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Councilwoman Claims Challenger Didn't Disclose Free UWS Campaign Office

By Jackson Chen | August 22, 2017 4:59pm
 Helen Rosenthal accused Mel Wymore of skirting campaign finances by accepting a rent-free deal.
Helen Rosenthal accused Mel Wymore of skirting campaign finances by accepting a rent-free deal.
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Incumbent Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal filed a complaint with the Campaign Finance Board accusing her challenger of not disclosing the fact that he isn't paying rent for his campaign office.

Mel Wymore, who is vying for Rosenthal’s District 6 council seat, is currently running his campaign out of 2244 Broadway, between West 80th and 81st Streets, a space previously home to Birdbath Bakery.

The August 14 complaint charges that Wymore's campaign finances fail to list expenditures for rent or any “in-kind contributions,” or any assets offered to a campaign that are not monetary.

Retail spaces on that stretch of Broadway can rent for up to $10,000 per month, according to the complaint filed by Rosenthal's attorney, Sarah Steiner.

However, Wymore's camp claims that he signed a deal with the landlord to pay a monthly rent for the space, but that there was a delay in getting the contract notarized. 

Birdbath was unable to make its rent over the summer and wanted to take a few months off from paying rent and utilities until October, according to Wymore spokesman Dan Gleick.

The candidate decided to sign a contract with the landlord and Birdbath agreeing to pay a $616 monthly — a price set by Birdbath's owner — during their temporary time there, Gleick explained. Birdbath would continue to pay $10 month in order to maintain its lease, he added.

Gleick stated that the agreement was only recently notarized and that the first bill would be paid at the end of August, despite Wymore moving into space a couple months ago.

However, Rosenthal claims her challenger is only paying the rent now after she submitted a challenge to the Campaign Finance Board, noting that retail spaces in the area can easily rent for $10,000 a month.

Steiner said that she’s seen seasonal businesses rent space for campaigns during their down time, but that they usually rent at market rates. She added that in reviewing Wymore's campaign filings, there was no mention of paying rent or receiving the office space as a contribution.

Gleick maintained that the agreement was cleared in advance by the Campaign Finance Board.

“Before entering into our current arrangement, we confirmed with the CFB that it was completely proper,” Gleick said. “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.”

The Campaign Finance Board declined to comment, saying it can't speak about pending cases, but Steiner said she received a response from the agency saying it received the complaint.

Still, Rosenthal said she is disappointed in the board for releasing more than $90,000 in matching funds for the Wymore campaign in the face of her charges.

“I’m stunned that this group of people who are supposed to be protecting the public purse and putting everyone on an even playing field… is letting Mel’s campaign get away with not having to pay for prime real estate,” the councilwoman said.

She added that Wymore’s campaign office is taking up valuable real estate, which could be replaced by a pop-up shop for a small business.

“I am hard-pressed to fathom how a retail shop in the heart of the Upper West Side has zero value,” Rosenthal said. “There’s value to retail shops and claiming that it has zero value through some tortured, convoluted set of reasoning, I think is appalling.”