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Anti-fracking activists in Ithaca get a word in but no promises from Cuomo


ITHACA -- They stood on different sides of the podium on Thursday, but their message was the same: if the people lead, politicians will follow.

In the case of Andrew Cuomo, it was meant to be a rallying cry to voters to back his reform agenda as he attempts to move from New York attorney general to governor this November.

For Toxics Targeting president and gas drilling activist Walter Hang, it was a call to action to the hundreds of protesters who lined the streets and surrounded the Women's Community Building to greet the candidate as he came to town.

One was dressed in a hazardous material suit marked with the phrase "Inspector for 1,000 wells" and holding a "box of loopholes." Another held an empty leash and a sign that read "My dog drank the water."

In a gathering on The Ithaca Commons before Cuomo's scheduled appearance, Hang congratulated local activists for helping to put the brakes on moves to allow hydraulic fracturing gas drilling exploration in the Marcellus Shale, and said they should continue to do so.

"The longer we push this off, the longer the de facto moratorium on gas drilling stays in place," Hang said.

He held up a recent letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlining significant concerns with the scope and content of the state Department of Conservation's environmental impact statement draft under review.

"This could be our salvation," Hang said. "We've got to kill the draft with the EPA's help."

He encouraged everyone to continue to educate each other and question officials, starting with Cuomo.

"He's a total political pro; he is going to be like Yoda dodging a laser sword. Be nice, but try to scare him," Hang said.

"We have the ability to change elections through the power of the vote, but most importantly we have the ability to change the way people think," he added.

They took the advice to heart, and several who managed to squeeze into the crowded hall and swarm around Cuomo as he tried to circulate the room asked him to address the issue.

Cuomo's response, which he repeated several times, was that he wanted to wait and see.

"I understand your fears, but I want to get the studies, get the facts. Until we know exactly what's happening, we don't do anything," Cuomo said.

Newfield resident Joan Victoria, who lined up early to speak to the gubernatorial hopeful, left disappointed. She said she regrets leasing the mineral rights of her land to a drilling company a few years ago and now fears for the safety of her water supply. The message she wanted to relay?

"I'm too old to set my world on fire, but I don't want to set my water on fire," Victoria said.