Ailes Pulls Funds for Senior Center

More than 500 sign petition opposing proposed agreement

By Michael Turton

Roger Ailes has withdrawn his pledge of $500,000 toward the creation of a new senior citizens’ center as part of the Butterfield redevelopment project. The about-face came in the wake of Tuesday’s (Aug. 2) meeting of the Putnam County Legislature, during which a proposed agreement between the county and ACI, a non-profit set up by Ailes, was tabled. The agreement called for ACI to oversee construction of a 6,000-square-foot senior citizens’ center in the Lahey Pavilion in space leased by the county from developer Paul Guillaro.

An Aug. 3 article in the Putnam County News and Recorder by Eric Gross stated that Ailes and his wife Elizabeth, publisher of the PCNR, “are withdrawing the money, cancelling the contribution agreement and assigning the money to another one of their charities …” It also stated that the Ailes’ felt that “it is clear for political reasons their funding is not welcome.”

The handwriting may have been on the wall for the proposed agreement when Legislator Dini LoBue commented at Tuesday’s meeting that, “We don’t have to accept this money.” The motion to table later passed unanimously in the all-Republican body.

An online petition opposing the agreement was also a factor. Placed on the website on the afternoon of July 30, the petition had more than 500 supporters — including more than 450 Philipstown residents — by the time it was sent to the legislature three days later, on the morning of Aug. 2, according to Laura Kaufman, a Cold Spring resident who helped organize the drive for signatures. 

In an email to The Current Kaufman said that she was part of a group of four local residents who created the petition. “We saw the (legislature’s) agenda … and knew the public had not seen the agreement,” she wrote.

The new senior center at Butterfield will be named after Roger Ailes, center, who pledged $500,000 to the project. Also pictured are his wife, Elizabeth, and developer Paul Guillaro.

The new senior center at Butterfield was to be named after Roger Ailes, center, who pledged $500,000 to the project. Also pictured are his wife, Elizabeth, and developer Paul Guillaro at the groundbreaking last year.

Part of the petition read that, “This deal has been withheld from public scrutiny. Its full costs, financial risks, and potential liabilities to Putnam County taxpayers is unknown to your constituents,” adding that “Seniors of Putnam County — men and women — will endure the indignity of passing under (Ailes’) name to receive public services.… The naming of this public facility must respect our seniors, our values and Putnam County women.” It was signed, “Putnam County Taxpayers for Transparency and Integrity.”

Kaufman wrote that she sees the withdrawal of Ailes’ funding as neither a victory nor a defeat for the center. “We see this as an opportunity for our community to come together now that this agreement has been uncoupled from the building of the senior center,” she said. “We must continue to put pressure on our legislators to build a senior center that we can all be proud to enter. As a community we must capture this moment and express our ideas for a senior center that is aligned with our values and our wallets.”

Town of Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea expressed surprise at Ailes’ decision to revoke his promise of funding. “I don’t really understand why. A commitment was made to the seniors,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. Shea said he planned on contacting Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell later that day to discuss options. “I think the county, town and village have to stand up … if (the senior center) is what we really value. We have to,” he said.

He also expressed optimism. “I think it will work out,” Shea said. “I would not oppose a county budget increase of a quarter of a percent (to fund the center). I don’t see that as being a big hit for the Town of Philipstown.”

“It was unfortunate that (the agreement) had to be tabled but we have every intention of moving forward,” Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra told The Current on Thursday. “But I want to make a strong assertion that we are not abandoning our seniors. They need services and I will do everything I can to make (the senior citizens’ center) happen. The County Executive and I are both committed to that.”

Calls and emails to Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy had not been returned by the time of publishing.

6 thoughts on “Ailes Pulls Funds for Senior Center

  1. Legislator Scuccimarra abandoned her integrity when she continued to support the Ailes designation for the senior center regardless of the continued lurid allegations against him and the swift action taken by his employers, dismissing him within two weeks of the revelations. And she abandoned her duty as a Legislator sworn to oversee that the financial arrangements advocated by the County Executive Odell and Deputy Walker met the test of the best deal for the public even in the face of her own colleague, Dini LoBue’s persistent call for close investigation of the funding arrangements. She has continually put loyalty to her patrons, Odell/Walker, before her duty as Legislator. And she was rightly rebuked for doing so by her own constituents at the Tuesday legislative meeting, notwithstanding the ill-advised defense of her actions by her fellow legislator, Roger Gross.

