By Carol Tannenhauser
A landlord at the center of a local political dispute claimed to be neutral in this year’s City Council race, but two $2,750 donations to a challenger calls that claim into question.
George Beane, the landlord at 2244 Broadway between 80th and 81st streets, brokered a deal between Birdbath Bakery, which was struggling to stay at the location, and the campaign of candidate Mel Wymore, who was looking for campaign office space. In the end, Wymore agreed to temporarily take the space, paying nothing in rent but giving Birdbath $616 a month to cover its utilities. Birdbath will pay $10 a month to hold the lease and will presumably take the space back after the campaign.
Current council member Helen Rosenthal has challenged the arrangement, saying it amounts to an undisclosed “in-kind” donation by the landlord worth “tens of thousands of dollars.” That donation, she says, has been hidden from the public.
Beane has said that Birdbath was struggling, and might have had to vacate the space were it not for Wymore’s acceptance of the deal. He says he was simply finding a way to allow a valued tenant to temporarily vacate the space to save some money. The Campaign Finance Board approved the arrangement contingent upon receiving certain certified documents. Wymore’s campaign says those documents have been provided.
Beane also told us last week that he doesn’t presently back either candidate, and isn’t sure who he’ll vote for. “I don’t have a stake in either candidate,” he said. However, campaign finance records show that he has given the maximum allowable amount to Wymore’s campaign — $2,750. He also gave $2,750 to Wymore’s unsuccessful 2013 campaign. Asked about his financial support for Wymore, he told us in an email that “Mel was an effective Community Board 7 chair and a person of integrity. I’ve supported Gale Brewer, too, and think she has integrity. I don’t agree with either of them on certain issues.”
Rosenthal has filed a complaint with the Campaign Finance Board. “Claiming that, because space is empty and has a market value of $0, is absurd on its face and completely violates both the spirit and letter of campaign finance law,” she wrote. “Why couldn’t anyone then assign a market value of $0 to anything to get away with excessive in-kind contributions?”
Since Beane has already “maxed out” his allowable contributions to the Wymore campaign, were this ruled to be an “in-kind contribution,” he would have exceeded allowable limits, Rosenthal noted.
A spokesman from Wymore’s office, Dan Gleick, sees it differently. “In this case, Mel found an innovative win-win-win solution that will help save a fantastic local business which needed a break on its rent, and help a responsible landlord keep a tenant he loves. Believe me, our staff and volunteers wish the pretzel croissants and kale salads were still around, but saving this location for Birdbath in the long run is worth it.”
Will Beane’s support for Wymore impact the Campaign Finance Board’s ruling in the matter? We contacted the Campaign Finance Board for clarification on this matter. Their response was, “It is agency policy not to comment on complaints. Sorry.”
Photo by Rebecca Frey.