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Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce Dumps its President

April 8, 2014 By Christian Murray

Swain Weiner, appointed president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce in June

The president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce was tossed off the board Tuesday in a tense election held at Dazies Restaurant today.

The election was held following months of infighting—particularly after chamber president Swain Weiner laid off the marketing director citing a lack of funds, and for using the chamber’s letter head to promote his real estate business.

Weiner was ousted from the board in a well-executed campaign conducted by a number of disgruntled members and their associates. The rebellious members turned up to the election with proxies from more than 20-member business, most of whom agreed that it was time for Weiner to go.

The group that led to the departure of Weiner also made sure that Chamber Secretary Laura Heim was shown the door too.

To outsiders, the overthrow of Heim was surprising. However, sources said, that she had differences with a couple of people who engineered the coup. Heim could not be reached for comment.

The proxies were what made the difference in the election—since they accounted for the majority of the votes seeking change.

Rigo Cardoso, who is likely to be named president at the next board meeting, along with Luke Adams, the laid off marketing director, and former member Patricia Dorfman had spent the past two weeks visiting businesses to generate the proxies. They had convinced businesses that it was time for a change in leadership.

However, just as the vote was about to take place, Weiner told the 25 who attended the election that he was stepping down as president–although he wanted to remain on the board.

“I think I have had a good run and made some mistakes along the way, but we all learn from that,” said Weiner. He said that he has helped bring some of the organizations in the neighborhood together—particularly Sunnyside Shines, the Boulevard of Bars and the Skillman Project.

While the ballots were being tabulated, members were given the opportunity to present their views on the state of chamber affairs.

Heim said that the chamber is not in a great place right now. “There is so much conflict that no one wants to come [to the meetings],” she said. “I don’t know how to fix it…but it is really hurting business.”

She said that in a small community like Sunnyside people rely on one another.

Dorothy Morehead, who was part of the campaign seeking change, said that she had once been a member for many years and that the chamber needed to bring back some its community-building events.

She said that in the past the chamber would have bus trips to Atlantic City or Amish Country—as well as regular business card exchanges. She said the speakers were interesting and varied—and not just elected officials.

However, Artie Weiner, who is on the board of Sunnyside Shines, said that he was surprised by the level of outrage following some of Swain Weiner’s decisions due to the Chamber’s financial constraints—referring to the layoff of Luke Adams.

“Swain has done the best job with what he has been given and that is not a lot,” Artie Weiner said.

The election has resulted in the creation of an extremely large board. The group that overthrew Weiner and Heim voted to keep the remaining board members and add more.

The board now consists of 22 members. The board will be meeting next Wednesday to announce a new president, which is expected to be Cardoso, and a slate of officers.

Weiner appeared content with the results.

“Hey, I thought I did a good job, but people had a different viewpoint,” Weiner said. “That’s what elections are for.”

Weiner said he was going to continue to be involved in the chamber and the community. “I’m not a sore loser. I’m a big guy. Hey, it was a fair election.”

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28 Comments

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Jackie Jr.

Every chamber should have a law that disallows anyone from being a board member if their business is not from the town in which the chamber is located. Enough with the carpetbaggers that come into communities with ulterior motives such as weiner.

Also if I was luke adams or cordoso I would contact a city councilman and open a criminal investigation into weiner’s use of the chamber letterhead for non-chamber business. His use of our tax payer funds is a criminal act and should be investigated immediately.

It’s comical if he’s not indicated for such an egregious act.

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Meet the Mutts

I’ve yet to see a legit explanation to how bus trips will help local business. How does that attract customers from outside of Sunnyside? How is wasting money on a friendship excursion (yep, wasting) going to get that local artist an ‘in’ at a great showroom space? or the restaurant owner who wants to attract more customers from Manhattan? etc?

It’s a Chamber of Commerce. You should be helping businesses in every way possible, and not just doing business with one another. This isn’t a BNI referral club.

So many business owners are already scared away. You really think the few people at the election acting like thugs is going to get them back? Oh right, I forgot, that bus trip to Amish country is definitely where I need to be to connect with that new customer from another borough.

Nevermind. Carry on. Hold on to the past, because it’s clearly worked, right? Times don’t change. New ideas don’t work. That’s what makes the world go round.

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Patricia Dorfman

correction…I meant five non-local artists, not five non-artists paid by the BID with a taxpayer grant. they were not non-artists; they were good!

…but we have 200-300 excellent artists here, too, who should at least be given a chance. and local artists frequent local restaurants and we need to stick together! we don’t bring in food from manhattan for our art events, and we hope future art shows will be open to locals.

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Disengaged Business Owner

@JOR summed it up for me, including wishing @Dorothy M. the luck she’ll need to help move things in the right direction.

Sadly, that’s not going to be enough for me to consider re-joining the Chamber. As others noted — it sounds like Sunnyside business owners are in for a lot more of the same.

I do not belong to the BID or harbor any “longstanding animus” toward Luke Adams (nor am I a “disinformation plant,” whatever that is). I just don’t want to belong to a group that pays him to act as its marketing director! He does not write well, does not respond to direct communications, does not take time to check his work. Why should he receive anything at all? Because he loves and supports his community?

