Rolison apologizes for believing phony story
State Sen. Rob Rolison’s nomination of the head of a veterans’ organization as a “woman of distinction” is being rescinded as the fallout continues from her false claim that a Town of Newburgh hotel kicked out homeless veterans to make room for migrants bused from New York City.
In a letter to Rolison, a Republican whose district includes Beacon, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins said on Tuesday (May 23) that his nomination of Sharon Toney-Finch is being rescinded because “it is imperative that we maintain the integrity of this prestigious accolade.”
Toney-Finch, a veteran and the CEO of the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation (YIT), was among dozens of nominees statewide for the Senate’s Women of Distinction award when she claimed in a New York Post story on May 12 that the Crossroads Hotel in Newburgh evicted 15 veterans placed there by YIT.
The story broke as New York City ignited a furor with plans to move nearly 200 asylum-seekers to the Crossroads and a Ramada in the Town of Newburgh. She is also accused of recruiting more than a dozen homeless people from Dutchess County’s shelter in Poughkeepsie to pose as the displaced veterans, promising them $100 each.
Before the Mid-Hudson News and Albany Times Union debunked the story days later, Rolison joined a number of Hudson Valley elected officials who embraced the claim as fact, denouncing New York City and the hotels. Cousins, in her letter, said the story “led to death threats and harassment against hotel employees.”
In a statement, Rolison said, “I sincerely apologize for repeating a statement our office, and others, believed to be true based on media reports.
“Our office, like other elected officials, responded to media reports describing homeless veterans evicted from a local hotel with a mixture of alarm and compassion,” he said. “We wanted to help.”
According to the Times Union, the state attorney general’s office has launched an investigation of YIT.
Jonathan Jacobson, whose state Assembly district includes Beacon, on May 19 issued a statement that criticized Rolison and two other state lawmakers — Assembly Member Brian Maher of Orange County and state Sen. Bill Weber of Rockland County.
He said they “moved to fan the flames of xenophobia by recklessly amplifying Toney-Finch’s falsehoods on Fox News and a range of other media outlets.”
“Adding to the demagoguery, Toney-Finch’s actions compounded an already volatile situation and put both the asylum-seekers and the staff at the Crossroads Hotel at risk,” said Jacobson.
Toney-Smith said on Thursday (May 25) that she would not comment on her claims, and that her attorney was preparing a cease-and-desist order to prevent further reporting on YIT.
Until the attorney general’s investigation is complete, Mental Health America of Dutchess County, which offers veterans services and operates the county’s homeless shelter in Poughkeepsie during the day, will suspend its collaboration with YIT, said Andrew O’Grady, its CEO.
After seeing the story in the New York Post, O’Grady said that he and MHA’s staff began mobilizing to help the allegedly displaced veterans, who Toney-Finch claimed had been moved to the Wingate by Wyndham Hotel in Fishkill.
She failed to respond to multiple requests for the veterans’ names and then said they had been moved from Fishkill to a hotel in Danbury, Connecticut, said O’Grady. “That was a successful lie, frankly, because what it did was it stopped us from asking any more questions because now they’re not in Dutchess County,” he said.
On May 17, three rented vehicles arrived at the homeless shelter and Toney-Finch recruited 15 men “under the guise of going to Connecticut to talk to a politician about homelessness” in exchange for $100, said O’Grady.
The men were taken to a diner, plied with food and drinks and then told they were instead going to the Orange County Chamber of Commerce in New Windsor, which had asked to meet with Toney-Finch, he said. The men were asked to pretend to be veterans kicked out of the Crossroads Hotel, said O’Grady.
They returned to the shelter angry and upset because Toney-Finch did not pay them. O’Grady said a security guard at the shelter called him about the men’s complaints.
“If they got paid $100, they might have talked about it because it was a very weird situation for them to be in, but I don’t think the security guard would have called me,” he said.
Sen. Rolison, you failed. You quickly jumped on the wagon without even filtering it through your “we got ‘em now” nonsense head. You are an elected official and I’m assuming a relatively intelligent person. Damage has been done and no “whoopsy” is going to change that. Grow up and do some thinking for yourself in your next term here.