  2. Philanthropy with strings attached… It is certainly within the rights of the Ailes to place conditions on their gift. It’s their money. But once you insinuate yourself into the process (management of the construction, naming rights) for a public institution, you must accept scrutiny. That scrutiny is one of the cornerstones of their own businesses. You do not get a free pass. Of all people, they should understand this principle.

    I regret the impact on seniors who are left with uncertainty over a much-needed facility. But I don’t regret the public’s rightful voice in questioning the terms of this project.

  3. Having followed the topic of the senior center in Philipstown for many years, and more recently having read the PCNR and LoHud articles as well as those in the Current, I have a few observations and questions:

    First, the inadequacy of the Senior Center at the American Legion Hall has been discussed for about a decade, if not longer; it’s not a new hot topic. In 2009 there was a major call-to-arms among the seniors and the elected representatives when the prior county exec, Bondi, proposed to eliminate funding for Cold Spring’s center and move its function to Putnam Valley. So where were these folks, elected and seniors alike, in the meantime? Why weren’t they all working on solutions a dozen years ago?

    Secondly, I have seen various reports that the luncheon function serves 20 or 40 or 70 persons daily. While I understand that the senior center potentially performs other senior services, what are the actual numbers? Will anyone disclose this or is it confidential?

    Over the years, the proposed size of the center has shrunk repeatedly. I recall news reports of proposals for a 12,000-square-feet center, then 10,000, then 7,000, now 6,000. If the senior population is increasing, why is the proposed center contracting? And if the size of the center is shrinking, why is the budget exploding? Let’s see: $1.5 million for 6,000 square feet — that $250 per square foot. I find that unbelievably high. This is not a new building (foundation-to-roof) being built; it’s an interior retrofit — a “gut rehab.”

    So what are proposed costs in the budget going into? Five bathrooms! A “demonstration kitchen” in addition to a commercial kitchen! New windows for the building (why isn’t this a landlord’s cost responsibility?). And is the landlord offering the county a work letter to induce the lease? If he is, I don’t see it. Isn’t it typical to offer a tenant raw space where the demolition has already been done? But in this case, the county would be doing the landlord’s demolition work — and paying for it.

    What a deal — create a “crisis” by a decade of inaction and then force a poor solution on the taxpayers. That’s legislation by knee-jerk.

    Moreover, while there had been a serious proposal to make the facility open to more than seniors for only few hours a day, the county rejected that. Another indicator of money stupidly spent.

  4. The issue relates only in part to placing his name over the door; it also comes down to taking his money. As moral beings concerned with the welfare of our seniors, we deserve better than to rely on funding from a narcissistic, accused sexual predator. We can do better. This is a perfect opportunity for us to come together as a community and construct a solution.

  5. As a newcomer to Putnam County/Philipstown, I have been following the recent news reporting about the planned senior center as part of the Butterfield redevelopment project. These are my observations.

    Under the current circumstances, it is too bad that the senior center was to be named after Roger Ailes. Perhaps, it would have been better to name the center after his wife, Elizabeth Tilson Ailes as suggested in a comment to The Current last week.

    It is really too bad that these philanthropic funds that had been committed to the senior center have now been withdrawn because a) Ailes ACI Foundation wanted to micromanage how the funds were to be used, and b) ACI resisted public accountability for what could have been a positive public-private philanthropy sector collaboration.

    It is also too bad, when you consider, that one would think that the Ailes Family, seasoned in the world of politics and controversy would be able to address these issues in a constructive fashion. But maybe it was too personal.

    So who are the winners and who are the losers? The Ailes Family? Putnam County? The answer to this question is not clear. What is clear is that senior citizens are the losers in this matter.

    For this reason I sincerely hope that that Ailes ACI Foundation and Putnam County would reconsider this donation without strings attached. Perhaps this could be worked out through a mutually respected third party to serve as a mediator.

    If this cannot be worked out, there may be another path through the lease negotiations for the 6,000 square feet with rent at $3.5 million over 15 years. While I do not know the details, the annual rent is $39 per square foot per year. This seems excessive when it appears that the current area market for commercial space is in the $9 to $15 range. Even if it includes utilities, parking spaces, etc., the rent still appears to be out of line. If this is so, the lease could be negotiated to include full renovations for the space, without additional cost to the county and taxpayers. Worth exploring?

    • The losers are the community. The whole situation has been a disaster. There was no transparency and at the very least, the Ailes’ donation would have accrued enormous costs for the town. Sadly, there was self interest involved that took precedence over looking out for our community. We all want a senior center but not in the manner this shady deal was handled. I am grateful that the Ailes family has withdrawn the money. The issue of Butterfield and the senior center had become divisive, ugly and really tore our town apart.