*That’s* what makes the CoC an old-timer’s club — it doesn’t really have to do with age. JOR sounds older than I am, but not by much. 😉

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Patricia Dorfman

Most will not want to read this unedited and too-long post. I write it because some might believe unanswered charges, even if anonymous such as from “Shame” and “Statesman,” which sound like possible disinformation plants.

Grants for from the city and state are not a lump sum to spend at will but are for specific proscribed purposes. The grant discussed, if it is the same when I was involved with the chamber, included approximately $33k grant going directly to the company from which the city elicited a special low price to do daily citywide graffiti clean up for a reasonable amount. It is not a moneymaker for the chamber. I believe 10% may be retained for grant administration, which is barely worth it as I explain below. The chamber accepted conduit status it as a service.

Then there is the 8-15k, as I recall, for Skillman lights, also a direct billing from one vendor. There may have been an additionally 20k or more awarded in theory, I believe, but that may never be received because, I believe, there was is/no money to expend first to apply for reimbursement.

A grant these days is not like it might have been in the old days, when we hear $ was sent over for an organization to spend how it wished. Today, the process is heavily monitored, as is proper with the people’s money.

The first step for a grant before even applies for it, is finding a conduit or being a non-profit, which in itself is costly, and time-consuming status to maintain. For the city, representatives from the organization must attend a day-log seminar on procedures, which I and others did. Then, before any money is to be had, the org has to spend the money and only then apply for the reimbursement. Groups with grants are always fundraising because they have to – to raise it – to spend it – and only then – to apply for it – and wait.

To receive the actual $, a group has to go through a long process. For NYC, there are least four levels of city vetting. Often it takes years. Usually the org receives less than the original grant because items are disallowed. There is less and less civic grant money available. And in my personal view, grants area often not worth applying for unless enough to make it worthwhile and the org has knowledgeable volunteers who are dogged and patient about red tape. Paid executive directors small orgs spend a great deal of time fundraising to get themselves paid. They do not make the sums say Red Cross executives. Most local group heads spend their own money to “run” local charities.

I may be mistaken, but I wonder if the poster bringing up the grants is someone from the BID. I allege there seems to be some there harboring a longstanding animus against Luke Adams.

Adams was a volunteer for many years, including at one time chamber president. In later life he was hired, and paid. Recently, he was working 50-hour weeks as a consultant and getting paid $300, which does not cover his personal overhead. On his off days, he goes around town trying to promote or help someone. He owns no property, car, or stocks. His former travel agency went out of business, largely due, I believe, to giving too much away.

And speaking of local grants, The BID does apply for and receive taxpayer grants. One recent SBA grant paid five non-artists to install in five Sunnyside restaurants, which one you can imagine rankled local artists not asked to apply. Strangely, local businesses also give grants to the BID, which is already funded and has had money left at the end of some years.

And one wonders why the Chamber is not a co-host for Sunnyside’s third restaurant event, as it was for the first two, and as some of the restaurants are not part of the BID but part of the chamber? Restaurant showcases are small moneymakers. The sponsoring org shoulders the set-up costs, insurance and rentals. But with the sale of tickets, there is a profit. The last jointly-hosted one, after expenses, I believe netted about $4500, spit between the Chamber and the BID. At that one, at the urging of the Chamber, the restaurants were not charged to participate.

The restaurants are the “show,” as they supply the food, the labor and transport. They spend their own money and participate in order to get business. For the previous event, the Chamber insisted that the restaurants not be charged, as they are the reason there is money made and promotion possible. Food events are good for the whole community – putting Sunnyside on the map as a food destination and gathering local people together around the joy of food and drink.

BIDS are already funded and are property owner organizations. They pay property tax and part of that is a percentage which is returned to them to finance the BID. They are allowed to bill their tenants for that money as part of rent, with the amount based on a store’s square footage and frontage. Our BID has a budget of over $360K. Perhaps if it possible in the future, merchant groups not charge the restaurants to participate as they are doing this year. Just my view.

(Perhaps this year, with the giant tenting, there are high overhead expenses, and perhaps it will not be a big moneymaker for them. I am not involved.) And note that nothing here is a criticism of Rachel Thieme, who is doing a wonderful job and is a great ambassador for the area.

I think all of us know the difference between an entertaining or snide anonymous comments from someone with no inside knowledge and those with knowledge, whose intent seems to be to wound with no consequences to him or herself – Unmask, I say! 🙂 I apologize if commenter talking about wasted grant money above is not BID-associated, but I wonder who else would have a motive to mention the grant money — as though the chamber, a struggling organization, the only independent voice for small business, is misusing public money – or that Luke Adams does not deserve what he was paid.

I and others have other comments on the matter of finances but for another day. I hope that soon merchant chatter will be about good things we are all doing together to keep our business local.

The real point of bus trips and excursions is not just about fundraising, but about increasing friendships. Friends are more like to do business with each other, which helps everyone in town. Thank you for reading.

