The powerful Real Estate Board of New York is known for its ability to flex its political muscles for the benefit of developers and landlords. But it appears that the lobbying group has also sought to influence elected officials on other matters — namely, the city’s public schools.
The de Blasio administration sought REBNY’s help in winning an extension of the city’s control of public schools in 2015, according to a report by City & State.
After James Patchett, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen requested REBNY’s support for a three-year renewal of mayoral control over the city’s schools, REBNY’s then-president Steve Spinola responded within an hour that he would do what he could. (De Blasio received one-year extensions in both the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions.)
The cozy relationship also benefited REBNY members.
When members’ projects stalled in “regulatory purgatory,” REBNY sought guidance from the mayor’s staff and received “prompt replies,” according to documents City & State obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request. The city and REBNY also collaborated on policy matters, including the 421a tax abatement.
A REBNY spokesperson said the group has historically lobbied on behalf of issues that impact the city’s well-being because of the “strong interrelationship between the economic success of the city and the health of its real estate industry.”
For the mayor’s part, spokesperson Austin Finan said a range of individuals and business group’s supported de Blasio’s bid for long-term control of the city’s public schools.
Regarding 421a, documents suggest City Hall and the lobbying group collaborated extensively — to the chagrin of some union leaders.
“It’s clear now that a lot of the basis of this position is really from REBNY’s analysis,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, referring to the mayor’s opposition to certain wage standards.
The mayor’s office disputed that notion. “Finding the balance between good wages for workers and ensuring that the construction of affordable housing is economically feasible has been our sole guiding influence in prevailing wage discussions,” Finan said. [City & State] — E.B. Solomont