Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg Tells Governor to "Get Yourself a Cowboy Hat and a Shotgun" to Enforce Collection of Cigarette Taxes from Seneca Indian Nation

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg instructed state governor David Paterson to "get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun" in order to collect cigarette taxes from the Seneca Indian Nation, according to numerous news sources, including an article in the Syracuse Post-Standard. The remark came during the mayor's weekly radio show and sparked outrage from Native Americans both in New York and across the country.

According to the article: "New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's advice to Gov. David Paterson on how to collect sales tax on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations was simple: "Get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun" and enforce the law. That comment on his weekly radio show has sparked outrage from Native Americans in Central New York and across the country. They charge the comment was racially insensitive and offensive. Twenty-five Oneida Nation members and other Native Americans who work at the Oneida Nation protested Monday on the steps of City Hall in New York. The Seneca Nation has called on the mayor to resign. National Congress of American Indians wants him to apologize. Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said the imagery of the governor "wearing a cowboy hat and holding a shotgun" to confront Native Americans is offensive and hurtful."

Bloomberg's comments come at a time when the state of New York is preparing to begin taxing cigarettes on Native American reservations. A new law, which goes into effect September 1, imposes a $4.35 per pack tax on cigarettes sold on Native American reservations to non-Native customers. The state is embroiled in a conflict with Native American nations. The Seneca Nation, for example, has filed a lawsuit against the state to block enforcement of the law.

According to the article: "The Seneca Nation of Indians passed a Tribal Council Resolution on Aug. 14 condemning Bloomberg's comment as derogatory against the nation and its membership. The resolution demands that Bloomberg resign his post as mayor of New York City and provide a formal written apology to the Seneca Nation and its members. The resolution also asks Paterson to publicly condemn Bloomberg's comments and authorizes Seneca President Barry Snyder to file human rights and hate crime violations with the state of New York, Justice Department and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People. The National Congress of American Indians demanded an apology from the mayor. "We understand that the State of New York and the Senecas are having a disagreement about tax policy, but legal disagreements between governments require responsible leadership and diplomacy and not reckless calls for violence," said Jefferson Keel, the group's president. "It is insulting that a tribal government defending its legal rights today is threatened with the brutalities of the past," he said. "I have asked Mayor Bloomberg to apologize for his choice of words and to return the discourse to the level of civility that we all deserve."

According to the article, the Mayor initially did not have any comment on the complaints of the Native American groups. His spokesperson merely reiterated his demand that Native Americans pay cigarette taxes to the states as mandated in the law.

However, another article stated that the Mayor did respond, saying that he will not apologize: "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 Rest of the Story

I condemn Mayor Bloomberg's remarks, which are insensitive and offensive to Native Americans and which are racist and derogatory.

Even more troubling than the remarks are the apparent refusal of the Mayor to apologize. It's one thing if he made a mistake on his radio show, but to refuse to apologize afterward is inexcusable.

Frankly, I've never seen a politician make racially insensitive and offensive remarks like this and refuse to apologize afterward. Even Imus apologized after the racially derogatory slurs he hurled at the Rutgers womens' basketball team.

The refusal to apologize is even more offensive than the initial remarks. Mayor Bloomberg has terribly insulted the Native Americans in his state and throughout the country. If it were any group other than Native Americans, there would be widespread calls for his resignation. The very least he can do in this situation is issue a profound apology.

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