UPDATED, 6:50 p.m., Jan. 16: For nearly three decades, Steven Spinola has been working hundreds of rooms in Albany, Washington and New York City on behalf of the real estate industry, and this evening, at the Real Estate Board of New York’s 119th annual banquet, the room was unequivocally his.
“Ok, shhh,” the outgoing president of the city’s most powerful trade organization said, after the crowd in the New York Hilton ballroom broke into thunderous applause as REBNY Chairman Rob Speyer presented him with the Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award.
“Steve Spinola has been the most important person in the history of REBNY,” Speyer said. “He has made us a force to be reckoned with in the city, in the state, and it’s literally transformed the landscape of our industry.”
“My stepping down as your president only ends one chapter in the very impressive, continuing history of the Real Estate Board of New York,” Spinola said. “Together we have accomplished much. Great challenges remain and REBNY could not be in better hands.”
He vouched for his successor, John Banks, saying he had known the Con Edison lobbyist for 20 years and said that Banks “brings to this position all of the skills necessary to lead our great industry.”
“Finally, let me say that I consider myself blessed to serve as your president,” he concluded. “So let me ask god to bless all of you and offer a very inadequate but extremely sincere thank you.”
Spinola delivered his swansong surrounded by industry titans such as Mary Ann Tighe, Jerry Speyer, Burt Resnick, Jonathan Mechanic and Dan Tishman. He told The Real Deal that some of his most vivid memories from REBNY galas over the years came amid tense moments, such as when Israel was attacked with Scud missiles and organizers put news feeds up on screens so attendees could watch, or the day Captain Sully Sullenburger landed flight 1549 on the Hudson River.
“We had a guy from the Port Authority here in his Port Authority jacket because he had just come from rescuing people,” he recalled.
The gala had all the makings of an Academy Awards red carpet. But instead of posing for cameras in front of a Vanity Fair sign while clinging to a golden statue, those in attendance —read: anybody who’s anybody in New York City real estate and politics — discussed deals, properties and predictions for the market in 2015, as well as some of the challenges facing the city.
Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen showed up, as did Public Advocate Tish James, City Planning Chairman Carl Weisbrod, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and council members Daniel Garodnick, Jumaane Williams and David Greenfield. And Mayor Bill de Blasio made a brief cameo.
And of course, the city’s top developers and brokers turned out en masse. Ray Kelly, former NYPD commissioner and now a top executive at Cushman & Wakefield, was at first reluctant to pose for photos but warmed up as the evening went on. Jared Kushner, who just bought his first-ever Queens property and is looking to cash in a record-breaking $66 million for a Puck Building penthouse, ducked out before dinner.
“I’m going to try to see my kids,” he said.
Robert Freedman, co-chairman of Colliers International, said the gala was his 41st. He was more interested, however, in talking politics than real estate. Although he’s a Democrat, he said he once completed a deal with Jeb Bush.
In between fielding droves of well-wishers, Banks told TRD that the event was mostly about meeting new people before he takes Spinola’s seat in March.
When asked if he had received any advice from Spinola about the job, he said he had not.
“Steve and I have known each other for years,” he said. “It’s a different kind of relationship.”
An optimistic Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of retail sales at Douglas Elliman, said she had met Banks and called him “a solution guy.”
For Stefani Markowitz, the newly appointed president of Rutenberg Realty, Thursday night marked her first time at the annual fete.
“I get excited by these types of crowds,” she said, “especially in this industry.”
Making a late arrival, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) headed straight to the dais upon arriving from a retreat in Virginia. Amid a sea of black ties and evening gowns, the senior senator stood out in khakis and a sweater.
His excuse for the casual wear? “(Steven Spinola) told me this was nothing of an affair,” the senator said, “and I shouldn’t overdress.”
“Steve, have a great rest of your life,” Schumer said, “New York loves you.”
(E.B. Solomont contributed reporting. All photos credit: Adam Pincus for The Real Deal.)