The Real Estate Board of New York’s annual banquet — the most high-profile event of the year for the industry — last night was marred by the shouts of protesters.
A group of about 30 people inside the New York Hilton, where the glitzy event was being held, chanted: “Hey you millionaires, pay your fair share!”
Before being escorted off the property by hotel staff, the protesters handed out fliers stating their opposition to the Committee to Save New York, a group of business leaders formed in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign to oppose tax increases, reduce the size of government and reform Medicaid and pensions for public employees.
Donors to the committee include a number of prominent real estate figures, including Tishman Speyer Properties and the Durst Organization. Tishman Speyer’s Rob Speyer is the co-chair of the committee’s board of directors, which also includes REBNY President Steven Spinola and REBNY Chairman Mary Ann Tighe. Tighe, Spinola, Rob Speyer and Douglas Durst all attended the banquet. Cuomo, the Durst Organization and Speyer were not immediately available for comment.
The Committee to Save New York is “a farce,” said protester Pamela Brown, who is a member of East Harlem-based Community Voices Heard, a group that works with low-income families in organizing campaigns to influence policy. “Cuomo is in bed with REBNY, but we know his trickery.”
She said the protesters were particularly riled by Cuomo’s stance against extending an income-tax surcharge of around 2 percent imposed on high-income New Yorkers in 2009, and set to expire at the end of 2011.
“There are millionaires upstairs that can afford to pay 2 percent out of their paychecks,” Brown said, adding that she feels Cuomo’s proposals would hurt working families.
But many of the 2,000 attendees at the banquet, held behind closed doors in the Grand Ballroom on the hotel’s third floor, were unaware that the protest was going on, since the chanting could not be heard over the din. Only those milling outside seemed able to hear protesters’ cries.
Today, Steven Spinola, REBNY’s president, said of the protest: “Sadly, I understand that there was a protest outside of the event led by a small group that we are not familiar with… We hardly knew they were there and hotel security removed them immediately. Such protests and groups will not deter our efforts or our vision to be involved in working to return our state to living within its means again, just as every New Yorker does.”
Tighe, who is CEO of the New York Tri-State Region at CB Richard Ellis, said she didn’t know about the protesters until after the banquet.
She called concerns about the effect of Cuomo’s plans on working families “very misplaced.”
“We now know that a tax regime such as the one we have in place drives jobs from New York, and the absence of those jobs breaks families apart,” she said. “What Andrew Cuomo is trying to do goes to the whole idea of trying make this state a place where young people can find jobs, people who are in their midlife can keep their jobs, and elderly people can afford to retire. And in the current structure, that’s not happening.”
She said the tax surcharge has not produced the monies anticipated and is driving wealthy families to take up residence in states with lower taxes. “Sometimes people take comfort in simple solutions,” she said. “It’s not as simple as, ‘let’s just tax the rich more,’ because the rich are the most mobile part of our population. If we become too reliant on the upper tier for our revenue, all we’re doing effectively is undercutting our tax base.”
The banquet, REBNY’s 115th, was attended by a number of politicians including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Senator Charles Schumer, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Council member Jessica Lappin, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Christopher Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Jay Walder and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos.
Other big-name attendees included developer William Rudin, Prudential Douglas Elliman CEO Dottie Herman, Cushman & Wakefield Chairman of Global Brokerage Bruce Mosler, Fried Frank law firm partner Jonathan Mechanic, Michael Fascitelli, president and CEO of the Vornado Realty Trust, Newmark Knight Frank CEO Barry Gosin, Peter Riguardi, president of New York operations for Jones Lang LaSalle, and real estate It-Couple Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who recently announced that she is pregnant.
Many VIPs had left by the time protesters arrived.
Earlier in the night, Quinn told The Real Deal she was getting an optimistic vibe from the real estate industry.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to has been very positive,” she said. As far as the city’s economy goes, she said: “I think things are improving. Things will continue to improve.”
But she warned that the continued tough economy means that optimism in the real estate industry should be “tempered” by caution.
Honorees at the banquet included Jeffrey Gural of Newmark Knight Frank; Leslie Wohlman Himmel of Himmel + Meringoff Properties; Andrew Singer of the Singer & Bassuk Organization; Frank Freda of Cushman & Wakefield, attorney Leonard Boxer of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, and David Brause of Brause Realty.
Real estate senior statesman John Zuccotti, chairman of Brookfield Properties USA and the city’s former deputy mayor, agreed that the mood at this year’s event was “better than it’s been.”
“There’s a sense that we’ve turned the corner,” he said. “Last year, we were trying to find the corner.”
In 2011, he predicted, there will be “significant strides in every phase of the real estate business.”
Corcoran Group CEO Pamela Liebman and Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group President Kelly Kennedy Mack arrived at the banquet together.
When it comes to new residential condos, traffic has picked up in the “$6 million-plus range”, Mack said.
Liebman said the crowd at the banquet was the most optimistic she has seen since 2007. She added that attendees were “talking deals,” a good sign for the market’s health.