Will Money talk over the People?

Last week, the Rochester Business Journal published opposing guest essays about the proposed Business Improvement District. One essay was concerned with power, the other with the people. NY State Senator Jeremy Cooney and major downtown property owner Andy Gallina, as co-chairs of the BID formation Committee, presented a confusing mix of common talking points from other BID backers. They tried to support their BID plans with quotes from rich individuals and politicians, and even included praise from a business that rents space from Gallina. (Blink twice if you need help!)


Clearly a BID would benefit Gallina (shown here standing next to Senator Cooney). As owner of some of the highest valued properties downtown, including the building that houses the Democrat & Chronicle, Gallina has often popped up in meetings with elected officials to push for the BID. He was even part of the push for hospitality ambassadors.

Housing advocates are closely watching Senator Cooney’s voting record. The City Wide Tenant Union recently pointed out that while originally Jeremy Cooney supported Good Cause protections, he ultimately voted against the law. This law would shield renters from unfair evictions and prevent them from losing their homes due to excessive rent increases. Unsurprisingly, in spite of broad support from New Yorkers for Good Cause protections, landlord groups oppose it. It should be noted that Cooney is now among the top New York State Senators receiving money from real estate lobbyists. BIDs also are designed to only benefit the biggest real estate investors.

“This report shows the extent of wealthy landlords’ massive policy shaping effort, spending millions of dollars to set up phony front groups, dispatch an army of lobbyists, and flood the campaign accounts of lawmakers across the state… Public officials have a stark choice about whether they will prioritize the profiteering of New York City landlords over the needs of the tenants they represent.”

Robert galbraith, senior research analyst
Public Accountability intiative
Donations from Big Real estate interests and not from the people

Real estate dollars have flooded local races as well. Paul Conrow was a candidate for City Council last year and a strong supporter of the BID. He received 5 maximum donations from Gallina family members last year and thousands more from other BID supporters. Despite all of the money and a questionable loan given to Conrow’s campaign, he ultimately lost.

Last year, we asked current council members about any potential conflicts of interest. Before passing the first step in the BID process, no council member mentioned donations. Clearly, we need to carefully check donations before any vote to move the BID forward occurs. You can search campaign donations for candidates and elected officials here if you want to help.

“Let the buyer beware”

Artist and Community organizer Kelly Cheatle wrote the second essay. She is on the BID Education committee a group that has spoken out against the RDDC’s Business Improvement District effort since early 2022.

Her essay, “No Confidence Game,” might be the first full critique of the RDDC’s questionable public engagement and the BID plan in local newspapers. There has been very little local news coverage that digs in to how a BID works and how it will change downtown.

uncovering a plan to take power from the people

Cheatle paints a picture of the RDDC’s misleading tactics, comparing them to a three-card monte game that benefits big real estate at the cost of downtown’s potential and people. She explains how BIDs charge property owners mandatory fees. BIDs are run by a board that looks out for the largest property owners, and ignores the broader community. She also points out how BIDs reinforce systemic racial injustices by leaving out those who don’t own property from making decisions.

“by locking voice to property ownership [a BID] denies Black residents an equal opportunity to represent their interests. This is not only wildly undemocratic, in the context of our community’s history, it is a systemically racist policy.

“No Confidence Game”
Rochester Business Journal, January 2024

The essay highlights the importance of people actually having a say in the future of our city. A BID could take even more power away from the people. City council needs to stop the BID to keep power with the people. And they need to hear from you now. City council can stop this Downtown BID, just as it did in 2014. All it requires is the political will to do so. Join the fight.

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