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.”