”
Newark Police Chief David Christler arrived moments later. He said he’d received a call about the incident as it was occurring. After reviewing the banner, he noted it failed to get the intended message across. Then he took it down.
Edge’s journey was to end in Albany at the end of this month, where MOP Democracy members will hold a rally.