Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



The Next Round

Photo (cc) kate.gardiner

The turnout in last Tuesday's primary probably hit a record low, with only 11 percent of registered Democrats making their way to the polling place. Next week, many experts agree, an even smaller number will vote in the runoff election to select New York's next public advocate and comptroller. No one can be sure, however, who those voters will be -- and what will influence their decision.

The two citywide races share some common trajectories. The tone of the contests, though, has been markedly different: The public advocate candidates lob charges at each other, while the comptroller candidates profess their friendship.

In both, four major candidates vied for the Democratic nomination for a citywide post. In neither case did anyone get the 40 percent needed for outright victory.

As a result, next Tuesday, City Councilmember Bill de Blasio will face off against former Public Advocate Mark Green for public advocate, and City Council members John Liu and David Yassky will compete for city comptroller.

In both races, the outcome "is going to come down to organization and turnout. That was the lesson of [last] week's primary," said Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus at Hunter College.

The winners of both races will face opposition in November, but -- in these races in this city -- the Democratic nominee can probably look forward to four years in the municipal building.


One week into the public advocate runoff and it's already getting nasty.

De Blasio slammed Green Thursday for going negative (despite the fact he was very critical of Green during the last few weeks of the primary campaign). Standing outside the municipal building downtown accepting the endorsement of Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, de Blasio slammed Green for attacking him.

"I'm troubled when a desperate candidate comes up with spurious charges, and that's all he seems to have for a campaign," de Blasio said, surrounded by supporters, including borough presidents Scott Stringer and Marty Markowitz. "Everything I've done in public life has been done with a tremendous respect for ethics and the law."

He continued, "Mark at this point is throwing out every stray accusation he can find, and it's unfortunate. People don't want to talk about that. They want to talk about issues, like the future of our schools, like how to create affordable housing, how to create jobs in the middle of a recession."

But, at least for now, that's not what these two candidates are talking about. Two hours after de Blasio's criticism, Green ripped into de Blasio. Standing behind posters that showed de Blasio's name with dollar signs (de Bla$io), Green said a group closely linked to the Working Families Party, which enthusiastically backs de Blasio, had hired de Blasio as a consultant in 2006 and paid him $33,000.

"If a lobbyist for the Working Families Party comes to visit Councilman de Blasio, how can he claim to be independent?" Green asked rhetorically.

A day before, Green had slammed de Blasio for receiving campaign contributions from members of nonprofit groups he had given discretionary funding to at the City Council.

Green wants to paint the race as a contest between a consumer advocate versus a party insider.

"The proper frame of this public advocate campaign is who can voters trust based on their experience, their vision and their ethics?" Green asked. "When you put together his two documented conflicts of interest, participating as he does in the slush fund and getting personal income from a registered lobbyist, I think we have to conclude that he's an ethically challenged political insider."

Frontrunner to Underdog

Judging by Tuesday's results, Green needs to catch up. Surprising some, de Blasio ended up beating Green in last week's primary by more than 6,000 votes -- a lot when voter turnout is anemic.

Turnout for the runoff is expected to be even lower -- about 150,000 voters by some campaign estimates. So with two candidates out and many fewer voters to fight over, the remaining two candidates are racing to the runoff swinging. Each has a couple of weapons in their corners: De Blasio has the ever-organized Working Families Party and their practically impenetrable get-out-the-vote operation, while Green has his history as public advocate and name recognition in every borough.

"De Blasio, he surprised," said Doug Muzzio, professor at Baruch College. "Green was expected to come in first. He didn't break 40 [percent], and Bill beat him. That may signal the name recognition advantage may be topped out."

The Green Team vs. the Working Families Party

Some give an edge to de Blasio. The Working Families Party backing, along with the endorsement of the New York Times, could "probably give de Blasio a leg up," said Sherrill.

While the party endorsed many candidates, its executive director Dan Cantor has described de Blasio as its "marquee candidate."

That enthusiastic support highlights an intricate web of connections between de Blasio and the Working Families Party, which have led to some controversy.

