October 27, 2016
ALBANY – Hoosick Falls residents spoke out Thursday against home-sharing giant Airbnb for drawing ties to the village’s water-contamination crisis in direct-mail advertisements targeting a Hudson Valley state senator.
Residents of the small Rensselaer County village near the Vermont border took to social media to express their displeasure with the company, whose political action committee spent more than $550,000 in the past two weeks on a pair of key races that could help decide which party controls the state Senate.
About $91,000 funded mailers targeting Sen. Sue Serino, R-Hyde Park, Dutchess County, seeking to tie her to major water-contamination issues in Hoosick Falls — despite Airbnb’s focus on housing issues and the village being 80 miles north of the northern-most point of Serino’s mid-Hudson Valley district .
The USA Today Network’s Albany Bureau highlighted the mailers in a report Wednesday.
“Airbnb funds a superpac and evokes #hoosickfalls #pfoa water crisis on a senate race in… #hudsonvalley ?!?,” tweeted Rob Allen, a Hoosick Falls music teacher and father of four. “Deeply offended. Deeply.”
In an interview Thursday, Allen — who has been active in Hoosick Falls residents’ battle with government regulators — said it was “demeaning” to residents of the village, whose water wells have shown significantly high levels of PFOA, an industrial chemical with ties to serious medical issues.
“To connect those issues and to try and make a statement out of our situation demeans us and the work we’ve done and the people who were affected by it,” Allen said.
Loreen Hackett, a Hoosick Falls resident who runs a Twitter account featuring photos of residents holding signs showing the level of PFOA in their blood, accused the company of “exploiting poisoned families,” calling their mailers “callous, disrespectful and deplorable.”
In a statement Thursday, Damien LaVera, a spokesman for Airbnb’s PAC, defended the mailers, saying people in the Hudson Valley are concerned about environmental issues facing their communities.
He cited a report earlier this year from EPL/Environmental Advocates, which ranked Serino third-lowest in the Senate on environmental issues in 2016.
“Airbnb at its core is a community of hosts — and that community in the Hudson Valley is deeply concerned about environmental issues and what their elected officials are doing to ensure that their natural resources are protected,” he said. “The questions need to be directed at Sue Serino and the spotlight needs to shine on her environmental record, which is the third worst in the senate.”
The company’s political arm — the Stronger Neighborhoods PAC — has spent $457,380 so far on Serino’s battle against former Sen. Terry Gipson, a Rhinebeck Democrat trying to recapture his old seat in a district that stretches across Putnam and Dutchess counties.
The majority of that money has funded television advertisements targeting Serino for her vote in favor of a new law, which imposes stiff fines for New York City users who advertise apartments in multi-dwelling buildings for a rental term of less than 30 days, which is illegal.
Airbnb is suing in an attempt to have the law overturned.
But the two mailers highlighting Hoosick Falls make no mention of Airbnb or the rental bill, instead blasting Serino for her environmental record and encouraging voters to vote against Serino “so what happened in Hoosick doesn’t happen here.”
The mailers faulted Serino for not supporting three bills related to the water crisis — none of which ever made it to the Senate floor. Two of the bills were introduced in September, after lawmakers ended their legislative session in June.
In a statement, Serino accused Airbnb of “fear-mongering and exploiting people’s real pain.”
“My heart breaks for the families of Hoosick Falls,” she said. “They’ve been through enough, getting dragged into a baseless smear campaign is the last thing they need to worry about.”
Asked Wednesday about Airbnb’s spending in the district, Gipson campaign manager Josh Mumm issued a statement saying Gipson’s campaign is “completely focused on helping the people in the Hudson Valley.” The statement did not directly address the spending, which was independent of Gipson’s campaign.
Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Republican who represents the village, said the Airbnb should apologize.
“You’re just tying in my constituents who have been through hell and back, and suddenly you’re drawing this ridiculously stupid link between a Senate race in the Hudson Valley and Hoosick Falls water,” he said. “They need to wake up and apologize immediately.”