Email shows local short-term rental industry sought to raise funds for City Council candidates Ramsey, Maklansky

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Editor's note: This story has been revised to include the information that District A candidate Joe Giarrusso returned a $250 contribution by Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity president Eric Bay on Sept. 2, the day it was made. Maklansky also contacted Gambit to say she did not remember receiving a check from the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity in early July, and that she was returning the money. She had declined to accept a $1,000 check from the organization in August.

Less than six months into implementation of the city’s short-term rental (STR) ordinance, the leading local proponent of expanded STRs is raising money for some City Council candidates “who have pledged to work with us,” according to an email sent by the pro-STR Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP). In the email, ANP makes clear that the organization seeks to expand the “footprint of inclusion” for STRs and increase “both day count and occupancy permitted” in the city’s STR ordinance.

An ANP email sent last month titled "Call to Arms and Action-All Members City Wide" asked the group’s members and supporters to help raise campaign money by attending fundraisers for two council candidates in particular — District C incumbent Nadine Ramsey and District A hopeful Aylin Acikalin Maklansky, who until recently served as Ramsey’s legislative director. In addition to hosting fundraisers for Ramsey and Maklansky, ANP and its president have contributed to several other council candidates directly.

"Both are Equally important to our futures," the email said, "as their contending opposing candidates have announced anti-STR sentiment and prioritized restrictions going forward if elected. Please make every effort to contribute online and if unable to attend. Support your future by supporting those who have pledged to work with us."

Asked about the efforts by ANP, Ramsey told Gambit she initially didn’t know about the fundraiser, which is scheduled for Sept. 19 at Schoen Funeral Home on Canal Street in Mid-City, which is not in District C. Ramsey said after she became aware of the email’s language — particularly its suggestion that she was committed to expanding STRs into the French Quarter — she told her campaign to cancel the event. If it is held anyway, Ramsey told Gambit, she said she would not attend.

“We didn’t know they were doing it with the intent to change policy,” Ramsey said.

Maklansky told Gambit that the email came to her campaign’s attention only after she had committed to an event scheduled for Aug. 29 at a home owned by Michelle LeBlanc in the Black Pearl neighborhood, which Maklansky characterized as a “meet and greet” rather than a fundraiser. The property, known as Oulala House, is listed on the short-term rental website VRBO and is advertised at an average price of $680 a night. The email listed the event and address and asked STR supporters to “support your future by supporting those who have pledged to work with us.” Maklansky said the event had no bearing on her support (or lack thereof) for short-term rentals.

“I in no way, unequivocally, and I will say right now, I have not committed to any of those particular points,” Maklansky told Gambit  “I would not do that on any issue. … Anybody who has ever worked with me would say I would not commit to something without full discussion, debate.”

Maklansky said characterizations in the email expressing her support for ANP’s agenda are “absolutely not true.” Nevertheless, she attended the “meet and greet” at Oulala House, she told Gambit, because it already had been scheduled.

“I didn’t think there was any reason for me to cancel because the Alliance made some misrepresentations in an email,” she said. “I will say that I didn’t accept a check from the Alliance.”

Actually, Maklansky did accept money from ANP. So did several other council candidates, though the others got less than Maklansky and Ramsey.

Campaign finance records show Maklansky received $500 from ANP on July 12, as well as several personal donations from ANP president Eric Bay, who gave her campaign $250 on July 12, $1,000 on Aug. 4, $250 on Aug. 15, and $250 on Aug. 30, one day after the "meet and greet" at Oulala House.

ANP’s other campaign donations include:

- $1,000 to Ramsey on May 11 and $250 in June 2016.

- $100 to District B councilmember and mayoral candidate LaToya Cantrell on Feb. 2 and $1,000 on May 24.

- $500 to At-Large Councilmember Jason Williams in June 2016 and $250 in November 2016.

Bay also made donations to Cantrell ($250 on Feb. 2) and District A candidate Joe Giarrusso ($250 on Sept. 2). Giarrusso contacted Gambit after this story initially ran to point out he returned Bay's contribution the same day it was made:

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After this story ran online, Maklansky emailed Gambit to clarify. "When I said 'I will say that I didn’t accept a check from the Alliance.' I was thinking of a $1,000 donation the organization offered to me in August, which I declined (a picture of which is attached.) When I spoke with you I did not remember a previous check from early July. When it was brought to my attention in your article, I immediately refunded the Alliance check (see attached) and my future reports will reflect this." (The email included copies of the refused $1,000 check and a check for $500 from her campaign to the ANP, which was dated today.)

In the email announcing the fundraisers, ANP’s said its agenda “remains the same.” That includes an “expanded footprint of inclusion and increases in both day count and occupancy permitted,” which would lift the current ban on short-term rentals in the French Quarter and increase the number of beds allowed citywide. The email described its aim as “(French Quarter, 180+, 2 per bed plus 2)”.