De Blasio's campaign has paid Data and Field Services, a for-profit operation the Campaign Finance Board has said is virtually indistinguishable from the party, more than $90,000, according to the New York Times. In addition, the paper reported, three Working Families staff members started working for the de Blasio campaign in June. Earlier this year, de Blasio made a $10,000 contribution to the party.

The Losers' Blessings

To some, this race will revolve around whoever can snag the endorsement and support of the defeated public advocate candidates, Councilmember Eric Gioia and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, and whether the "Green Team" can beat the Working Families Party. Siegel did not garner any major endorsements, but he does have a large, and loyal, base. If he decided to weigh in, that could sway those voters.

Gioia, on the other hand, did have institutional support. He had all of Queens County behind him as well as some of the city's major unions, including the Sergeants, Captains and Lieutenants Benevolent Associations and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. Now all of that influence is in play.

De Blasio has also demonstrated his ability to fundraise. According to the latest campaign finance filings, de Blasio was able to raise three times as much as Green for the primary. He received almost double the amount in public financing as well. Throughout this year's race, Green has struggled to keep up.

On Friday, de Blasio received $443,431 in public funds, while Green got $239,658.

The next time these two candidates are scheduled to meet is for an official runoff debate on Wednesday. De Blasio has challenged Green to a series of 10 debates.

When asked last week whether that would materialize, Green made a yawning motion and said it would be up to their respective staffs to coordinate.

"I look forward to several debates, and then I believe he will be forced to answer questions," Green said. "What do you do with the money?" he asked referring to de Blasio's outside income.

All in all, one bet is safe for this public advocate race: You can say goodbye to the issues and hello to mudslinging.


So far, personal attacks have largely been absent from the race to be the city chief financial officer. The only candidate who edged into negative campaigning, City Councilmember David Weprin, came in fourth in last week's election.

That all could change, of course, but for now Liu and Yassky seem to be maintaining their decorum.

"Dave Yassky and I have been friends for a long time," Liu said Thursday. "We work together, and this campaign is about issues. It's about our qualifications and our visions for both the comptroller's office and New York City."

Describing the runoff as "a clear choice between two candidates," Yassky said, "I'm going to focus on talking about the record of accomplishment and the vision of the office that each of the candidates bring."

At least in first few days of the runoff campaign each candidate steered clear of some of the charges that had been raised against the other. Liu did not stress Yassky's support of term limits or his previous unsuccessful runs for other offices. Yassky did not bring up allegations that Liu has misrepresented his childhood and exaggerated his account of working in a sweatshop.

The candidates do differ on some issues. In a debate earlier this campaign season, Liu said he would support raising the income tax on the richest New Yorkers to solve the city's fiscal crunch. Yassky has ruled out tax hikes and said he would cut waste and unnecessary programs. Yassky is open to reducing pension benefits for new city workers by adding a new pension tier. Liu would seek any savings in pension costs through collective bargaining. Liu vigorously opposed the extension of term limits. Yassky eventually voted for the extension. In the council and the campaign, Liu has been more critical of the Bloomberg administration than Yassky.

Their support reflects those differences.

Liu has backing from a number of unions, including the Service Employees, Transport Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers and the Working Families Party. Like de Blasio, he has given money to the party, but unlike him, Liu has not hired Data and Field Services. He also seems to have made a particular effort to attract backing from black and Latino public officials.

In his bid to become New York's first Asian citywide elected official, Liu has amassed a lot of Asian support. His campaign finance filing shows many Asian names, with people often identified as being owner or president of a business and with many from outside the city.

On a day when Asians won an unprecedented three City Council primaries and Liu got 38 percent of the vote, 84 percent of Asians voted for Liu, according to an exit poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

On other hand, as of Friday afternoon, Yassky had no union support other than the freelancers union and the musicians union. He did have support from his former boss, Sen. Charles Schumer, who has appeared in television ads for him, and many Brooklyn politicians. He has fared extremely well with the city's newspapers, picking up the endorsements of the Times, the News and Crain's, which said "his view of city government is closer to that of the New York business community than the other candidates’ positions are." He also received the backing of some weekly papers.

