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WeWork, a City Partner, Now Benefactor to and Beneficiary of De Blasio Campaign


de blasio whitney

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


A company that has spent thousands of dollars lobbying City Hall, is doing business with the city, and whose founders have made large campaign contributions to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign is now also a beneficiary of the mayor’s 2017 re-election campaign.

Campaign finance filings show that since June 2, de Blasio’s campaign has occupied a space in Downtown Manhattan run by WeWork, a company that markets affordable, professional co-working spaces and office amenities to individuals, businesses, and other groups.

WeWork has achieved success in New York City and was recently valued at $16 billion. The company has 65 locations so far, with 32 in New York City alone, and plans to expand into Asian markets. It is also one of the key partners in the $380 million Dock 72 project at the city-owned Brooklyn Navy Yard that was announced in May. The 675,000 square-foot building is being developed by Boston Properties, Inc. and Rudin Development, and was designed by WeWork. It is expected to create 4,000 living wage jobs.

In the most recent filings with the city Campaign Finance Board, de Blasio’s 2017 campaign listed three payments made to WeWork -- two payments totalling $11,500 on June 2, for office rent and a security deposit, and another $4,400 rent payment on July 1. The zipcode listed on the filing indicates WeWork’s 222 Broadway location - ironically titled “City Hall” given its proximity to the seat of city government - which has ten floors of office space, with about 1,700 people representing 450 businesses.

The campaign’s rental payment fits the company’s range for a private office accommodating between five and seven people, according to WeWork’s website. A de Blasio campaign spokesperson confirmed that the campaign is currently working out of the WeWork space, but did not provide any other details of the arrangement. “They offer a flexible space on a month-to-month basis for a flat fee, which makes a lot of sense for the campaign at this stage,” the spokesperson said in an email.

De Blasio is gearing up for his 2017 re-election bid, having upped the pace of fundraising ahead of the recent July 15 filing deadline. The campaign raised over $1.1 million between January and July and spent nearly $340,000. In total, the campaign has over $1.6 million on hand.

Meanwhile, contributions to de Blasio’s 2013 campaign have recently been the source of scrutiny after news broke that there are several law enforcement investigations into the mayor, his administration, his allies, and their fundraising activities.

In April, The Real Deal reported that one WeWork employee, Arana Hankin, was at that point the top bundler for de Blasio’s 2017 run. Hankin, identified in Campaign Finance Board filings as a WeWork senior vice president, raised $68,750 between January 8 and 11 from 16 donors, including WeWork co-founders Miguel McKelvey and Adam Neumann, who each donated $4,950, the maximum any individual can give to a mayoral candidate under the CFB system. McKelvey and Neumann’s wives also donated $4,950 each in that bundle. WeWork is not technically doing business with the city and is not in the "doing business" database with the Campaign Finance Board. If it were, its founders and top brass would be limited to a $400 contribution each, per campaign finance laws.

A recent New York Post report found possible problems with some of those bundled contributions, raising questions about potential straw donations. “We are reviewing the donations and will amend the filing if necessary,” the spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign told Gotham Gazette in an email. A WeWork spokesperson declined comment for this story.

WeWork has also spent $200,000 since last year to lobby the city. Between April 2015 and February 2016, the company paid Scott Levenson, president of The Advance Group, $100,000 to lobby the Department of Buildings for permits for a project at 110 Wall Street, The Real Deal reported. The permits were awarded in July. This year, the company paid $100,000 to consulting firm Global Strategy Group to lobby the Mayor’s office on “procurement,” although it’s unclear what that entails. The New York Daily News reported that soon after, on January 6, GSG’s Jon Silvan spoke over the phone with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and pitched “future projects” in the city. Hankin’s bundle came in a few days after that conversation.

Neumann and his wife also contributed $25,000 each and McKelvey contributed $50,000 to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 campaign, on January 11, according to state Board of Elections filings.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Calls Grow for New Council-Led Deed Restriction Process


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Chin, Mark-Viverito, Brewer (l-r) at Wednesday's presser (photo: William Alatriste)


Armed with the findings of a newly-released investigation that faults City Hall for a “lack of accountability,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Margaret Chin called for reform to the city’s deed restriction removal process at a press conference on Wednesday outside City Hall.

In a show of strength and seriousness, Brewer and Chin were joined by Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others.

The report, issued by the Department of Investigations last Thursday, found that the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) failed to stop the removal of a deed restriction at 45 Rivington Street in Manhattan and neglected to weigh whether the removal was in the city’s best interests.

Because of “communication failures” between DCAS and City Hall, the site that formerly housed a not-for-profit nursing home known as Rivington House was sold to a developer of luxury condominiums without objection from the administration, according to the DOI report. Deed restrictions are in place on a fairly small number of properties around the city, often ones that once belonged to the city, and establish certain restrictions on what a piece of land can be used for. The result on Rivington House has become a point for criticism of the de Blasio administration, and the process is still under investigation by the city comptroller and state attorney general.

