Former New York State assemblyman Michael Benjamin, who represented the Bronx for eight years, is criticizing Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not including Indian nations in discussions about economic development in the state.
In an op-ed published in City and State New York in November, Benjamin underscores the valuable contributions made by tribes, which are “culturally, historically and economically bound to New York.”
Benjamin pointed to Cuomo’s “wine and beer summit” in October and “yogurt summit” in August, during which the governor toured the areas covered by the state’s 10 regional economic development councils to gauge their progress.
“It’s insulting he did not host a summit on Native American affairs,” Benjamin told ICTMN.
By not inviting Indian nations to participate in conversations about economic development initiatives, Cuomo is ignoring their significant impact as major job providers and revenue sources in the state.
“They see themselves as stewards of the environment,” Benjamin wrote in January 2012 in another op-ed for City and State New York. “All of the nations want to stimulate the state’s economy in ways that create and attract new jobs to central and western New York.”
“Treating New York’s first people as less than second-class citizens when it comes to our state being ‘open for business’ is counterproductive,” Benjamin wrote in his most recent op-ed.
Benjamin recommends Cuomo follow through on Gov. David Paterson’s promise to create a cabinet-level post on Indian Nation Sovereign Affairs. “Such a move would ensure regular, direct communications, and would signal the governor’s respect, commitment and desire to resolve outstanding issues.”
Benjamin stressed Cuomo needs to collaborate with the state’s tribes to move beyond the “current stalemate.” Numerous disputes loom over the tribal-state relationship, he said, referencing cigarette taxes, expanded gaming and more.
“The state is still spending millions on Native American land claims. Those need to be resolved. They have been in and out of the courts for 20 years,” Benjamin said. “It’s interesting the governor will voice his opinions of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but he will not discuss resolving issues with Native American nations in his home state.”
In his most recent op-ed, Benjamin referenced the Seneca tribal government’s refusal to remit $460 million in gaming profits to New York State and surrounding cities because of three racinos operating in Western New York that violate the tribe’s exclusivity contract.
A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.