DEXTER – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's visit to an airplane hangar here provided two lessons: Don't text while you drive, and don't wear T-shirts to protest Mr. Cuomo's bill-signing ceremonies.
A man wearing a sleeveless T-shirt signaling his displeasure with the impending closure of Oneida Correctional Facility said that officials in suits told him that he “wasn't invited” to Mr. Cuomo's ceremony Thursday touting legislation that would toughen laws against texting while driving.
“They said you're not allowed in here,” said Matthew C. Rogers, a Hounsfield resident and a corrections officer at Oneida Correctional Facility who wore a shirt emblazoned with the letters “OCF.” “No T-shirts and no signs.”
Mr. Rogers was there to ask why Oneida Correctional Facility was targeted for closure. Officials from the governor's office disputed his account.
In an impromptu news conference with reporters after the ceremony, Mr. Cuomo said that the closures were a “prison management decision” that included where, for example, beds were needed.
He noted that the state's prison population has sharply declined – a good thing, he added.
Asked of his reaction to the man being told he wasn't invited, Mr. Cuomo said that he was unaware of the incident.
Mr. Cuomo's spokesman, Josh Vlasto, said that local police had asked the man to leave the hangar.
But Mr. Rogers said that two men in suits, not police uniforms – and one who gave him a business card indicating that he worked for the governor – had approached him, not local police.
One of the officials asked his affiliation, and when he told them, he was told to stand by the airport gate, he said. He was also asked whether there were any more individuals in his party. There were none.
Though the north country was spared from prison closures, its residents will feel the effects, Mr. Rogers said. About 10 to 15 north country residents work at Oneida Correctional Facility, but they might be sent to work somewhere downstate, he said. He could be transferred to Franklin County, he said, a two-hour commute.
Mr. Rogers waited by his car and waved to attendees as they drove into the airport.
Most of those attendees were the area's politicians, staff and other dignitaries, and members of the media, a few dozen in total who watched Mr. Cuomo give a speech behind a lectern and then sign the legislation for the third time this week, this one from behind a desk at an airplane hangar.
He was flanked by a phalanx of Jefferson County sheriff's deputies and state troopers, in front of a flashing warning sign that read “NO TXT'G WHILE DRIVING.”
“Everybody walks around with one of these all day long,” Mr. Cuomo said, brandishing a BlackBerry as many in the audience took pictures with cellphones and fiddled with their own devices. “But it does not mix with driving, period.”
After his short speech, Mr. Cuomo was also asked about a report from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that said New York's retirement system was rebounding, with a 14.6 percent rate of return in the market. Mr. Cuomo recently told the New York Times that changing the state's pension system for new hires was one of his major goals for the next legislative session.
Though he didn't specifically address the comptroller's report, he did say that pension costs were “staggering,” and that “government can't keep going to the taxpayer.”
When asked in May whether the state should pass a new pension tier – which would cut benefits to new hires – Mr. DiNapoli responded that the state's pension system was, in fact, one of the healthiest in the nation.
At Thursday's event, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton said that she'd need to see a bill before committing to pension reform. During her successful campaign last fall, she said the state needed it.
“I know that local governments are dealing with tough times,” she said.
Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, also said she was open to changes to the state's pension system, though she cautioned that savings would be decades down the road.
“I'm certainly willing to look at it,” she said, “but pension reforms won't help in the near future.”
Mr. Cuomo said that changes to the pension system often meet the opposition of public employee unions, with whom legislators want to “curry favor.”
He, on the other hand, was on the side of the people of the state by calling for changes.
“That's in the best interest of the state,” he said.