Liu has the backing of the Queens, Staten Island and Bronx parties; Yassky has Manhattan's and Brooklyn's.

Overall Liu has raised more money in individual contributions than Yassky -- $2.9 million compared to just shy of $2 million, but, because so many of Liu's contributions came from outside the city, many did not qualify for the public match. So Yassky did better there: $1.8 million versus slightly over $1 million for Liu. Because the candidate gets an amount equivalent to 25 percent of their previous public match for the runoff, that gives Yassky some additional funds.

On Friday, Liu received $270,044 in matching funds, while Yassky got $448,503.

All that money -- and particularly how it is spent -- could make a big difference, according to Weprin. "There is a lot of money that can be spent in a short period of time," Weprin said. "Let's assume they will spend 1.5 in 10 days. That's a lot of saturation. It may encourage prime voters to come out."

The Power of the Press -- or the Party?

"It will be the New York Times versus the Working Families Party," said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, whose firm worked for Weprin in the primary. "If Manhattan comes out big, as usual in runoffs, Yassky wins. Otherwise, he said, Liu could come out on top.

As to whether Asian voters could tip the balance, Sheinkopf said, "In a smaller universe overall, smaller universes become more important."

Sherrill sees the Working Families Party as perhaps edging out the Times, although he said, "Those habitual voters who turn out read the New York Times."

Meanwhile, both candidates have rolled out more endorsements. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke -- who defeated Yassky for her congressional seat in 2006 --announced their backing for Liu on Friday. Gotbaum is expected to declare her support today.

While Weprin has not yet decided if he will endorse Yassky, Liu or neither one, Yassky won the support of Councilmember Melinda Katz, who came in third on Tuesday.

In her statement, she said, "We can count on [Yassky] to bring honesty and integrity to the Office of Comptroller and to be a trustworthy custodian of the city's books. We can count on him to turn over every stone when it comes to shedding light on the waste and inefficiency throughout government. And we can count on him to make smart investments with our pension dollars that catalyze job growth in key industries."

Then, referring to Yassky's conduct during the campaign, Katz said, "Above all else, he was a gentleman."

Now that's a word we're unlikely to hear in the public advocate race.

In East Flatbush, the Incumbent is the Issue

Photo by gkjarvis
Ideal Department Store in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn

Three of the five people seeking to replace Stewart did show up, however, and they made Stewart a star of the evening. While the candidates differed on hw they would solve the problems confronting this heavily West Indian district, they all agreed that Stewart must go. Many in the audience appeared to agree.

Kendall Stewart

First elected in 2001, Stewart has seen two aides, including his chief of staff, plead guilty on embezzlement charges related to the City Council slush fund scandal, though he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. A building he owns in the district has been cited for multiple violations, and earlier this year he claimed to have the endorsement of several city politicians who said they had done no such thing.

Unusually for an incumbent he has little organized support, with the New York Times, Working Families Party, Caribbean Life newspaper, Citizens Union and others all endorsing one of his opponents.

Five Against One

Stewart, though, has confronted tough election fights before and won. And some people at the forum Friday expressed concern that the crowded field could dilute the opposition to Stewart, taking him to victory once again.

Jumaane Williams

Facing Stewart are: Dexter McKenzie, a physician who grew up in Brownsville and now is a professor at SUNY Downstate; Sam Taitt, a professor at Kingborough Community College who hosts a radio program and is making his fourth run against Stewart; Jumaane Williams, a community organizer; Erlene King, a businesswoman and activist who worked for the district's former council member, Lloyd Henry; and Ernest Emmanuel, who has previously cited his work against police brutality and has run a very low profile campaign.

