City Council race winners slam REBNY-backed PAC

Candidates call on Moreland Commission to reform state campaign financing

TRD New York /
Sep.September 16, 2013 04:08 PM

City Council candidates who were victorious in last week’s primary joined forces with campaign finance advocates to denounce the real estate industry’s attempt to steer the race through outsized spending and to ask the state’s Moreland Commission to recommend public financing for the entire state of New York.

Candidates including Margaret Chin, Laurie Cumbo, Carlos Menchaca and Mark Levine gathered on the steps of City Hall today to say that their wins were a testament to the strength of the city’s public financing system, and urged the state to follow suit. The candidates represented both those who were financially backed by REBNY – such as Chin and Cumbo  – and those whom the PAC bet against.

“Jobs for New York is effectively trying to make candidates secondary players in their own campaign,” Levine said, referring to the political action committee championed by the influential Real Estate Board of New York. “Thanks to the campaign finance program, I was able to surpass that.”

Phil Singer, a spokesperson for Jobs for New York, said that it was time to “start focusing on creating jobs, housing and the kinds of economic opportunities that the city needs, rather than trying to spin last week’s results.”

The Moreland Commission — a special commission by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to root out corruption in state government — will hold its first public hearing tomorrow at Pace University. A staffer for the commission present at the gathering declined to comment.

The real estate industry gave the state Senate GOP $4.53 million in the last election cycle, roughly the same amount as the next 14 industries combined, according to Citizen Action New York, a membership-based social advocacy group. Reforming state campaign finance law, said the group’s director Jesse Laymon, would mitigate the power of such spending.

“You can’t make the bad guys disappear,” Laymon said, “but you can give the good guys a chance.”

Jobs for New York spent a hefty amount in council races—about $4.88 million in 22 races overall – and enjoyed considerable success with several of its picks winning their respective races, as The Real Deal reported. But the money had a low rate of return in races where the PAC went against substantial opposition, said Susan Lerner, director of Common Cause New York, a nonprofit that tracks connections between money and politics.

“Save your money,” Lerner said, as if giving advice to the people behind the PAC, which include some of the industry’s biggest players  such as Brookfield Office Properties, the Durst Organization and Jack Resnick & Sons.

“Leave the elections to the voters of New York City.”

In 14 races, the REBNY-backed PAC endorsed candidates supported by the pro-labor Working Families Party, because last time around, the industry’s picks were trounced by WFP-backed candidates, said Bill Lipton, the New York State director of the party.

But Jobs for New York’s Singer said that the WFP had little involvement in those races beyond endorsements, whereas Jobs for New York spent $2.6 million in those same races, citing data from the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

“The fact that Common Cause and the Working Families Party continue to spin themselves into a frenzy is proof positive” that Jobs for New York was hugely impactful on Election Day,” Singer said.

Carlos Menchaca, an openly gay candidate who won in District 38 despite the PAC spending $294,095 to support his challenger Sara Gonzalez, said that the PAC’s negative onslaught against him – which included over $50,000 worth of negative campaign literature  – was often xenophobic and racist.

“It was beyond negative and made people really sick to their stomachs,” Menchaca said. “What they forgot was this is a community of immigrants.”

The PAC’s aims were clear, he added. “They wanted a rubber stamp [candidate], and that wasn’t me.”

Cumbo, who had called on the PAC to drop their support of her during the race, said that her right to run her own campaign was taken away by the PAC’s endorsement, which threatened to derail her credibility with voters.

“Our race was set, and this really caused a lot of challenges,” she said.

A relationship with the real estate community was important for any New York City politician, Cumbo acknowledged, but outsized spending was not the way to go about it.

“You don’t want to further empower individuals that already have money, power and influence to control the democratic process,” she said.

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