Skip to comments.Laura Bush joins Governor Pataki at governor's prayer breakfast
Posted on 05/11/2004 9:06:10 AM PDT by NYer
ALBANY -- First Lady Laura Bush, joining Gov. George Pataki on Tuesday for his 10th annual prayer breakfast, said "we pray for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, that they may live in peace and freedom."
The first lady's comments, and plenty of praise for her and President Bush from others, came amid protests at the event dubbed ``pay-to-pray'' by one critic.
About two dozen advocates for campaign finance reform, joined by anti-war demonstrators calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, marched outside the state-operated convention center near the state Capitol where the almost two-hour long breakfast was held.
One demonstrator wearing a black hood carried a sign saying, ``Rumsfeld must go.'' Another demonstrator hoisted one with the message: ``No separation of cash & state.''
``This is about packaging the re-election effort'' for President Bush, said Mark Dunlea, a leader of New York state's Green Party.
Inside the event, it was a different story.
A featured vocalist, Tameka Jones, told the first lady ``we have no doubt you will go down as one of the greatest presidents and president's wives America has ever had.''
``God has given us a courageous president to lead us,'' said Rabbi Hershel Billet, president of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Pataki talked about ``the president's tremendous leadership.''
``If the American public needs to see loyalty, they observe it in how she supports her husband,'' Libby Pataki, the governor's wife, said in introducing Laura Bush.
Following a standing ovation and cheers, Bush told the crowd ``there's no better way to begin a new day than in prayer and reflection.''
The Republican governor's first nine breakfasts generated little controversy but this year's event drew extra attention after it came out that the president's wife would deliver the keynote address and that Pataki was raising ticket prices.
``We're more concerned about the separation between partisan politics and state government than we are about the separation between church and state,'' said Rachel Leon, executive director of the New York chapter of Common Cause, on the eve of the prayer breakfast.
Pataki saw things differently.
``Ten years ago, New York was one of just a handful of states in America that did not host a prayer breakfast or recognize the National Day of Prayer'' created by legislation signed into law by President Reagan in 1988, Pataki said.
``We're proud that we began this inspirational tradition that brings together New Yorkers of different backgrounds and faiths from across the state to take part in spiritual reflection,'' the governor added.
For the first time, Pataki offered VIP tables for 10, costing $1,000 or $500 per table.
About 1,500 people attended this year's event, up from about 1,200 last year.
``It certainly looks political,'' said Leon.
Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said he expected the event to be packed with lobbyists seeking access to the governor and Mrs. Bush.
``If people want to pray, more power to them,'' Horner said Monday. ``But my guess is most of these people are praying for access.''
General admission tickets to the event sold for $30 each, up from the $25 charged in the past.
Also, an e-mail from a top state Labor Department official to fellow employees surfaced last week in which she urged colleagues to buy prayer breakfast tickets. A state Ethics Commission spokesman said there didn't appear to be any violation of state law from such a solicitation sent on the state's e-mail system.
When state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, learned ``The Governor's Prayer Breakfast Trust Fund'' hadn't registered as a charitable organization, he ordered it to do so. Pataki said last week the trust would comply.
The registration records will outline, for at least the past six years, how much money the trust fund has raised and how the money has been spent.
First Lady Laura Bush received a standing ovation and cheers after her introduction by New York's First Lady Libby Pataki. (Skip Dickstein / Times Union)
First Lady Laura Bush joined Governor and Mrs. Pataki in the Pledge of Allegiance during the prayer breakfast. (Skip Dickstein / Times Union)
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