Locals react to Hoosick Falls-related attack ads funded by Airbnb PAC

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HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. >> Political attack ads that highlight the village's water issue and criticize a Dutchess County senate candidate have left some residents steaming.

And they're baffled by the unlikely group that paid for the ads: A political action committee funded by Airbnb, which has heavily criticized a new law against short-term apartment rentals in New York City, according to filings with the state's Board of Elections.

Mailers criticize the environmental voting record of state Sen. Sue Serino, R/C/IP-District 41, and reference PFOA contamination in the small village in Rensselaer County. The mailers, reportedly sent around the central and lower Hudson Valley, do not mention the bill she and 56 senators supported this summer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed this month.

"We can't count on State Senator Sue Serino to protect our water," one mailer states in large letters.

"Vote NO on Sue Serino so what happened in Hoosick Falls doesn't happen here," the mailer states.

Village resident Michele Baker called the mailing "infuriating."

"It's insulting as hell," said Baker, who is part of a class-action lawsuit against two companies the state says should be held responsible for cleaning up PFOA contamination.

"We're dealing with serious health issues and we've become political propaganda shoved in a mailbox as a pre-election stunt," she said.

Stronger Neighborhoods PAC, which Airbnb established this summer, funded the mailers and a 30-second TV spot, disclosure filings show. Documents show the PAC and short-term home and apartment rental company share a San Francisco address.

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin in a series of Tweets on Thursday morning, called the mailing "classless," "disgusting," and a "total low life move." The Republican, who represents Rensselaer, Columbia and Washington counties, demanded the company apologize to his constituents of the 107th district.

An Airbnb spokesperson did not return a request for comment by press time on Thursday.

It's been almost one year since the feds issued a no-drink order on the village's water system. Decades of manufacturing is blamed for elevated levels of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid acid, a chemical once used to make Teflon. Filters have been installed on the public system that serves 4,500 and hundreds more on private wells in Hoosick and Petersburgh. Legislative hearings have been held and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering designating a local factory as a federal Superfund.

The mailings reference "toxic disasters" like Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, which aren't in Serino's district, and not legislation that imposes stiff fines on New York City residents who advertise short-term rentals like the kind Airbnb offers.

A TV ad against Serino does state that she voted for "huge fines on homeowners who want to rent their homes to make ends meet."

Airbnb funded Stronger Neighborhoods with $1 million in July and another $10 million earlier this month, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with the state.

The PAC spent a total of $562,626 for ads in the 41st and 37th senate districts: $84,000 to oppose Serino, and $372,600 supporting Democratic opponent Terry Gipson, whom she beat in 2014. In the 37th district, $95,000 supported incumbent George Latimer, who voted in favor of the bill.

Baker, a vocal critic of state environmental and health agencies, said she did agree with a mailings' statement that Albany "isn't doing enough." But the reference to the village was bizarre.

"I was deeply offended and also very angry that our situation is being used like a pawn in a chess game, which is so demeaning to the work our community has done," said resident Robert Allen. The local music teacher has made two Youtube videos about the water issue and testified during legislative hearings on water quality this summer.

"We've gone through a real crisis where a lot of us, including our children, will have negative health effects from [PFOA exposure]," he said. "To see a company put $11 million into this is insane."

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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