Jobs For New York, the Real Estate Board of New York-supported political action committee, went negative last month, spending nearly $480,000 on literature denouncing 22 candidates in City Council races, the latest campaign finance filings reveal.
The PAC, which counts the Related Companies, Brookfield Office Properties and Fisher Brothers among its major donors, raised $6.8 million in contributions this year and spent $3.4 million as of Sept. 1, the city’s Campaign Finance Board reported.
The vast majority of that went to support candidates, including Paul Vallone, running for the 19th District in Queens, and Manuel Caughman, running for the 27th Council District in Queens.
But the PAC’s support has generated controversy in some races: Laurie Cumbo, a candidate for Brooklyn’s 35th Council District, asked the group to stop supporting her on July 29. By that time the group had spent just over $79,000. But far from stopping, the PAC laid out another $69,309 in independent expenditures on her behalf.
Her spokesperson declined to comment to The Real Deal, citing a previous statement, that said in part, “While Jobs For New York is legally permitted to engage in this campaign, I sincerely hope that they heed my call to withdraw their spending on this election.”
A spokesperson for Jobs for New York did not respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the so-called Citizens United case, which allowed almost unchecked independent expenditures by corporations and unions, also made it nearly impossible for candidates to block outside campaign efforts, whether positive or negative — unlike direct campaign contributions.
In the case of Jobs For New York, the group is not simply trumpeting the real estate industry’s pet causes, such as increased development, but is sending flyers and mailers that pinpoint the supposed misdeeds and missteps of individual candidates, according to a review of more than a dozen pieces of opposition literature.
For example, the PAC spent $55,928 against its top target, Bronx City Council candidate Joel R. Rivera, calling him a “fake” and suggesting voters would select him on the ballot under the false impression that he is the district’s current City Council member, also named Joel Rivera, who is not running for reelection. The two are not related.
The candidate Rivera said he objected to an outside PAC spending more than $250,000 on the race, referring to the cost of the negative mailings combined with $201,905 the group spent in favor of another contender for the seat, Ritchie Torres.
Candidate Rivera added that he was not trying to confuse voters with his name, and is relying on his middle initial and pictures to distinguish himself from the current Council member Rivera. He said he was not sure why he was being targeted, blaming the situation on a “backroom deal” to support Torres.
“I am for affordable housing, but I work with developers,” he said.
Jobs for New York’s second biggest target was community organizer Carlos Menchaca, who is challenging incumbent Sara Gonzalez for her 38th Council District seat, covering neighborhoods including Red Hook and Sunset Park. The PAC backs Gonzalez, and has spent more than $191,000 in independent expenditures in support of her candidacy, as well as $52,126 attacking Menchaca for the Texas native’s perceived lack of familiarity with the area’s needs.
The third was Jenifer Rajkumar, who is challenging incumbent Margaret Chin, of the First Council District, covering neighborhoods including Chinatown and Greenwich Village. Jobs for New York has spent $39,041 to defeat Rajkumar, with allegations that she was a “fraud” who boasted about her legal experience and whose nonprofit has “never done anything.”
Rajkumar, a Democratic district leader, strongly disputed the claims made in the mailers, noting that she is currently of counsel at a major civil rights law firm, and saying she founded her nonprofit to help young women achieve leadership positions in government.
“The attacks are lies that lower our level of political discourse,” she said. “[Jobs For New York is] targeting me because Lower Manhattan is prime real estate. The current Council member, Margaret Chin, has been a great friend to the real estate developers.”
On the other hand, Jobs For New York has spent $155,126 in support of Chin’s campaign.
In the only attack reviewed by TRD that had a hint of a real estate angle — or at least involved a property owner — the PAC took aim at a Bronx candidate for the 11th District. The PAC claimed candidate Cliff Stanton had a strip club owner as a major donor. The group reported spending $30,929 to defeat him.
Stanton told TRD that the PAC was attempting to imply that he would help bring a strip club to the district, “but nothing could be further from the truth.”
“It is the perfect distraction from the huge amount of cash that is being spent on [behalf of] my opponents,” said Stanton, who has the backing of the good government group Citizens Union. “The money [the PAC is] spending is unprecedented in city politics. They are literally trying to buy the next City Council, and I don’t think people are aware of what is happening.”