WEST SENECA, NY — For several years a battle has brewed between the Cuomo administration and its plans to shut down a children's psychiatric facility in West Seneca, and local lawmakers opposed to that.
Now those lawmakers are ratcheting up their efforts to keep the facility open.
50 days after launching a petition drive, NY State Assemblyman Mickey Kearns (D-Buffalo) sat before a pile bearing 10,000 signatures opposing to the state's plan to close the West Seneca campus, and move it into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
The state claims the move will centrally locate mental health services and save $3 million, which could be spent to expand metal services to an additional 1,000 children and their families.
Along with the petitions, Kearns affixed his own signature to a letter he'll send along to a governor he says is “out of touch” with the desires of his Western New York constituency.
Reading a portion of the letter aloud, Kearns said, “As your father said in his famous 1984 speech to the democratic convention, there is despair in the faces you don’t see and the places you don’t visit. Mr. Governor, the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center is a place you have not visited, with people who have faces of despair which you have not seen.”
But from the Governor's perspective, there's technically nothing to act on.
The bill that unanimously passed both houses of the legislature opposing the state's plan, has yet to be sent to his desk
The responsibility to send it, lies with its sponsor in the senate where it originated: Senator Pat Gallivan.
“We will forward the bill to him, there's no question we'll do that," Gallivan told WGRZ-TV.
However, Gallivan says it may be several more weeks or months before that occurs, as he runs a campaign corollary to Kearns' petition drive, involving direct mail to constituents.
"We're still in the process of gathering the signatures and the support to send out ...so we can impress upon the governor how important this is and that people care about it," Gallivan said.
In the meantime, the state continues to spend money on building the new facility at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and some question the wisdom of waiting any further, lest Albany determine that with money already spent to create a new Children’s Psychiatric center. It is simply too late to turn back.
Gallivan is not worried.
“As far as the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and the build out that's already taking place, we've offered alternative uses for this,” Gallivan said.
“On that same campus they have a very good alcohol treatment center. When you when look at the heroin opioid problem that we have, that would be a perfect campus for residential treatment…so the construction won't be for naught. It could just be repurposed and used for something that's better needed and better suited," Gallivan said.
Should Cuomo veto the bill when it eventually gets to his desk, and the wishes of all the petition signatories be ignored, the legislature could try an override the veto.
And while such an effort might not be as rare as, perhaps, a total eclipse of the sun, it would be a rare showdown indeed between the state’s executive and legislative branches.
“It doesn't happen much,” conceded Gallivan. “But if there's anything that I think is ripe for an override in the event of a veto, this is it.”
According to Gallivan’s office, it's been 10 years since the senate voted to override a gubernatorial veto — and even there the assembly wouldn't go along.
Undaunted, — should it come to that — Gallivan notes the measure calling on saving the West Seneca facility passed both houses of the legislature unanimously.
“And there would be no reason in my mind to think any legislator would change their mind now,” Gallivan said.