2017-03-15 / News

Chamber proceeds with controversial meeting despite loss of sponsorship

NBT Bank drops program support over controversial subject matter
By Joan Lawrence-Bauer

The Delaware County Chamber of Commerce will proceed with a breakfast meeting featuring the controversial Reclaim NY group, despite the removal of sponsorship for the event late last week. Local activists, many of whom are members of the chamber, weighed in with outrage last week when they learned that George Phiilips, the regional director of the organization that Alt-Right activist and Trump administration official Steve Bannon helped found, would address the chamber.  According to Reclaim New York staff, Bannon no longer serves on the organization's board.

The event, scheduled for April 7 and sponsored by NBT Bank, was promoted as a nonpartisan information session but with tax returns showing that nearly all of the group’s budget comes from Bannon associates from his days at Breitbart News, some urged NBT to pull its sponsorship of what is clearly a partisan message.

NBT statement

Dave Theleman, senior vice president of the bank told the News on Monday that, “NBT Bank is a long-time member and proud supporter of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce.” But he went on to add, “Information on the specific focus of this chamber event in Hancock was not available when we initially responded to a sponsorship request. Since NBT Bank does not typically support government relations groups that focus on specific issues, given the broad diversity of our customers, we decided to step away from this one event.” He noted that NBT would, “look forward to the opportunity to continue sponsoring future events with the chamber.”

Chamber’s viewpoint

In a notice to members Monday, Chamber President Ray Pucci said in part, “Despite a recent politically charged social media campaign calling for a public protest against the chamber, the board of directors and staff will continue the chamber’s mission of supporting local entrepreneurship by advocating for business friendly public policies in a non-partisan manner.” Pucci said Philips would “speak about the state’s affordability crisis, government transparency and other key business related issues,” and said “a question and answer session which seeks to identify business community concerns and solution-based suggestions to support businesses in Delaware County and New York State,” would follow.

Pucci also said that, “the chamber is always open to suggestions from members for any future presenters whose mission is consistent with the chamber’s.” The Delaware County Chamber of Commerce is a private, membership based organization. However, the organization also serves as the Tourism Promotion Agency for Delaware County, receiving public money to promote the county as a tourism destination.

Reclaim New York's viewpoint

Reclaim New York executive director Brandon Muir said this about the situation:  “Delaware County has seen both job and population losses in recent years, and Reclaim New York is committed to an open dialogue about how to reverse that trend. Given the undisputed facts about the state of New York’s economy, affordability crisis, and corruption issues, we find it unusual that anyone would suggest those issues are controversial in nature. We look forward to a productive dialogue with local area businesses at the event.”

Story updated March 21, 2017

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