NYC real estate industry exerts influence in high-profile congressional race

New York City’s deep-pocketed real estate interests are opening up their wallets in the highly competitive race for an open congressional seat covering Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, according to a Gothamist analysis of federal campaign data.

Donations from the industry were mostly spread among several of the top candidates in the newly drawn 10th Congressional District: ex-prosecutor Dan Goldman, Westchester Congressman Mondaire Jones and Manhattan City Councilmember Carlina Rivera. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio had been among the high-profile candidates in the race, but announced on Tuesday he would drop his bid.

The outpouring of cash comes after years of progressive Democrats making a point of refusing to take money from the real estate sector, as part of a wave of efforts to push back against industry-friendly policies they argue contribute to the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Running in a district that includes the famously liberal bastions of Greenwich Village and Park Slope, many of the candidates have decried the power of real estate. With the exception of Rivera, all have pledged to support an affordable housing tower at a former World Trade Center site.

Although the industry mostly relies on local and state approvals, a member of Congress still has an important platform, and donations can blunt criticism of industry leaders who have been under attack for years by New York’s left.

Fundraising may be especially critical given the crowded field and the less than six weeks left in the race. A total of 13 candidates are set to appear on the August 23rd ballot.

Overall, Jones leads the pack with more than $3 million raised, although most of that money came from a prior campaign in his Westchester County district. Goldman raked in a total of $1.2 million in the month of June, the biggest haul by a candidate in that span. De Blasio, despite low polling numbers, managed to raise more than $500,000, according to his campaign filings. Rivera collected a little over $400,000.

All four received checks from prominent developers and property owners.

Goldman, an MSNBC analyst and an heir to the Levi Strauss clothing fortune, collected $2,900 each — the maximum allowable amount per election — from developers Stephen Ross and Douglas Durst.

Ross, whose firm Related Companies spearheaded the $25 billion Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side, and Durst, whose office holdings include One World Trade Center, each gave another $2,900 to Goldman’s campaign for general election.

Similarly, Jeff Blau, the CEO of Related Companies, and his wife Lisa, each donated the maximum amounts for Goldman’s campaign in the primary and general elections.

Other noteworthy real estate donors to Goldman’s campaign included developer Martin Ginsburg and four executives at the real estate and asset management giant Blackstone: A.J. Agarwal, Jon Korngold, Jonathan Pollack and Peter Wallace.

De Blasio received $2,900 apiece from Billionaires’ Row developer Gary Barnett and his wife Ayala. John Catsimatidis, the Republican supermarket magnate, also contributed the maximum as did developers Hal Fetner and David Von Spreckelsen, of Toll Brothers, whose projects include a hotel and condo project near Brooklyn Bridge Park. In 2019, Toll Brothers was among those fined for an illegal donation to de Blasio’s nonprofit.

Not all of the contributions were in the form of money. De Blasio received $562 worth of food and beverages from David Kramer, another Brooklyn developer with Hudson Companies.

Among the former city officials now working in real estate who gave to the ex-mayor was James Patchett. He is currently the CEO of A&E Real Estate, one of the city’s largest residential landlords, which owns a large portfolio of rent-stabilized units. As the head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation under de Blasio, among the projects he oversaw was the costly NYC Ferry expansion that recently came under renewed scrutiny.

Rivera, who represents a Council district that overlaps with the congressional district, drew from a list of prominent real estate donors, which included one of the ex-mayor’s former allies, Brooklyn developer Jed Walentas. The latter, whose family is known for redeveloping Dumbo, gave the maximum allowable amounts toward both Rivera’s campaigns for the primary and general elections.

Other donors for Rivera included affordable housing developer Kirk Goodrich, Don Capoccia, a housing developer whose projects include the Lower East Side’s Essex Crossing, and Daniel Tishman, whose family-run construction firm managed the building of One World Trade Center.

Bruce Teitelbaum, another well-known lawyer and real estate investor who was behind the failed One45 mixed-use development in Harlem, also contributed to Rivera’s coffers.

Although Jones comes in with the biggest war chest, New York City real estate donors appeared to take a back seat. But the congressman, who last month moved from Westchester County to Brooklyn after announcing a run for the new district, did receive $1,000 from Justin Elghanayan, president of Rockrose Development, a residential and office developer. Other real estate donors included George Krupp, one of the founders of the Berkshire Group, a Boston-based real estate investment firm that previously donated to Jones, and Yuval Bar-Zemer, an LA developer and property owner. The donations came after May 21st, when Jones officially entered the race for the 10th district.

At least one real estate executive decided to hedge his bets. Robert Levine, of RAL Companies, a luxury residential developer known for the condo complex One Brooklyn Bridge Park, told the City that he wrote checks to three candidates: de Blasio, Goldman and Rivera.

One major candidate did not attract significant sums from the real estate industry.

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who represents Lower Manhattan, trailed the other four candidates with over $240,000 raised — just under $100,000 of which came after she received the endorsement of the Working Families Party, the left wing of the Democratic Party and a strident critic of the real estate industry. One real estate donor that did show up was Bernard Chiu, a Massachusetts-based real estate developer, who gave $2,900, according to campaign filings.

The article has been updated to reflect that former Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped out of the race.

https://gothamist.com/news/nyc-real-estate-industry-exerts-influence-in-high-profile-congressional-race