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Roger Ailes has withdrawn his pledge of $500,000 toward the creation of a new senior citizens’ center as part of the Butterfield redevelopment project.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 change.org 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.
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.