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jimmyz got some new moves!!

luke adams, again… uhhhh….ive lived here for so many years lynch, adams, sabba…. same old names, same old ****. need to let go at some point. times change. move on and bring some new blood and new thinking to this place.

“meet the new boss…. same as the old boss!!!” Roger Daltrey

a good leader knows when to step aside…. luke adams, its over

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Dawn O'Day

@JOR Your opinion on individuals notwithstanding, my point is elders are generally revered in societies for very good reasons. Sneering at mature people because they are mature is just another way to dismiss people you would rather not seek to understand.

Let’s hope the Chamber caters to people who are new here and those who have been around for a long time. That is forward-looking and smart.

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Celtic Bark

60 grand to a private organization? What a racket.

I’d rather see that money spent putting the “change bum” in a mental health facility where he can get the care he needs. It would improve his life and ours.

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what is the point?

This latest publicity about the efforts to oust one guy and rehire another one seems amateurish. It feels like “Waiting fir Guffman” except we live in NYC

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Dorothy Morehead

The bus trips were fundraisers for the Chamber. I also brought up the monthly newsletter to members, the business card swap events and other activities of the Chamer which have been neglected in the last few years. I should have mentioned the current website which still has major flaws. I can’t speak for other small business owners, but I don’t have the time or interest in going to a meeting once a month just for lunch. Give the new board a chance. Better yet, come to a meeting and let us know how the Chamber can help.

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doglover

Statesman, thank you for pointing that Jimmy gives this organization a lot of money. According to the City Council database it was $40,000 a year for FY 13 and 14. All the more reason for people to follow participatory budgeting when it becomes available. I wonder how they spent it. I hope they are not affiliated with the U.S. Chamber which is well known for opposing unions, minimum wage increases, and government enforcement of environmental regulations.

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SHAME!

How can an organization that thinks taking trips to “Atlantic City or Amish Country” be given public money? That’s disgraceful! If the BID did that, store owners would revolt.

This whole election and the flood of 22 board members was just a way to pack the board so Luke could get a job. He is clearly not the best person for a job like that. He may be Dorothy Morehead’s friend but can he earn the organization what he makes in salary? $60,000 from the city! Shame!

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Celtic Bark

From the article: “She said that in the past the chamber would have bus trips to Atlantic City or Amish Country”

How exactly does taking people out of state to spend their money help local business?

If this is the kind of bizarro logic the chamber is using, no wonder it’s dysfunctional.

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JOR

@Dawn I’m old enough to have watched Tony Danza box professionally at the Sunnyside Gardens Arena, rooted for the New York Chiefs at the same venue, and spent too many nights at Flynn’s when it was on Queens Boulevard. The description of wise, experience hands in your post is fantastical if you think that applies to the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce. Take a look at the Chamber’s website, for which I understand they received considerable public money to develop, the term “outdated” would be kind. I hope the gaggle of directors have thought about purchasing O&E insurance to cover potential liability for the apparent malfeasance in their oversight responsibilities. Any group whose primary activity seems to have been appointing one another as “directors” and lunching at Dazies can fairly be described as an old timers club.

@Ms. Morehead May the force be with you.

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Semper Paratus Man

New to this and not a writer but not new to Statesman are uyou the guy who failed at every bus you tried except inherriting your mothers building.
idea for you go wreck your own nieghborhood.

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Dawn O'Day

@JOR Only the young and inexprienced would view a roomful of experienced and mature people as an “old timers club.” “Old Timer” is an honorific, as in “Elder” and not an insult, as your syntax suggests.

Believe it or not people continue learning and gaining skill as they mature. The picture they see gets bigger, the details get clearer, the connectedness of everything becomes apparent in ways people who have not earned the benefit of maturity find impossible to imagine.

It sounds as if you have what Spike Lee aptly called the “Christopher Columbus Syndrome.” Meaning because it is new to you, you think it is new to everyone. While you may have fun reinventing the wheel, those of us who have been using them for a while have much more interesting projects to attend to.

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Statesman

For years Cathy Nolan gave the Chamber 15,000 for Luke Adams. Now Van Bramer is giving them 65,000. If I were you Jimmy I’d ask for a full accounting down to the last penny.

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Anonymous

Thanks for having bus trips back. One day or weekend vacation for some of us who work!

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Dorothy Morehead

@ JOR The total membership of the Chamber is under 100. A board of 22 is high but most of the new board members are young business owners who will work to revitalize the organization. We will be working to attract new members and to repair relationships with former members.
@ beenherefor25years The bus trips will resume. They were very popular and were effective fundraisers for the Chamber.

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JOR

Twenty-two members on a Board of an organization of how many? Without a total reorganization including creation of an efficient and effective Board, this group will continue to be viewed as Sunnyside’s Old Timers Club.

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Oldschool Sunnysider

Hopefully after the Aluminaire House debacle, and this vote, Ms. Heim may learn that “her way” is not the Sunnyside Way.

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ca$h munnee

i had a great list of weiner jokes somewhere after the anthony weiner election defeat, where the hell did i put it!!?? I knew it’d come in handy someday!

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