Brewer, Chin, Council Members Ben Kallos and Rosie Mendez, Public Advocate James, Speaker Mark-Viverito, and members of various community boards, blamed the mishandling of Rivington House and a similar deed restriction removal at Dance Theater of Harlem on the current “murky, opaque” process by which deed restriction changes are approved at the press conference.

Brewer added that the issue would be solved by treating deed restriction changes using the same process as land use decisions, as well as passing a bill she recommended and Chin sponsors aimed at increasing transparency in the process.

“These are land use questions, but they weren’t being handled like land use questions. Decisions to lift deed restrictions were being managed by the wrong people at the wrong agencies in the wrong process,” Brewer said. “We have a tried and true way to manage land use decisions. It’s called ULURP.”

Brewer refers to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Unlike the current procedure for deed restriction changes, ULURP would mandate input from community boards and the borough president, and would require final action by the City Council before deed restrictions could be lifted.

The City Planning Commission is the only entity with the charter-mandated power to alter the deed restriction review process, meaning the Council must receive the recommendation of the CPC before it can enact a local law subjecting deed restriction changes to ULURP. The Commission will hold its next review session on July 25 and a public meeting on July 27.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appoints the CPC Chair and six of its 13 members, indicated in a July 8 press release that the CPC will adopt a series of reforms that align with some of Chin and Brewer’s suggestions, such as involving Borough Presidents and City Planning in the deed review process. He also announced that the city will re-invest $16 million in proceeds from the Rivington House sale “in the affected community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.”

De Blasio’s plan, however, does not establish ULURP as the norm for deed restriction changes, instead favoring a plan that does not give the Council ultimate decisionmaking power in reviewing deed restriction changes. Chin said the Mayor’s plan is “not enough,” a stance that Brewer echoed. Brewer also said the $16 million restitution was “not sufficient” as securing a building the size of Rivington House for the community would cost “closer to $200 million.”

Further, Chin criticized the administration’s lack of action to discipline those responsible for overseeing Rivington House’s deed restriction removal. According to the DOI report, City Hall First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris was sent memos regarding the removal months in advance by former DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch, but did not read the memos as he did not believe the matter to be important at the time.

“I think the people who are responsible should be held accountable. The mayor should reconsider,” Chin said at the press conference. When asked whether she believed Shorris specifically should be held accountable, Chin simply repeated, “those who are responsible.”

When reached for comment, a mayoral spokesperson did not respond to Chin and Brewer’s criticisms, and instead reiterated the goals of the mayor’s proposed reforms in a statement sent to Gotham Gazette.

"The Mayor's instituting a series of reforms aimed at overhauling a broken, decades-old deed modification process. Our focus is on making sure these reforms deliver for local communities," the spokesperson said.

For her part, Mark-Viverito was careful not to condemn any City Hall officials at the press conference. She did, however, speak in support of Chin and Brewer’s proposal to grant the Council final decision-making power by instituting ULURP for deed restriction changes.

“The removal of the deed restrictions at the Rivington House and Dance Theater of Harlem wasn’t malicious but it was inexcusably sloppy,” Mark-Viverito said. “Although we cannot change the actions of the last year, we can enact measures to insure nothing like this happens again.”

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by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

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Officials Discuss Gender Equity, Sexism at ‘Diversity’ Conference


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The "On Diversity" panel; photo via William Alatriste for the City Council


What are "women’s issues"? When should men recognize their privilege and stand down? Speak up? How do women in public life talk about everyday sexism and engage men in that dialogue?

These were just a few of the questions asked on Tuesday during one panel discussion at City & State NY’s annual “On Diversity” conference. Elected officials, business professionals, journalists, members of academia, and others gathered to discuss issues of race and gender in public life, especially related government and doing business with it.

City & State columnist Alexis Grenell moderated the panel discussion on gender equity, norms, and policies with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, State Assembly Member Nily Rozic, and Michael Kimmel, professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook College. The discussion revolved around gender equality both in the workplace and the home, as well as how gender issues are defined within government, the press, and the broader public.

Grenell started the conversation by quoting Professor Kimmel himself: “White men are the single greatest beneficiary of the [greatest] affirmative action of the history of the world. And that’s called the history of the world.”

Kimmel jumped in to discuss the traditional belief that men don’t have a say or a place in conversations on gender. “We think that gender - the word gender itself - is a woman’s issue," he said. "When you hear the word gender, the word, what comes into your mind usually is women. Most men don’t think that gender really matters to us.”

While the discussion addressed what is often a divide between men and women on certain political issues and how they are framed in public discourse, the dynamics of the discussion itself also reflected these issues. In a conversation fraught with potential landmines, the three elected officials on the panel spoke from differing personal experience, but all with a largely common perspective. Throughout, Garodnick and Kimmel - the two men on the stage - stressed the importance of redefining women’s issues as gender or family issues and the importance of recognizing men as stakeholders within the framework of these issues. The women - Grenell, Rozic, and Mark-Viverito - agreed.

