ALBANY — Four New York legislators are protesting the state Thruway Authority’s choice of the successful but controversial restaurant chain Chick-fil-A to open eateries at some rest areas along the interstate highway.
The critics of the fried chicken chain argued the company has a record of undermining the civil rights of lesbians, gays and transgendered people.
“With so many other options, the last thing our service areas need is a restaurant serving up chicken sandwiches with a heaping side of bigotry,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan.
Three of her colleagues, Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan, and Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, D-Manhattan, have taken to social media with an online petition drive aimed at convincing Thruway director Matthew Driscoll and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to scuttle the inclusion of Chick-fil-A in a plan to upgrade Thruway rest areas.
A letter authored by Bronson alleged the decision by the Thruway Authority sends a message to gay, lesbian and transgendered New Yorkers that it “doesn’t share the same commitment to their civil rights as New York State.”
Bronson went on to argue that the agency, whose governing board is led by Cuomo appointee Joanie Mahoney, former mayor of Syracuse, should now re-examine the approved list of concessions at the rest areas.
In a statement, Chick-fil-A denied it engages in discriminatory practices and signaled it looks forward to its arrangement with the 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, adding: “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.” The company said it regularly donates to food banks and donates millions of meals through a charity program.
Critics of the company are also concerned that its restaurants’ hours of operation — keeping its restaurants closed on Sundays — will inconvenience many motorists using the Thruway.
Thruway spokesman Jonathan Dougherty said in a statement the concessions are all required to “adhere to the inclusive and non-discriminatory standards that New York State embraces.”
No taxpayer funds or revenue from tolls is involved in the renovations at 27 rest areas, he said.
The state Conservative Party, through its chairman, Gerard Kassar, weighed in on the controversy, alleging progressive Democrats are targeting Chick-fil-A because “its Christian founder isn’t properly woke on LGBTQ issues.”
Kassar said he plans to dine at Chick-fil-A restaurants, noting the critics in the Legislature “don’t need to eat there, but they have no right to prevent others from doing so.”
Other restaurant companies lined up to have a presence at the rest areas include Panera Bread, Shake Shack, Dunkin’, Panda Express, Burger King and Starbucks
Chick-fil-A reported in a financial statement in April its revenue in 2020 amounted to $4.3 billion, a 13% increase from 2019.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com