With the endorsement of the Working Families Party, an array of unions, the New York Times, Citizens Union, ACORN and others, Williams makes it clear he thinks he has the best shot to beat Stewart. He cites an editorial in Everybody's, a Caribbean American magazine, which, in endorsing him said, "The majority of voters are embarrassed over Stewart’s poor and questionable leadership and they are supporting 'any other candidate.' But voting for 'any other candidate; is exactly what Stewart wants; he hopes the other candidates will divide the vote. To avoid this disaster, voters must vote for the candidate who is most likely to defeat Stewart -- Jumaane Williams."

Williams said that candidates often get "a false idea" that they can win. But he said, "I'm a realist. The one thing I would hate is if the incumbent slips back in."

Taitt and McKenzie, though, said they deserved to be on the ballot.

Conceding he did not have much union backing, Taitt said, "These unions do not represent our district. ... These external forces should not be making the decisions for our district."


"We're still living in a democracy where people have the power to make decisions," McKenzie said. Noting that only about 8,000 people vote for council in an area with 65,000 registered voters, he continued, "We should be asking the public why aren't they voting, not why should we limit the choices."

King said she has been hard-pressed to get her message out because of ballot challenges from Williams that had her temporarily off the ballot. Although back on, she said, "I haven't been able to campaign because I've been going back and forth to court." She thinks her record and her status as the only woman in the race would have given her a good shot at victory.

Stewart's Stand

For his part, Stewart cites his record, which he says entitles him to another term on the City Council. A podiatrist from St. Vincents, he portrays himself as "Brooklyn's Renaissance man" and in this largely immigrant district points to his chairmanship of the council's Immigration Committee. In particular, his campaign literature credits him with the building of a mall at The Junction at Flatbush and Nostrand Avenues, of helping to reform the Flatbush Business Improvement District and improving schools and services to seniors.

Dexter McKenzie

In statements, he has rebuffed many of the charges against him.

After being challenged on claiming endorsements he did not have, for example, he said, "In the final analysis, this election is not about who endorsed or who did not endorse me. ... These petty distractions are simply attempts to subvert the will of the people and install by coercion, character assassination and political innuendo someone who does not know the district or its people."

A leaflet handed out at the forum Friday still listed the questionable endorsements, including that of Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who after hearing that Stewart had erroneously claimed her backing, threw her support to Williams, and of seven other politicians who also told the Daily News they had not endorsed Stewart.

While some in the district question how he could not have known that his chief of staff was taking money -- "you think you would demand an accounting," Greene, for one, said -- Stewart has dismissed these concerns.

Responding to Williams' calls for him to step down, Stewart said, "He may not understand that, in government, you serve the people. Just because I have been associated with people that may have done something, I’m not responsible for the [community organization which received the money], which are not part of my office.

In addition, Stewart has survived tough battles before. In 2005, Taitt picked up a number of endorsements but lost to Stewart. In 2003, the condition of Stewarts buildings emerged as an issue and Stewart blamed the problem on his tenants, telling a reporter, "It's a cultural thing. The Haitian folks, because of their poverty, will have five to eight people living in an apartment, and they will break the locks if one doesn't have a key." Despite the furor over the remarks and lead paint violations in the apartments, Stewart won re-election.

The Contenders

Williams stresses his background as an organizer, citing the work he has done on housing and other issues and saying, as a council member, he would use those organizing skills to approach many of the district's problems. He said he has worked throughout the district and written grants that brought millions of dollars onto the community.

Sam Taitt

Taitt, touting his involvement in the community, has pushed hard for a credit union in the area which, he said, "will bring hundreds of thousands" of dollars to the community and boost business in the district. He has tried to minimize Williams' experience, "The election is not about community organizing," he said. "The election is about the serious problems we face today."

Taitt also said that Williams is a newcomer to the district, having moved there to run for the council seat. Williams repeatedly denied this, saying he has lived and worked in the district for more than 15 years.

McKenzie cites his own experiences, growing up poor and eventually becoming a doctor, as an example of how people can pull themselves up. "We are setting ourselves up not as an exception but as an example of what this community can produce." he said.

