By Carol Tannenhauser

In a political season where landlords have been excoriated for forcing out longtime local businesses, one landlord who was trying to do the right thing has been dragged into the mix.

City Council Candidate Mel Wymore has promised to get tough on landlords, who he says are forcing up rents on longtime Upper West Side businesses.

“The unaffordable rents for local businesses today are a result of deliberate choices,” he wrote in a recent press release. “This is one of the biggest reasons I’m running—so we can finally get serious about passing laws which will rein in rents…”

Ironically, Wymore (pictured at right) is running his campaign from a storefront on Broadway between 80th and 81st street at a rent of just $10 per month, thanks to the “deliberate choices” of a landlord who is anything but greedy. This has turned into a political issue, with incumbent Council Member Helen Rosenthal requesting that the Campaign Finance Board investigate the arrangement as an “in-kind contribution” that Wymore has failed to report.

Samantha Levine, a campaign spokesperson for Rosenthal (at left) wrote in an email that Wymore is being “disingenuous at best – and fraudulent at worst” in claiming that the fair market rent is $10. “This kind of sneaky maneuver, if allowed to stand, undermines the public’ faith in the campaign finance process and is exactly why the public is distrustful of so many politicians.”

But Dan Gleick, a spokesperson for Wymore’s campaign, notes that the arrangement was already approved by the Campaign Finance Board. “As on so many issues, Helen simply hasn’t done her homework. Her first instinct is an attack, rather than finding the truth.”

In the middle of it all is landlord George Beane. What did he do to deserve this? He was simply trying to hold onto a valued tenant – Birdbath Bakery – during a tough time for the business.

Let us explain.

Business at the Broadway location – there are two other Birdbath Bakeries on Columbus Avenue – had declined dramatically, in large part due to the scaffolding and sidewalk shed that had engulfed 2244 Broadway since 2015. (It just came down.) This spring, Birdbath was ready to “hand in their keys at that location,” Beane said. He offered to lower the rent, ultimately, to $0, but even then, they couldn’t cover the cost of salaries and services, such as utilities, insurance, and Internet.

Birdbath decided to take a “vacation” – as in “vacate” the store – from June to October, after which the scaffolding would be down, New Yorkers would have returned from their summer vacations, and business would presumably pick up. Beane agreed to the plan because he wanted Birdbath to survive and come back. At the same time, he was uncomfortable about leaving the space empty for four months, likening it to a “missing tooth,” which would have hurt adjacent stores and the neighborhood.

The building was shrouded by scaffolding for two years. Photo courtesy of George Beane.

“Mel was in the right place at the right time,” Beane said. Wymore had called him months before, knowing Beane owned buildings, looking for space. When this situation arose, Beane put him in touch with Birdbath’s owner, Maury Rubin, who subleased the space to Wymore for three months and 11 days, at a total cost of $616 per month (including the $10 rent), allowing Birdbath to cover its expenses. (At market rate, that would rent about three square feet.)

Wymore went through the proper channels, running it by the Campaign Finance Board, which approved it pursuant to receiving certification of the arrangement from Beane, which he provided. (We have seen a copy of the sublease and an email from a CFB official.)

Beane has not decided yet whether he will vote for Wymore or Rosenthal. He knows and likes them both personally, but disagrees with their positions on commercial rent regulation, the lease-renewal process, and ways of dealing with vacancies.

“I think they’re both dead wrong and uninformed about the subject,” he said. “They both think landlords benefit somehow by holding out for higher rents. It’s not the landlords. Rents are coming down. There’s much less competition for and interest in commercial space.”

Beane insists his efforts to save Birdbath were not selfless.

“I thought I was going to lose them,” he explained. “It was really important to me to keep a good tenant. It’s hard and expensive to rent out stores. There are a lot of empty ones because former customers are buying on Amazon. My residential tenants get packages in the mail, rather than going into a store and coming home with shopping bags. There’s a much decreased demand for retail space.”

“Maury (Birdbath’s owner) is as disturbed by all the political fuss as I am,” Beane went on, “especially since neither of us has a stake in either candidate. We both just wanted to get Birdbath over a financial hump.”

“The issue of lost business that Birdbath ran into came about from the best intentions of a special landlord,” emailed Rubin. “Even as Birdbath revenue dropped and cash started to go the wrong way, I never lost view of the underlying intentions of George Beane to preserve and restore a beautiful pre-war building. Further, once we were in financial decline, it was only due to the open-mindedness of the landlord that we could devise a plan to get through this together.

“That’s as good as it gets for a retail tenant, and I’m lucky to have a landlord engage like a partner.”

NEWS | 35 comments | permalink
    1. Pedestrian says:

      Helen Rosenthal…complaint about somone being disingenuous! Ha, ha, ha!

