Records show business violations for Congress candidates
The candidates running in New York’s 21st Congressional District often tout their business experience on the campaign trail; however, a closer examination of their business records showed some violations.
Businesses that Democratic candidate Aaron Woolf has a stake in were cited for numerous health code violations, and Republican Elise Stefanik’s family’s plywood business also was shown to have Department of Transportation violations, the New York Daily News reported recently. Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello’s cafe also turned up a few violations.
Woolf’s two businesses received a combined 83 city health department violations in a three-and-a-half-year period from 2011 to this year. Of those violations, 56 – just over two thirds – were listed as “critical.” Both businesses are based out of Williamsburg, a neighborhood of Brooklyn that’s been gentrified in recent years.
Both businesses have “A” ratings from the city health department, but there’s an extensive list of critical violations, marked in red on the inspection reports that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene posts online.
Urban Rustic, a grocery store, had 50 violations, 33 of which were classified as critical violations, including evidence of mice, not providing hand-washing stations for staff near food preparation and toilet areas, potential contamination of uncooked food, and inadequate personal cleanliness by staff.
The Lodge, a rustic-styled restaurant, was cited for 33 violations in the three years since 2011, 23 of which were critical violations, including evidence of rats, mice and flies.
Stuart Rosenberg, Woolf’s campaign spokesman, said there are issues to grapple with at every small business. He pointed to the businesses’ “A” ratings.
“As a small businessman, Aaron knows that when something needs to be fixed, it is up to the small businessman to fix it,” Rosenberg wrote by email. “You don’t point fingers, make excuses, or lay blame. You fix the problems. And Aaron is proud that Urban Rustic now has an A rating, and proud of the good(s) and services that Urban Rustic provides to its customers.”
Woolf has other business partners for both the grocery store and restaurant, including Dan Cipriani.
According to a 2008 interview with National Public Radio, during the making of Woolf’s documentary “King Corn,” he said he had become appalled by the food industry, which was why he decided to open Urban Rustic. It debuted in 2007 and is branded as selling only locally produced and organic foods.
“What we really want to do is to get people to think about where their food comes from,” Woolf told NPR.
The Lodge is stylistically based on the Adirondacks. It opened about 10 years ago.
“The idea for the Lodge restaurant grew out of a series of dinners shared during the re-construction of a nineteenth century Adirondack Camp,” the restaurant’s website states.
Woolf, who lives in Elizabethtown and Manhattan; Stefanik, who has lived in Willsboro for about a year; and Funiciello, of Glens Falls, are running to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Owens in the 21st District, which covers the entire North Country.
Stefanik’s family-owned business, Premium Plywood Products, was also called out for business violations. The Daily News stated “from 1997 to 2012, its trucks received 149 state Department of Transportation violations for issues like unsafe cargo and poor brake maintenance.”
Stefanik works in sales and marketing at the company, a job she started at in 2013. Prior to that she worked in Washington, D.C., at a number of different political positions, including as a low-level staffer for President George W. Bush and after that as a debate coach for Rep. Paul Ryan during his campaign for vice president.
Charlotte Guyett, Stefanik’s campaign spokeswoman, said Premium Plywood Products should not be criticized.
“Elise works at a small business that provides jobs to grow the economy in Upstate New York,” Guyett said. “That should be applauded, not criticized, as the North Country needs more small businesses like Premium.
Guyett said the “overreaching regulatory environment facing small businesses is an issue Stefanik hears every day and she understands that “overregulation hurts our economy in New York’s 21st District.”
Funiciello is the owner of the Rock Hill Bakehouse and Rock Hill Cafe, both in Glens Falls. A search of the cafe turned up 41 state Health Department violations, eight of them critical, in a seven-year period from 2006 to 2013. The critical violations included, in 2012, improper refrigeration and foods like potato salad macaroni salad not made with pre-chilled ingredients, and, in 2011, food workers not using proper utensils to eliminate bare-hand contact with cooked food. Funiciello could not be reached by press time.
Managing Editor Peter Crowley contributed to this report.