Those numbers strongly suggest a significant expansion of the city’s short-term rental policy, which was ratified by the New Orleans City Council in Dec. 2016 by a vote of 5-2. That policy took effect in April and includes a 90-day cap per year on rentals, as well as a controversial ban on STRs in the French Quarter — which is in Ramsey’s district.

Bay told Gambit in a Sept. 13 phone interview that the ANP hoped to bring the short-term rental ordinance back to the table this fall, one year after the City Council voted on its latest policy. That vote has become an issue on the campaign trail for both mayoral and council candidates..
The ANP email says the organization hopes to have a revised ordinance draft prepared by October “so a December Ordinance revision can be brought back for a vote.”

“When we all came to an agreement — and I say all, I mean the hotels, the opposition, the VCPORA [Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents, and Associates], us, the Alliance, the city, everybody — and made that compromise ordinance, every one of the seven on that dais said we’d look at it another time in a year,” Bay told Gambit. “Let’s not wait until after May, when new people come in. … Let’s get some studies and see, and look at it.”

Bay says the email’s description of candidates “who have pledged to work with us” meant candidates who pledged to work with people on all sides of the short-term rental debate, not just ANP. “All we were looking for was those progressive leaders who are open and engage more conversation,” he told Gambit. “Not with us. They’re not affiliated with us. When we say the people who support us, they’re the ones who listen. Not take our side, but listen.”

Despite that disclaimer, Bay told Gambit on Sept. 15 that he “probably should have worded [the email] differently.”

“I personally spoke to both of them [Ramsey and Maklansky] and said, ‘I’m sorry if the wording was misinterpreted.’ But neither one of them has pledged any support for us going forward. No one has,” Bay said. “But they’ve all agreed, yes, all sides of the conversation need to be represented in order for fair analysis, along with data. That’s it.”

The email also asked supporters to donate to ANP to supplement its “budgeted need of $55,000” to fund the competition of economic impact and demographic studies as well as a revised draft ordinance, “items asked for by current council allies.”

“It’s disappointing… but it’s gonna happen. People will represent what you do in their own way and I don’t have control over that,” Maklansky said. “I have no idea why that was done or why those representations were made, but that was not correct.”

The primary is Oct. 14. Early voting starts Sept. 30 and continues through Oct. 7.
> Call to Arms and Action-All Members City Wide
>
> View this email in your browser
> Provide, preserve, and promote the neighborhoods of our great city of New Orleans. Creating engagement through Data-driven Decision Making.
> CALLING ALL MEMBERS!!
> It's Time To Re-engage
> As the Political Season heats up, our Vacation Rental Industry is increasingly coming under political attack.
> Our Group has formed many positive allied relationships among current and campaigning City Council Members. These individuals have worked on our behalf in the past and pledge to do so going forward.
> We have finalized two upcoming Fundraising Events, for District A Candidate Aylin Maklansky and District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey.
> Both are Equally important to our futures, as their contending opposing candidates have announced anti-STR sentiment and prioritized restrictions going forward if elected. Please make every effort to contribute online and if unable to attend. Support your future by supporting those who have pledged to work with us.
> Tuesday, August 29th at 519 Short St- Aylin Maklansky Fundraiser.
> Tuesday, September 19th at 3827 Canal St- Nadine Ramsey Fundraiser.
> The day of each Event we will broadcast a direct link to the Candidates campaign page, so full impact of our support can be felt at once.
>
> As Fall approaches, the Alliance needs to Fund our Efforts in Advocacy, Government Relations, Legal, Lobbying, and Data Study completion. Our Goal is to have complete and ready by late October, so a December Ordinance revision can be brought back for a Vote.
> We have forecasted a budgeted need of $55,000 to Fund our Agenda. This includes legal and lobby fees as well as the completion of Economic Impact Study, Host Demographic Study, Housing Impact Study, and Revised Draft Ordinance proposal-the items asked for by Current Council allies to have as defense from opposition and data driven statistics to validate their support.
> We are asking for All Members who have not contributed in Fiscal 2017 to please re-commit to our collective fundraising initiatives.
>
> Our "Agenda", our goal remains the same, an "expanded footprint of inclusion and increases in both Day Count and occupancy permitted" . (French Quarter, 180+, 2 per bed plus 2)..
> Our growth and validated legitimacy over the past three year battle has positioned the Alliance as the respected voice of reason representing our local industry. Any and all Ordinance growth will be initiated by the ANP, and not our Platform Partners (HomeAway, VRBO or AirBnB), although both have pledged and committed support of our continued efforts.
> Please support both of these Upcoming Events and most importantly Please Renew or recontribute to our ANP Fundraising Goal
> Please help us move our Ordinance in the right direction..
> ..Please Help Us Ensure Our STR Future..Ensure Your Future..Renew Your Membership Now with Your 2017
Pledge.
> http://www.alliancenola.org/donation
>
> #ShareOurCity
>
> Eric Bay-President
> Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity
> info@alliancenola.org
>
>>
>
> Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity · PO Box 7781 · Metairie, LA 70010 · USA
>
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