To address the community's problems, he said, "We're going to have to buckle down and examine the problem at their root," he said, adding a favorite phrase: "no quick fixes."

The Employment Gap

Unemployment is so high in the area, according to McKenzie, because "a large and burgeoning number of students are unemployable." He called for building job training centers as well as shopping malls. "Not just consumption, production," he said.

Ernest Emmanuel

Williams agreed there would be no quick fixes to the unemployment problem in the district. But, he continued, "The next wave of jobs is going to be environmental. ... We have to train young people for environmental jobs."

Taitt advocates a partnership between small businesses and schools. "We do not have a business culture in our community," he said, pointing at a need to prepare young people to own businesses.

Not all small businesses are equally desirable, though. Responding to an audience question, the candidates split over the desirability of nightclubs and bars in the district. While saying zoning rules should be enforced, McKenzie thought the cubs reflected "a rich culture that could be marketed."

Taitt, though, lashed out at "owners of these clubs who do not live in the district and sit in their homes at bight and sleep when residents of this district cannot."

While urging stricter laws, Williams said that pressure had to be out on the police to enforce the ones that do exist. He urged residents to call the police and get their neighbors to call the precinct -- not 311 -- as well.

Last Minute Charges?

In fundraising, Williams hold a very slight edge in private contributions with $65,930 to Stewart's $65,770. They are followed by McKenzie with $54,7440, Taitt with $42,639 and King with $19,962. Emmanuel is not participating in the campaign finance system.

With the campaign in its final hours, some involved tend to be wary. Taitt said that in the closing days of the 2005 primary campaign, leaflets went out around the neighborhood saying, "Don't vote for Sam Taitt. He's gay." At the forum, Taitt said he is not gay but added, "If anyone wants to come out with other lies about me between now and Election Day, they can do so."

As the candidates from the 45th district clashed, several candidates from the 42nd district in East New York, also at the forum, looked on. Candidates from that district debate and then "give each other pointers on how we can do better," said Prince Lewis, one of five candidates challenging the incumbent Charles Barron. "In our district most of us kind of get along."

Real Estate's Last Stand

Image by Ya-Hsuan Huang
The candidates who have collected the most in campaign contributions from the city's developers: Melinda Katz, William Thompson, Eric Gioia and David Weprin

Under the glare of television cameras at the final mayoral primary debate last week, Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tony Avella took aim at his favorite villain.

"My opponent," he said referring to Comptroller William Thompson, "has taken huge amounts of money from the real estate industry." He paused, raised his voice and declared, "Nothing is going to change."

But in Avella's view, that villain is not so much Thompson, his primary opponent, but instead the city's real estate industry and run amuck development.

Wielding the city's most lucrative resource -- land -- developers have long used their purse strings to try to influence City Hall. And this year is no different.

The most viable citywide candidates have collected more than $2.5 million from real estate interests for the 2009 election, according to an analysis by Gotham Gazette. None have collected more than comptroller candidate and Land Use Committee Chair Melinda Katz, who took in more than 30 percent of that figure. Thompson and public advocate candidate and Councilmember Eric Gioia have also pulled in considerable sums at $393,000 and $314,807, respectively.

At the same time, some of the city's most well known or active developers have increased their donations by more than 30 percent since 2001 -- and we haven't even passed the primary.

In a city where addresses are a measure of wealth and real estate is more valuable than gold, it should come as no surprise that developers hold considerable sway over City Hall. But this primary season, should voters care whether their prospective representative is taking real estate cash or swearing off the industry altogether?

Candidates Get Cash

Percentage of Funds Raised
Melinda Katz
William Thompson
Eric Gioia
Public Advocate
David Weprin
David Yassky
John Liu
Bill de Blasio
Public Advocate
Mark Green
Public Advocate
Tony Avella
Norman Siegel
Public Advocate

On stage at New York Law School earlier this summer, public advocate candidate and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel gave the audience a warning for this year's election.