      This is a woman who commits $16 million to a project to which many of her consituients object and that will destroy the limited park land on the UWS and sends a message to them before the “public hearing” that is a done deal. Yep disingenuous at best….she aught to know.

      HELEN should stop whining. She is using her power as a in incumbent to overshadow any opponent and to shut them up. It would be nice if she spent more time opposing the corruption in the City particularly with regard to landuse than going after her political opposnents.

    2. Filatura says:

      George Beane for President!

    3. Michael G says:

      This is a remarkable story, and illuminating about how commercial real estate in the neighborhood is changing. (I had been under the simple impression that demand and rents are soaring for both residents and businesses…)

    4. John Creasy says:

      Amen to what Pedestrian wrote. This is nothing but the use of a Trump tactic: trying to distract folks from her failure as out City Council-member but coming up with false accusations. In her mind, no good deed goes unpunished, and if you are a small business owner, she’ll double that punishment by publicly dragging your good name through the mud.

      To quote Joseph Welch during the McCarthy hearings, “Have you no sense of decency?” It’s time for NEW LEADERSHIP!

    5. UWS Mom Voter says:

      Wow! The woman who is using her taxpayer paid, community office at night for her campaign is throwing stones??? That is too funny!

      A weapon of mass distraction for a desperate politician who is still delusional about her lack of leadership on the UWS. This made up issues has nothing to do with whats bringing the community down. Nice try though Helen!

      • Margaret says:

        All the volunteering I’ve done for Helen’s reelection campaign has been out of her home, never anywhere else. She seems scrupulous about this. Is there a specific incident you’re referring to?

        I adore Birdbath and eat there often, but it’s hard to understand how they can’t survive on free rent. The food is great. On their prices, I honestly don’t follow how they can’t make payroll.

    6. Mark says:

      Beane lost me at: “They both think landlords benefit somehow by holding out for higher rents. It’s not the landlords.”

      • ws says:

        Tenants set rents, not landlords. It makes no difference what a landlord wants or asks for – tenants decide what a store is worth. If that’s tough to grasp, imagine you want to sell your one bedroom condo. Does it matter if you ask for $20mm? No, the buyers of the world decide what it is worth, not the owner.

        • Mark says:

          Who sets the price of all of the vacant storefronts that make the neighborhood unpleasant.

          I guess that if a tenant could set the price we’d have a more enjoyable neighborhood.

        • Jay says:

          ws, you aren’t going to able to have a reasonable conversation with Dan.

          No matter the issue, the fault always lies with the people who own the property.

          • Mark says:

            I have to assume that you are referring to me.

            My comment was: “Beane lost me at: ‘They both think landlords benefit somehow by holding out for higher rents. It’s not the landlords.’”

            Try to stay on topic and not reply with untruths. It confuses you.

    7. amy says:

      I literally can’t wait to vote against Rosenthal.

    8. Jeff Berger says:

      Sorry,this is not a “Trump Tactic”. I worked in many campaigns. This is a classic in-kind contribution. The landlord is giving space to a campaign. The campaign has to recognize it at its true market value. Whether or not it is currently less because of the scaffolding, the value is the rent that it would normally bring, prorated for the few months that the campaign is using the location. The NYC finance board might have given it an OK, but that does not mean that the Councilwoman (of whom I am not a fan or supporter) is not right.

      • Anon says:

        It absolutely means he is not right. Think about it. Person A claims person B broke the law. Government Body C who oversees the law in question said there was no law broken in any possible way. By definition person A is wrong because what they claimed is incorrect.

      • Q. Public says:

        This histroic day I pray for this fracture unique community to heal itself. Break bread and work things out together.
        Helen’s independant streak is commendable.
        The negative push back against HELEN is way too harsh.
        Why should she lose her NYCC seat when she works hard for this district, it’s totally unfair to smear her by mentioning Trump.
        Other politicos have done a major disservice and at times caused irreparable harm that has yet abatted eg. filthy indoor air ducts, dead open pipes, ceiling holes, toxic old HVAC vents etc, etc!
        Is it possible to renegotiate, reconsider certain AMNH aspects?
        MEL was very interesting on NY1 debate but Rosenthal hit back succinctly to the end.
        Wymore’s quid pro quo rental arrangement is a bit confusing but we’ll see.
        We need more strong women in fighting for us because in 2016 a dream was deferred.

        • Pedestrian says:

          We need the right kind of women in office and Helen isn’t one of them.

          I don’t vote for candidates on the basis of gender or race. I vote on the issues and Helen is all wrong when it comes to landuse issue, transparency, just to name a few. She’s mean spirited and petty. He atttude to consitutients who disagree with her is to demean them. Plenty of us are disgusted with her.

