ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – At least three members of the New York State Assembly are pushing back against a plan to bring Chick-fil-A to the New York State Thruway. A letter signed by Democrat Harry Bronson, and co-signed by Democrats Deborah Glick and Daniel O’Donnell, asks Thruway Authority Matthew Driscoll to “re-examine” the list of approved concessions for a $450 million project to redevelop the Thruway’s service areas.
“Chick-fil-A and its founders have a long and controversial history of opposing the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and families,” the assemblymembers said, citing the company’s support of “organizations hostile to LGBTQ+ rights”.
Last week, the Thruway Authority announced Chick-fil-A would be one of several restaurant brands selected by contractor Empire State Thruway Partners. In a statement sent to News 4 on Monday, the Thruway Authority reiterated no toll dollars or state tax dollars will be used for the project.
“The New York State Thruway Authority, its Board of Directors, and staff support an inclusive environment that treats the tens of millions of people that travel our system with dignity and respect,” The Thruway Authority said in its statement.
“Every restaurant brand included by Empire State Thruway Partners has a contractual responsibility, and is legally required, under New York State law, including the New York State Human Rights Law and Executive Orders, to adhere to the inclusive and non-discriminatory standards that New York State embraces,” it added.
Bronson said that’s not good enough.
“Whether or not contractually and legally they’re obligated to not discriminate, the issue here is we should not be sending a message to our gay community that we’re willing to do business with an organization that is willing to not recognize their human rights,” the Rochester assemblyman said.
Bronson said he had not yet received a response from the Driscoll as of Monday afternoon.
The Thruway Authority is set to close 10 of its service areas to begin redevelopment on July 29, including the service areas in Clarence and Pembroke. It has not yet been revealed which food concepts would be included in each service area.
Other concepts include Shake Shack, Panera, Popeyes, Burger King, Panda Express, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Chick-fil-A, meanwhile, says it is excited about the partnership and the chance to serve people in New York State.
“We want to be clear that Chick-fil-A does not have a political or social agenda, and we welcome everyone in our restaurants,” the company said in a statement. “We are proud to be represented by more than 200,000 diverse team members nationwide, and we strive to be a positive influence in our local communities.
“We do this, in part, by contributing $25,000 to food banks in each community where we open a new restaurant, and donating more than 10 million meals through our Shared Table program.”
In November 2019, the Chick-fil-A Foundation announced it would begin to focus its charitable efforts on education, homelessness, and hunger in 2020. Bronson said he would like to hear the company offer a statement in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
“They have taken, as far as I know, no steps, affirmative steps, in support of the LGBTQ community,” Bronson said.
Senator George Borrello, a Southern Tier Republican, said the issue should come down to a business decision, not a political decision.
“I think bringing Chick-fil-A as an option to Thruway service areas is a good business decision,” Borrello said. “That means it’s good for the travelling public in New York State and the taxpayers and toll payers of New York State.”
The debate mirrors one that played out in March 2019 at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. A plan under consideration to bring a Chick-fil-A to the concessions there was scrapped after it received pushback from then-Assemblyman Sean Ryan.
Ryan, who now serves as a state senator, had no comment Monday on the Thruway Authority’s plan.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.