ALBANY - Anti-U.N. sentiment is spreading in the state Legislature, with at least one Democrat, Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, joining the opposition to expanding and renovating the world organization's headquarters on the East Side of Manhattan.
Mr. Hikind, the deputy majority whip, told The New York Sun yesterday that he will fight any legislation that helps the United Nations, which he called a "cesspool" of racism, anti-Semitism, and opposition to Israel. He predicted other members of the Assembly majority will take the same position.
Mr. Hikind's comments open a new front in the battle of Turtle Bay, as state legislators of both parties and in both houses have now gone on record against the United Nations's construction project. He also cited the scandal over the oil-for-food program in pre-war Iraq, in which some U.N. officials allegedly condoned or profited from abuse of what was intended to be a relief effort for Iraqis.
"I intend ... to get up on the floor and to speak out as strongly as I possibly can against this cesspool called the United Nations," Mr. Hikind said. "I intend to speak on the subject and to do everything humanly possible to stir things up and get people excited. I don't want to do anything to help the United Nations."
"I do believe in international cooperation," he said. "I do believe in a perfect world where nations would work together. ...But that's not what the United Nations is all about. ...On principle, I want to do everything to make their life miserable."
The U.N. also faces opposition from residents of the surrounding area who object to the size of the building and the loss of parkland.
Asked by the Sun to comment on the opposition in Albany, a spokesman for the U.N., Fred Eckhard, said: "I would hope New Yorkers would see the advantage of having the U.N. in New York City, and that they wouldn't prejudge the outcome of the oil-for-food investigation."
The U.N. wants to build a 35-story annex on a piece of parkland across the street from its existing complex. The new office space would allow U.N. employees to move out of the current headquarters, which is 52 years old and falling into disrepair, while it undergoes renovations. Later, the annex would be used to house employees currently scattered in offices around Manhattan.
The project overcame opposition in Congress, which just approved a $1.2 billion construction loan. But it can't move forward without approval from Albany - and eventually city government - because the site of the proposed annex lies just outside the area set aside for the U.N. in state law.
On Thursday, the state Senate was scheduled to approve legislation temporarily expanding the jurisdiction of the United Nations Development Corporation, a state agency that manages real estate near the headquarters, so it could plan for the project.
Senate leaders postponed the vote, however, when some members of the Republican majority, including Martin Golden of Brooklyn, raised objections.
"The United Nations is certainly viewed by many as a den of iniquity," Senator Serphin Maltese, a Republican of Queens, said. "When they refer to one of our closest allies, Israel, as some kind of Zionist oppressor, it certainly rubs me the wrong way. ...I'm not particularly enamored of the United Nations as a deliberative body. It's certainly not fulfilling the promise of 1948."
The project has its political defenders, too. Mayor Bloomberg is quietly lobbying at Albany on behalf of the U.N. The president of the U.N. Development Corporation, Roy Goodman, a former state senator, argues that the organization pumps $2.5 billion a year into the city's economy and will replace the park land with a riverside esplanade.
The assemblyman who represents Turtle Bay, Steven Sanders, is sponsoring the planning bill, saying he believes the complex should be made as safe as possible against terrorist attacks for the benefit of the entire neighborhood. The other state legislators and City Council members from that part of Manhattan are also supporters of the planning legislation. And Governor Pataki said he thinks it's "positive" that the U.N. is in New York, and would like sign the bill once it arrives on his desk.
It's not clear when that will happen, however. The Senate plans to reconvene on December 6, and Mr. Goodman said last week he expected the planning bill would pass then. However, the Assembly has not yet scheduled a December session.
"If we were to come back, which we are not scheduled to do, that bill would be among the ones that would be considered," a spokesman for the Assembly, Charles Carrier, said yesterday.
Mr. Carrier said majority Democrats have not yet discussed the issue as a group, making it impossible to gauge the extent of support or opposition.
"No one has really focused on it that much, but the feelings about the United Nations are shared by a lot of people - Republicans and Democrats," Mr. Hikind said. "I guarantee you there will be a lot of people that will join Marty Golden and join myself."