"Developers are out of control," he cautioned, wearing his trademark tan suit. "You should ask every candidate here whether they get money from developers. They should disclose what developers they get money from, where they stand on these issues of eminent domain. I, for one, don't get any money from developers."

But no one, not even Siegel or Avella, is immune from the development industry.

According to our analysis, all of the citywide candidates have taken in some money from real estate interests. Katz took in more than $790,000 -- equal to about 31 percent of the private money she has raised. Katz defends her contributions, saying as head of the land use committee she did more to protect neighborhoods than court developers.

"I have raised from the same folks as all four of the candidates up here," said Katz during the final comptroller debate on Thursday. "I've raised money from an industry that I've stood toe to toe against."

Many of the companies that Katz received funding from, like Extell Development, which is responsible for the construction of Riverside South, or Rudin Management, which is developing a luxury condominium tower at St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center, have given funds to multiple candidates in multiple races.

Rudin, for instance, has divided $55,625 between comptroller candidates Katz, David Weprin and David Yassky.

Related Companies, one of the city's largest developers that will put a proposal to develop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx before the council before year's end, has given $32,425 to the citywide candidates -- $21,850 of it went to Katz's comptroller campaign.

Two Trees Management, the developer behind a controversial condominium project in Dumbo that opponents charge will obscure the view of the Brooklyn Bridge, gave more than $42,000 to members of the City Council this election cycle. Its project, Dock Street, was approved in June (Two Trees gave $10,000 to Gioia, who voted against the plan).

Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College, said developers take this tactic to cover all of their bases. "The name of the game is land in New York and it's valuable," Muzzio said. "They are heavy contributors across a broad range of candidates, because they want to protect themselves."

Of the citywide candidates, both Avella and Siegel have been the most critical of developers. Nearly all of Siegel's contributions associated with the industry -- which total $8,405 -- come from low-level realtors. He has one $4,950 contribution from a West Harlem developer that fought against the expansion of Columbia University -- a position Siegel also took.

Avella has taken some funding from larger developers, like Muss Development, one of the largest single contributors in the 2005 election, according to the Campaign Finance Board. The Avella campaign said these developer contributions are from individuals Avella knows and are the "good guys."

A Quid Pro Quo?

In addition to these citywide contests, incumbent City Council members running for re-election are also raking in real estate funding -- many from developers who are managing, proposing or building projects in their districts.

In Jamaica, the site of one of the city's largest rezonings, Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who represents part of the area, took in more than $17,000 from real estate interests.

Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo has taken in $6,225 from Jackson Development, which is planning a four building, 535-unit residential development for low and middle-income residents in her district. Jackson also gave $3,725 to Councilmember Maria Baez. The company is planning an 85-unit, mixed income building in her district on Monroe Avenue, which does not need city approval.

Eli Weiss, the director of finance for Jackson Development, said these projects are affordable housing, which the community wants. It is in no way a quid pro quo, he said.

"This is what is wanted by the local community and the local politicians," said Weiss. "This is housing that is going to remain affordable for years."

And it's not just incumbents who are seizing this type of funding. In Riverdale, incumbent Oliver Koppell is lashing out at his challenger, Anthony Cassino, for taking more than $4,000 from Riverdale developer John Fitzgerald -- who is behind a controversial luxury housing development in the district.

In Fort Greene, Councilmember Letitia James is facing off against Delia Hunley-Adossa, who is an ally of Atlantic Yards developer, Forest City Ratner. Even though Hunley-Adossa has not received funds from Ratner directly, her ties to the project have caused controversy.

Like it or not, candidates and observers say, taking developer money during the campaign season may make it look like a councilmember is favoring the developer at the Land Use Committee

"If you look at the amount of money [the industry] spends, you find they are one of the biggest contributor blocks as a profession," said Josh Skaller, who is running for City Council in the 39th district in Brooklyn and has pledged to not take developer money. "There is a direct correlation, in my opinion, in how our neighborhoods are being overbuilt right now."

