As the federal government shutdown entered its second day on Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed to use state money to reopen the Statue of Liberty before Washington restores funding to operate the popular tourist destination.
The site was among many federal monuments and parks that closed at midnight Friday after lawmakers in Congress failed to agree on a spending plan to keep the government running, triggering the first shutdown in four years.
Tourists who came to Battery Park in lower Manhattan hoping to catch a ferry to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor got an unpleasant surprise on Saturday, learning the must-see destination was closed thanks to a federal government shutdown.
The National Park Service announced on Friday afternoon that it would close the historic statue and nearby Ellis Island to visitors if Congress failed to reach a funding deal by midnight.
Apparently, not everyone got the word.
“If they knew it was being shut down, they should have told us,” said Amparo Mendez, 17, an Argentine exchange student who came to Battery Park with a friend, having purchased tickets online last week to visit the statue and Ellis Island.
“We came with the notion to see the Statue of Liberty, and it’s not the same to see it from here,” her friend, Brunella Pettoroso, 16, said, looking out over the harbor at the towering, green-tinged statue, a symbol of American democracy.
Neither of them were aware of the government shutdown, and when the Washington deadlock was explained to them, Mendez rolled her eyes.
“We’re not coming back,” Pettoroso said.
Stephen O’Malley, a retired medical professional from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, bought tickets months ago, when he and his wife, accountant Mary Hawks, began planning a trip to the statue and Ellis Island, the gateway for millions of U.S. immigrants in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The couple both blamed Washington lawmakers.
“I have to put more blame on the Republicans, because they have all the control right now,” O’Malley said.
“But I don’t blame it all on them. They should have been able to make a deal,” he said of both Republicans and Democrats, before heading off to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
In the hours leading up to the shutdown, the Trump administration was working on ways to keep hundreds of parks open without staff in an effort to avoid public anger, though it was unclear which ones would close.
"Not all parks are fully open but we are all working hard to make as many areas as accessible to the public as possible," U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said on Twitter on Saturday.
In Washington, the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will remain open through Monday, using prior-year funds. In a tweet, the Smithsonian said it would update its status beyond Monday "as soon as we know."
But in Philadelphia, visitors were turned away at the Liberty Bell, while tourists in New York on Saturday expressed disappointment that they were unable to take the ferry to the island that houses the Statue of Liberty.
During the last shutdown in 2013, a number of governors used state funds to keep certain parks open, including the Statue of Liberty, which at that time cost $61,600 per day to reopen.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Cuomo called it a "gross injustice" to close down the statue, a symbol of American freedoms. The Democratic governor said he would use state money to pay for operations, both because it is an emblem of New York and the United States and because the cost is justified from a tourism standpoint.
"We're going to be talking to the federal government as soon as somebody answers the phone," he said.