Meanwhile, Mark-Viverito and Rozic also focused on the importance of having women in elected office and that of including women’s perspectives when discussing issues that directly affect women. Mark-Viverito is the first Latina to be Speaker of the City Council; Rozic was the youngest woman in the Assembly when she was elected.

“How do we include, get more women into politics - because our perspective is essential - but also...how do we give men the toolkit to understand when to back off a little bit of that privilege, right? So when do men have to stand down when a woman is speaking, perhaps? And also maybe when do we not include men enough when they should be stakeholders? So how do we walk that fine line?” she asked the panel at one point.

Kimmel discussed the role men have as stakeholders when it comes to what are traditionally referred to as women’s issues, such as paid parental leave, reproductive rights, and sexual assault on college campuses. He emphasized the need to redefine the issues to include men by saying that “we cannot fully empower women and girls unless we engage boys and men.”

Garodnick discussed his experiences with gendered expectations and stereotypes. He recalled the period in which he took paid parental leave, and despite being fully engaged in the parenting process during that time, he said he also felt pressure to project a certain image to his colleagues and peers while doing so, namely that he was still busy with work while on leave.

Agreeing with Kimmel, Garodnick emphasized the need to change the perception that certain issues are strictly women’s issues when, in fact, “they’re family issues, they’re societal issues, they’re economic development issues. These are big picture issues.”

Kimmel also called for the politicization of the familiar relationships men already have with women. “We don’t enter [the conversation on gender issues] as men,” he said. “We enter as sons and as fathers and as husbands and as partners...every man in this room knows what it feels like already to love a woman and want her to thrive. We need to just make that political, public.”

While Mark-Viverito and Rozic both acknowledged the importance of men recognizing their place as stakeholders on certain issues, they both maintained that having women in positions of power and continuing to challenge sexism present within government and the workplace in general are the most effective ways to achieve gender equity.

Rozic discussed the sexist assumptions that continue to pervade the culture in Albany, where the state Legislature she is a part of conducts its business. She recalled incidents of sexism, including an occasion when she was denied access to the Assembly floor during a roll call vote by a Sergeant in Arms who assumed, because of her gender in combination with her age, that she was not an Assembly member despite her having been in Albany for several months. Rozic also discussed multiple occasions of having been mistaken as male colleagues’ staff member, girlfriend, or wife when standing next to them during a conversation while in the workplace.

“Believe it or not, Albany is a little backwards,” Rozic said wryly early in the discussion.

“It is a very fine line maneuvering gender, in particular as a young woman, because I face...a dose of sexism but also ageism, which is a lethal combination at times,” Rozic said. “When I got elected, I was the youngest woman ever elected to the state Legislature, I get that. With that comes a lot of responsibility, but it also comes with a challenge of understanding what leadership looks like, and sort of, countering what leadership is supposed to look like.”

While Garodnick spoke from recent personal experience in taking parental leave, Mark-Viverito also discussed her personal life and choices.

“I am a 47-year-old woman who does not believe in traditional marriage...And I don’t have children," she said, framing her other comments. "I made a choice in my life that I wasn’t going to have children, and the expectations or the approach that I get as a woman, right, is that somehow I’m supposed to be in that box: 'You have children, right?' And when I say "no, I made a choice that I’m not"...So I never approach a woman from the assumption that she has children because I know my own experience...And you ask, 'do you have children?' You don’t assume that they have children."

Mark-Viverito said it is essential to break down normative expectations of women. It is "not only my responsibility," she said, "it’s also men, our allies.”

The Speaker expanded the conversation to sexism faced by women in positions of power by discussing the sexism she has experienced during her career, especially in that role leading the City Council, perhaps the second most powerful position in city government. She said that the media’s perception of her decision-making and independence is indicative.

“I feel that still when you talk about issues and decisions, I still get a little bit appalled at times at the perspective of the press, that there’s this assumption that when a tough decision has to be made, somehow I made a decision, I’m in the pocket of the mayor, right?” Mark-Viverito said, referring to how the media has portrayed her working relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio was influential in Mark-Viverito’s ascension to the position of speaker and there has been an ongoing narrative in news articles and political discourse that Mark-Viverito is not independent from the mayor. The speaker and her allies push back that her collaborative leadership style can be misinterpreted as weakness or a lack of independence.

“I couldn’t possibly have arrived at that decision on my own, right?” Mark-Viverito said Tuesday. “A controversial, difficult decision - somehow I had to be forced into that because I could not have made that decision on my own. That’s sexist...And when I say it’s sexist, what do I get back? ‘Oh you’re always throwing the sex card around’ or ‘the sexism card around.’ Right? ‘The women’s card,’ ‘the race card,’ whatever it is, and it’s usually men saying that.”

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by Libby Wetzler, Gotham Gazette

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