The real estate industry had a good day at the City Council races, with 16 of its 22 candidates finding themselves in the winner’s circle, according to an analysis of campaign finance records by The Real Deal. Jobs for New York, a political action committee created by the powerful Real Estate Board of New York and endowed by many of its deep-pocketed players, bet roughly $4.23 million on 22 races — and received a good return on its money, the analysis shows.
About $3.34 million was spent successfully – on candidates who the PAC backed and won, or on candidates who the PAC opposed and lost. Conversely, about $896,650 went down the drain, on REBNY candidates who lost or on candidates the PAC opposed and won.
“With a couple of races still undecided, 80 percent of the candidates Jobs for NY endorsed won their campaigns,” Phil Singer, a Jobs for New York spokesperson, told TRD. “New Yorkers are concerned about jobs and unemployment, which explains why the overwhelming majority of the candidates we backed were victorious.”
Though Jobs for New York ponied up $2.72 million to support the 16 winners, it doubled down on its bets by spending hundreds of thousands more to oppose their opponents, as The Real Deal reported.
For example, in the race for District 15 (comprising Belmont, East Tremont and Bathgate), the PAC spent $267,212 to support Ritchie Torres, who won by a comfortable margin, and $110,655 to denounce Joel Rivera.
And in District 1 (Lower Manhattan), the Jobs for New York spent $230,968 on incumbent Margaret Chin, who won, and dished out $50,736 to trash her opponent Jennifer Rajkumar.
REBNY did have four candidates who went down in defeat. For example, though Jobs for New York spent $294,095 to support Sara Gonzalez in the District 38 (South Brooklyn including Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood) race, she was beaten handily by Carlos Menchaca, who also had to fend off $52,126 worth of negative campaign literature commissioned by the PAC.
“The strength and power of the coalition we built enabled us to defeat the real estate forces that spent heavily on my opponent,” Menchaca said.
Two of the races that had REBNY candidates – between Paul Vallone and Austin Shafran in Queens and Robert Cornegy and Kirsten Foy in Brooklyn, still haven’t been called. The PAC spent just under $600,000 on Foy and Vallone, and about $45,000 against their opponents.
In total, the PAC has reported $6.94 million in contributions and has spent $4.88 million according to its latest filing.
REBNY focused on council races as they offer a better bang for the buck, observers said.
“In a City Council race, you can blow the other candidate out of the water,” Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the tenants’ rights organization Metropolitan Council on Housing, told TRD in August.
Many of REBNY’s picks were favorites to win. Moreover, some of REBNY’s choices – Kirsten Foy, for example — mirror those of the pro-labor Working Families Party and are much more liberal picks than one would expect from the industry.
The Working Families Party did not coordinate with Jobs for New York on candidate picks, said party spokesperson Joe Dinkin.
“Frankly, this kind of enormous political spending in elections should be troubling to anyone who cares about good government,” Dinkin said. “But we hope most New Yorkers are smart enough to ignore the views of billionaire landlords.”
Critics of REBNY, though, think the industry made a conscious decision to pick more liberal candidates.
“They’re obviously piggybacking on the Working Families Party in some cases,” Michael McKee of Tenants PAC, the city’s most influential tenants’ rights group, told TRD. “It’s clever because it gives them a veneer of progressiveness.”
With additional reporting by Adam Pincus