WEST SENECA, N.Y. — Stacks and stacks of completed surveys sit in the West Seneca office of Assemblyman Mickey Kearns. He says in four weeks, about 6,000 people in his district alone have returned the surveys asking the state to keep the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center open.
"I've never seen a response like this as an elected official before ever in my life," Kearns (D) said. "This is a loser for the governor, and he's got to make the decision to support the children and we now are showing the support of the community."
Lawmakers like Kearns, State Sen. Patrick Gallivan and Assemblyman David DiPietro are urging Gov. Cuomo to sign a bill to leave the West Seneca facility where it is. The State Office of Mental Health says it will save about $3 million each year with its plan to move patients to a renovated part of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, where adults are currently treated. Opponents of that plan say kids do not belong on the same campus as adults.
"The most vulnerable people in our society—the children at the Psychiatric Center—he pulls the rug out from under them," DiPietro (R) said. "To me, that's the biggest point of hypocrisy I think I've ever heard."
State legislators unanimously passed the bill to prevent the WNY Children's Psychiatric Center from closing back in June. Now, they're asking people to continue signing online petitions, and writing and calling the governor's office to voice their opinions before they send the bill to Cuomo to sign it into law or veto it. They also have resolutions from 20 municipalities across the state backing their cause.
"There's never been a reason to close this place," Gallivan said. "But when the community support is at it's highest and we can demonstrate that. And we can demonstrate that tens of thousands of Western New Yorkers care about it and any elected official who cares about being an elected official should be properly representing the citizens that they serve."
If the governor does indeed veto the bill, the Western New York legislators say they're prepared to make the case for a rarely-used legislative override, which would require a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the Assembly to reverse Cuomo's decision. However, they remain hopeful it won't reach that point.
A group of advocates for keeping the Children's Psychiatric Center as it is are suing Cuomo and the state's mental health commissioner. A judge last week denied a motion from the state attorney general to dismiss the lawsuit.