The real estate industry is known for supporting Republican politicians and their tax-cutting, pro-business policies. But mayoral frontrunner and Democrat Bill de Blasio is gaining ground within the community, and some of the industry’s biggest players conceded that installing the public advocate in City Hall wouldn’t be so bad.
“You would have a mayor who has proven himself as relatively pro-development, at least in his [City] Council record,” Marc Holliday, CEO of SL Green Realty, said at a panel at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
Indeed, while a City Council member in 2003, de Blasio voted in favor of a major rezoning of Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue, despite the fact that the project didn’t include an affordable housing component. And in 2009, de Blasio was a key ally of Toll Brothers’ David Von Spreckelsen when the developer was looking to build a 450-unit residential complex along the Gowanus Canal (Toll Brothers pulled out of the project when the canal was declared a federal Superfund cleanup site in 2010, and the Lightstone Group has since stepped in to develop the site).
De Blasio is running against Republican Joe Lhota, the former chief of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but has secured a considerable lead in polls ahead of Tuesday’s election.
The challenge for de Blasio, Holliday said, would be to find a way to achieve his affordable housing goals – one of the core promises of his campaign – without overtaxing “the golden goose,” a reference to the city’s commercial landlords, of which SL Green is the largest.
Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management, said that de Blasio had shown a good grasp of the economics of density, and understood that increasing density through rezoning would be an “important factor in solving this affordable housing problem.” De Blasio told The Real Deal in August that rezoning was an “economic and environmental imperative.”
RXR Realty’s Scott Rechler, who also sits on the board of commissioners at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said that he had spent significant time with de Blasio, and got the impression that the candidate was a real pragmatist. “He knows you can’t just take a bigger piece of the pie, you need to grow the whole pie,” he said.
A de Blasio administration would bring in an era of more flexibility on rezoning and landmarking issues, Rechler predicted.
Larry Silverstein, CEO of Silverstein Properties, pointed to his own World Trade Center development project as an example of a major job creator, especially in the construction industry. “And guess what?” he said. “These [construction] guys don’t save, they spend.”
The new mayor, Silverstein added with panache, would have “very much an awareness of what the city is going to depend upon.”
And, after all, many of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pro-development policies have enough momentum to prevent a successor from reversing course, Rudin said. “The [World] Trade Center is not stopping,” he said. “The No. 2 train is not stopping. Hudson Yards is not stopping.”