        • UWS Surreal Dad says:

          We will Break bread and Unify on primary day when we get a new Council Rep. The rift on the UWS was caused by Rosenthal. “Too Harsh” criticism? What are we, in middle school? It is appropriate to be hard on a politician who has demonstrated unfettered, self interest in her term.

          She said on NY1 that “thousands” of people visit her office everyday when in fact her office only recorded seven thousand interactions for the entire year! Another statement, Another LIE! She has got to go!

          Like the country, our community went from the best leadership – to the absolute worst! Please lets save ourselves from rats, overdevelopment, the return of blight and a long list of neglect. Helen – You’re Fired!

    9. F Ames says:

      Anyone who appropriates 150 Million Dollars of taxpayer dollars to AMNH w/o informing taxpayers
      for an unnecessary building that would tear down the
      Teddy Roosevelt 150 year old public park is toast.
      She does not work in the best interest of her constituents.
      Be gone!

    10. Rafael Fox says:

      WSR, let me get this straight; George Beane, motivated solely by his selfless generosity, is leasing his storefront to the Wymore campaign to help keep Birdbath afloat?

      I am astounded by the naiveté by this report that is taking the Wymore’s campaign’s explanation at face value, as if Landlord/Developer Beane is just benevolently offering basically free rent to Wymore, and is expecting absolutely nothing in return for a in-kind donation thats worth about $60,000.

      Wymore constantly says that he has never taken a campaign contribution from a Landlords, yet he is accepting this enormously valuable practically free rent. To top it off, there seems to be an entire PR firm dedicated to making this discovery go away by drowning every story with propaganda comments from the Wymore Campaign.

      • A Person says:

        You don’t need to take the Wymore campaign at face value though. If that was all that there was in their defense then that would be sketchy. To believe that something wrong happened here you would have to believe that not only was the finance board corrupt, but that they would be corrupt in favor of a candidate running against an incumbent. It’s illogical to think this is sketchy after you hold it to an ounce of thought.

        • 13 year UWS resident says:

          To me, the problem with the approximately $60,000 in free rent that Wymore is received is less of a legal issue and more of a ethical concern.

          Wymore claims that he does not accept donations from landlord developers, yet this is a pretty big donation, Right?

          Where was Wymore’s moral compass when he was offered this obscene break in the rent?

          • Mark says:

            It’s nice to see a 13-year-old who cares about politics!

            • Leon says:

              A 13 year resident is not a 13 year old – it is one who has lived here for 13 years. Reading is Fundamental

            • Mark says:

              I again need to distance myself from this poster. If you follow my discourse you’ll understand.

            • Mark says:

              If someone is a 13 year resident and was born 13 years ago, they would be a 13-year-old.
              Math is also fundamental.

            • Leon says:

              I am fairly sure that that is not what they meant. But you can believe that if you want to.

            • Mark says:

              Mark, he wrote: “13 year UWS resident”, not 13 year-old.

              This is why I continue to ask the readers to clearly assign these comments to you, and not me.

              Because I don’t set out to insult people.

    11. anon says:

      I’d vote for the landlord. Wish people with common sense and actual economic savvy would run.

      So over politicians.

    12. John Creasy says:

      It is a tactic, a classic one used by campaigns that lack a vision or purpose. When issues such as small businesses closing, rats running rampant through our playgrounds, a lack of diversity and space in our public schools, and unrestricted real estate development plaguing the UWS, THIS is the issue Helen focuses on?

    13. Long Time Upper Westsider says:

      Can anyone really believe that giving space to a political campaign is not a sleazy attempt to buy a politician? If George Beane was a true altruist, he would have let a non-profit have the space. The fact that the Campaign Finance Board approved this arrangement is only indicative of the low level of campaign finance standards in this city. And Wymore’s acceptance of this gift is not reassuring with respect to his own ethical standards.

    14. stevieboy says:

      Well, I’m not a genius but it seems to me that:

      Mel Wymore = bought, paid for, and now indebted to the Landlord lobby. Typical politician.

      I like my politicians to operate in an ethical manner. But thats just me

    15. Juan says:

      I think the whole thing is sketchy. I assumed that he had taken over the lease at something resembling true market value. That is far from the case here. Seems like the Campaign Finance Board dropped the ball here. I have not followed too closely but this seems to be in line with the rest of Wymore’s campaign.

    16. PedestrianJustice says:

      Thank you, WSR and Carol Tannenhauser for this well-reported, balanced story about an issue we are all pretty well obsessed with on this site.

      I am hoping more landlords will be like Beane and actually join the discussion and not hide from reporters seeking to inform locals about the real economics of various parties’ situations.

      • Mark says:

        This landlord has been deceptive, and NOT “inform[ing] locals about the real economics of various parties’ situations.”