By Holly Toal
One by one, more than a dozen Philipstown residents stepped up to the podium at the Aug. 2 Putnam County Legislature meeting to voice their opposition to naming the proposed Cold Spring senior center after Garrison resident Roger Ailes, the former FoxNews CEO who resigned last month after accusations of sexual harassment. Ailes had pledged $500,000 to the center in exchange for making it his namesake.
“He’s contributed very little to our community,” said Michael Robinson of Cold Spring. “Julia Butterfield gave us a hospital for the body; a library for the mind. What has Roger Ailes given us?”
“Money and power have become the white-washer of despicable deed,” added Charlotte White, also of Cold Spring. “Is the integrity of my home less important than the money from Roger Ailes?”
Laura Kaufman presented lawmakers with a formal petition against naming the senior center after Ailes. The petition had been circulating at change.org and is signed by “Putnam County Taxpayers for Transparency and Integrity.” As of Aug. 3, it had 533 signatures.
The petition reads, in part: “Taxpayers must have a say in the terms of this agreement. It must be fiscally responsible in the short- and long-term. The naming of this public facility must respect our seniors, our values, and Putnam County women… We ask that the Legislature make the agreement with Roger Ailes available for public scrutiny and public comment prior to taking any action.”
While the Legislature voted unanimously to table the proposal to name the senior center, the standing-room-only crowd assembled at the Historic Courthouse in Carmel continued to speak out.
Kathleen Foley of Cold Spring criticized the Legislature for making Ailes out to be an “angel investor” who is providing “seed money” for the center, while the actual price tag to the county is allegedly four times greater than his contribution.
“The project has never passed the smell test,” she said. “And now the reality of the project is coming to fruition.”
Foley took particular aim at Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, R-Philipstown, who represents the district that houses the Butterfield property, saying the lawmaker has betrayed the people of Putnam County and Philipstown.
“You have prostituted your constituency,” she said. “No one, no woman, should have to pass under the name ‘Ailes’ to receive public services.”
Cold Spring resident Stephanie Hawkins also singled out Scuccimarra, accusing her of knowing the “unfair” details of the agreement with Ailes all along, and still promoting it.
“You have been nothing if not a cheering squad for private interest and mowing over your own constituents,” she said. “You’re happy to come to meetings and misrepresent the truth.”
Lithgow Osborne, a Democrat from Cold Spring who challenged Scuccimarra for her seat in 2015, and who also ran unsuccessfully for Putnam County clerk in 2014, said that if the county goes through with the charitable donation agreement, it would be an insult to women.
“I understand that somebody offered money for a naming opportunity, but at this juncture, we cannot go forward until that matter is settled,” he said. “I’m here to ask you to consider holding off naming that center until this business with Roger Ailes is cleared up.”
Legislator Carl Albano, R-Carmel, came under fire when he told residents at the meeting that the time for them to come forward was during discussions that took place at the committee level during the previous months.
“This really isn’t the time to bring this up,” he said. “Many of these items have been on the agenda for years… I’m glad to hear from you now, but it’s kind of in the 11th hour… This is years in the making.”
He further added that, with the accusations against Ailes having recently surfaced, the Legislature would be tabling the matter. “These accusations are new,” he said. “They’re hitting us in the face… We want to hear from you. Legislator Scuccimarra has every intent to do the right thing.”
Legislator Roger Gross, R-Southeast, also came to his colleague’s defense, telling the crowd: “Barbara Scuccimarra has worked totally and diligently to get a senior center in Cold Spring and some of your comments toward her are despicable.”
Legislator Dini LoBue, R-Mahopac Falls, who voted against the lease agreement in May, urged her colleagues to take residents’ comments to heart and go back to the drawing table. “We have to go back to the beginning, because we do not have to accept this donation,” she said.