Mayor Gallo, Diane Reeder differ on benefit concert shutdown

Mayor Shayne Gallo.

Mayor Shayne Gallo.

Mayor Shayne Gallo said Friday, Aug. 2  that issues of “legality, liability and fairness” led him to pull the plug on a soup-kitchen fundraiser scheduled for this weekend. But Diane Reeder, executive director of the Queen’s Galley, said she believes the action was based on Gallo’s hostility towards her non-profit and other groups that serve low-income residents of Kingston.

Reeder operates the soup kitchen located in a Washington Avenue boarding house and provides lunch for drop-in programs at the YMCA and Everette Hodge Center. On Sunday, Aug. 4 the group planned to host a fundraiser at San Severia, a summertime food and entertainment venue located in a temporary “spiegeltent”at the former site of the Kings Inn, featuring local musician Sara Jecko. The venue is operating this summer under the terms of a lease with the city which owns the empty lot where the motel once stood. On Wednesday, July 31, Reeder received an e-mail from San Severia owner Robert Airhart saying that the event would have to be canceled. Airhart explained that he had gotten a phone call from Gallo telling him that non-profit fundraisers were prohibited on city property.

Gallo said the decision was based in part on advice from City Corporation Counsel Andrew Zweben who said that the event could pose an insurance liability. (Reeder said Queen’s Galley has an insurance policy that would have covered the event). He added that, insurance issues aside, allowing the Queen’s Galley to host a fundraiser on city property would set a precedent which could place Kingston officials in the position of having to pick and choose between charity groups for use of city resources. Faith-based charities, meanwhile would be shut out entirely based on the constitutional separation between church and state.


“It would be unlawful to use public property to benefit one organization and not others,” said Gallo. who added that he became aware of the fundraiser when he received calls from other non-profit groups and clergy complaining about the event on city property.

Robert Airhart was unavailable for comment on Friday but his wife and business partner Josie Airhart said that he had accepted full responsibility for the mix up.

“This type of event needs pre-approval from the city,” said Airhart. “We’re both just heartbroken that we weren’t able to make it happen and a technicality hung us up.”

But Reeder said that she thinks a more sinister motive than concern over liability and fairness led to the cancellation. Reeder said she believes that Gallo is purposely trying to thwart the Queen’s Galley and other non-profits from serving the city’s poorest residents in hopes of driving them out entirely. Reeder noted Gallo’s decision last month to ban a Hurley church from distributing clothing and other items in the parking lot of the Everette Hodge Center and other actions that she said made it harder for groups which serve the city’s poor to operate.

“We don’t fit with the gentrification vision that his administration has promoted,” said Reeder. “He wants to bring in the arts community, that’s great, but not if they’re going to be holding a fundraiser for the Queen’s Galley.”

Reeder said Gallo’s hostility towards Queen’s Galley was evident early in his first year in office when she met with him to discuss the soup kitchen and boarding house. She claims that Gallo launched into a diatribe about how groups like the Queens Galley drew low-income residents to the city. Reeder said that she was told city residents were suffering from “compassion fatigue” and that her organization “has no place in Kingston.”

“His idea that if we can get [poor] people to move, Kingston will be a better place is embarrassing,” said Reeder. “He has no moral compass.”

Reeder added that she and other nonprofit officials had remained largely silent about their clashes with the Gallo administration out of fear of retaliation. But, she said, she believed the Queen’s Galley was already in Gallo’s crosshairs and thus she has nothing to lose.

“This man is on a jihad to shut us down,” said Reeder. “He has us on his bucket list and we’re way up there.”

Gallo rejected Reeder’s claim that he was working to drive poor residents from the city. He pointed to his work with a number of charitable groups including Community Action, United Methodist Church and the Boys and Girls Club as evidence of his commitment to non-profit service providers. Gallo noted that he, working with community action, had set up food pantries at all of the city’s senior citizen residents and was working with the group on a program to reach the housebound. Gallo also pointed to his efforts to improve and expand programming at the Hodge Center, open the Rondout Neighborhood center on a year round basis and support for a shelter for homeless veterans downtown.

“The idea that that I am trying to gentrify Midtown and put her out of business is not only misplaced, but preposterous,” said Gallo.

Gallo also disputed Reeder’s account of their conversation in the early months of his administration. He said that during the course of their conversation he offered to help the soup kitchen find a new location, perhaps at the former Meagher Elementary School and win a contract for a Meals on Wheels program. He said the phrase “compassion fatigue” had come from an article in the Kingston Times and that he was merely trying to convey that it was getting harder, in tough economic times, for charitable groups to raise money. Gallo said that he also told Reeder that she was in competition with “a plethora” of other service providers in the city.