A Bloomberg Backlash

Skaller's comments reflect the newest trend hitting the campaign trail: being anti-developer.

In what some say is a backlash from the Bloomberg administration's pro-development agenda, some City Council candidates -- especially in areas where development has flourished -- have pledged to keep the real estate industry out of their campaign coffers.

"We want smart in-scale development that creates affordable housing and good jobs," said Brad Lander, a leading candidate for the 39th district, which stretches from Cobble Hill to Park Slope in Brooklyn. Since January, Lander has pledged to not take any funding from for-profit developers. "I think it's important that when elected officials make their decisions, they are being influenced by the public and the community and not campaign contributors."

The 39th district, candidates say, has seen some of the city's most out of scale development, like 10 to 15 story condominium buildings on Fourth Avenue. Next door, in district 33, which is the site of the massive Williamsburg Greenpoint rezoning, candidates are also taking an anti-developer funding oath, including one of the leading contenders Jo Anne Simon.

"A big issue throughout the city is development and the influence that developers have on decisions that are made with regard to rezoning projects," said Simon. "It's just better in my mind if you are not taking money from people that have an appearance of a conflict."

Simon has taken contributions from local realtors and landlords, which she says is not a conflict of interest.

And further north in Long Island City -- also a target for large luxury development -- candidates are saying no to developer cash as well.


"It's not only that you would be influenced by taking the money, but also the appearance of impropriety," said Brent O'Leary, a candidate for the 26th district in Queens. "I think it's important for the community to know that you're fighting for the community."

In the past seven years of the Bloomberg administration, approximately 100 rezonings have been approved by the City Council. Though a vast majority of those plans were to preserve the current scale and character of the city's neighborhoods, many allow large-scale, mixed-use development. In a lot of those areas, these anti-development candidates are emerging, in what some say is an outcry from the community for a change.

"Certain neighborhoods in the city have definitely seen unfettered undemocratic planning in their neighborhoods, whether it's Yankee Stadium or folks out in Queens that are really upset about McMansion development," said Bettina Damiani, project director at Good Jobs New York, an arm of the Fiscal Policy Institute. "Projects impact our lives and with this particular mayor, we are seeing it clearly."

Tomorrow's results will be a good indication of whether these messages are sticking.

The End of an Era?

Even though millions have poured in from developers this election cycle, this could be the last time the industry will be able to peddle such influence.

In 2007, the Bloomberg administration and the City Council approved pay to play legislation that limits contributions from anyone that does business with the city, including developers with land use applications. Developers who had been able to give up to $4,950 for citywide candidates and $2,750 for council candidates must now adhere to limits of $400 and $250, respectively. These limits took effect in December 2008, and the vast majority of contributions to citywide candidates came in before this deadline.

While the law might be too late to affect this year's election, Eric Friedman of the Campaign Finance Board said, the "problem" has been fixed.

"It didn't kick in in time," he said, adding, "This really is the broadest play to pay restriction in any jurisdiction anywhere in the country… [It] covers a broad range of business relationships."


The law applies to anyone who has more than a 10 percent stake in the company, as well as high-level managers and chief executive officers. It doesn't, however, apply to the family or friends of these individuals.

Though good government groups and advocates applauded the bill, many doubt that this will be the end of the real estate industry's era in city government.

"I can express hope, but knowing at the same time money is like water, and it tends to find where it wants to go," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "We'll see."

Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: 
CUNY and New York City Could Recover Together, or the Public University System Could Be Left Behind
CUNY and New York City Could Recover Together, or the Public University System Could Be Left Behind
Gotham Gazette: 
Amid Another Poorly-Run Election, Top New York Officials Point Fingers, Offer Plans, or Say Nothing
Amid Another Poorly-Run Election, Top New York Officials Point Fingers, Offer Plans, or Say Nothing
Gotham Gazette: 
Big Flushing Project Up Next in City Debate Over Development Big Flushing Project Up Next in City Debate Over Development Gotham Gazette: The Max & Murphy Podcast The Max & Murphy Podcast