Real estate players watched closely as a federal jury found former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver guilty on seven corruption charges this week. And as the trial shined a light on the role real estate donors play in the halls of Albany, the industry has been cool to donate to the disgraced politician’s successor.
Speaker Carl Heastie, first elected to the Assembly in 2000, saw his political war chest grow after his colleagues selected him in February to be one of the “three men in a room” who wield power in the state capital. But only a sliver of the more than $350,000 he received in contributions during the first half of the year came from the real estate industry, according to a review of campaign finance records by The Real Deal.
The Bronx politician received just two donations this year from bona fide real estate companies, and only one appears to have any real clout.
Knickerbocker Management, the property management arm of affordable housing developer Peter Fine’s Atlantic Development wrote a check in the amount of $4,100 in February. S&S Realty of Rochester, the LLC of an owner-occupied beverage distribution warehouse upstate, followed suit and also signed a $4,100 check in February.
Fine’s company made the donation on the third of that month, the day members of the Assembly elected Heastie speaker. Fine, whose company did not respond to a request for comment, is no stranger to controversy. He made a name for himself during the last boom selling inclusionary housing certificates generated from his affordable housing projects to developers like Larry Silverstein and Joseph Moinian.
But he’s also been accused of using campaign donations to win approval for his projects.
Heastie did receive donations from a pair of curious LLCs, one named Alda Real Estate Holdings and another Kenilworth/Marlin Realty. Yet despite the apparent industry names, the companies are connected to Park Strategies, the powerful Albany lobbying firm founded by former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato.
Jurors convicted Silver Monday of seven counts of fraud, extortion and money laundering following a three-week trial during which prosecutors proved the powerful politician of – among other things – soliciting kickbacks from Albany’s biggest political donor, Glenwood Management.
Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son are on trail facing similar corruption charges amid a crackdown by federal prosecutors that has put political donations from the industry in the spotlight.
“I hope it is a warning bell that the way in which campaign contributions have been garnered in the state really should not continue,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause New York.
Meanwhile, the flow of political donations from centenarian Leonard Litwin’s Glenwood slowed to a trickle following the arrests in Albany, and the real estate industry as a whole is falling behind in spending as hedge funds pump money into lobbying for education reform.
Only time will tell, Lerner said, whether or not Albany and the real estate industry will return to business as usual after the Silver and Skelos cases wrap up.
“That remains to be seen,” she said.