“She no longer has a monopoly,” said Gallo, who criticized the group for relying exclusively on private donations instead of competing for grants. “It’s not my fault she’s not getting donations, it’s not my fault she has to hold a fundraiser every other week.”

There are 6 comments

  1. Allison Gray Teetsel

    Ugh. I can’t get over it. “It’s not my fault she’s not getting donations, it’s not my fault she has to hold a fundraiser every other week.”

    Ok, Shayne…maybe you’re right in that it isn’t your fault…but what are you doing to HELP? I just donated what I could, and I know several others who are doing the same. Members of the community came together in the last 12(?!) hours to figure out an alternative to the cancelled benefit. What have YOU done, besides point fingers and attempt to shirk any responsibility?

  2. Rich Turck

    A soup kitchen draws low-income people to the city in the same way trailer parks attract tornadoes. Great logic there, Mr. Mayor. You are supposed to be caring for all of the citizens of the city, not just the ones you enjoy having in your company.

  3. gerald berke

    This ought to have been your lead:

    “Reeder said Gallo’s hostility towards Queen’s Galley was evident early in his first year in office when she met with him to discuss the soup kitchen and boarding house. She claims that Gallo launched into a diatribe about how groups like the Queens Galley drew low-income residents to the city. Reeder said that she was told city residents were suffering from “compassion fatigue” and that her organization “has no place in Kingston.””

    If you lead with that, the rest makes sense. If you agree with Gallo, then you might also agree with his actions. If not, you very likely will not.
    Ms Reeder does a spectacular job, and serves many people very very well, and has recognition and appreciation to match. If Mr Gallo has some numbers, some goal he is reaching for, some policy he is pursuing, that ought to be stated, vis “Kingston has about 1000 people that totally depend on food banks and social services… I’d like that number to be more like 800, and hold to that figure or lower, based on our population and our ability to absorb and care for people at the same time we create and maintain a healthy city” Mr. Gallo might also translate those figures into various quality of life crimes, family disputes, and the like, such as (predatory?) landlords that deliver low quality housing to people of little means.
    It is a departure from Mr. Sottile who certainly did see Kingston as a generous haven for all, and saw that as a major purpose and attribute of the city of Kingston.
    Surely there are other tools in the Mayors kit bag (to the man with a hammer everything looks like nail) and Mr Gallo seems to use his legal education as a hammer… that same hammer was used against CMRR and just as a simple matter of code enforcement about a free store at Hodge but then was noticeably absent in dealing with a recalcitrant employee before the Mayor and Corporation Counsel.
    I have written before that perception is reality and that there is a perception that this mayor cares deeply for this city and this serves him and us well. This other perception that he is mercurial and heavy handed and selectively uses the law so that our law too becomes questionable, that’s not so good.
    It is a delicate matter, righting the ship or lining up the airplane on a runway: the riders would like a smoother service and can’t help but feel alarmed what with all the lurching.

  4. Concerned Citizen

    I’m not shocked at all from this. This man is from an elitist group of individuals. Why isn’t action being taking to put him out of office? Wait how did this obnoxious man get into office? Lets stop complaining about him and do something.

    1. Allison Gray Teetsel

      Unfortunately, there’s no provision in place (either in the City code or via NYS law) to remove the mayor from office mid-term. With our current “Strong Mayor” form of government, Gallo’s got the closest thing to absolute power that exists on the local level (see here for more info:

      I agree that *something* must be done…but what? I’m not even sure what our options are at this point, but the way things are going, we’re in for a long couple of years!

  5. Inaquandry

    I think Ms. Reeder has done a great disservice to the residents of the city. She doesn’t want to apply for grants because then her books might be open to scrutiny. Fine…help those who need it….there are enough programs with the openness of the SNAP program, etc…but the gourmet meals she serves are better than what I can afford to feed my family and I work full-time. What I would like to see is a reporter popping by her Galley and snapping pics of the deplorable conditions of the residence, or writing a story on the violent fight that took place there last week, etc… There is a reason this person doesn’t want to have accountabilty to anyone, or to show anyone the books and finances of this place that is destroying the entire neighborhood. Those of us who remember the great days back when Kingston didn’t cater to those coming off the bus for our welfare benefits grieve everyday while watching her collect money to feed them. Enabling is her mantra.

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