As the mayor of New York City, Cushman & Wakefield’s Paul Massey would model himself after Nelson Rockefeller or Michael Bloomberg: a socially liberal fiscal conservative who views the role of mayor as CEO.
But as a political candidate, he has a different figure in mind.
“I’m going to throw my jacket over my shoulders, loosen my tie – a la John Lindsay – and I’m going to walk up and down every main street in the city,” he said Wednesday in a talk with Partnership for New York City president Kathryn Wylde during the annual EisnerAmper real estate summit.
When Wylde cut Massey off to ask if he was sure he wanted to run as a Republican, several seconds of silence ensued as the two stared at each other before the head of the pro-business group reminded Massey that “Lindsay didn’t go out very popular.”
(Lindsay presided over the city for two terms spanning the 1960s and 1970s. By the end of his mayoralty, a Gallup poll showed 60 percent of New Yorkers disapproved of his administration.)
“I know, but I like the image of the jacket over my shoulder and it is something I look forward to doing,” Massey finally said.
Massey and Wylde spent about 25 minutes chatting about his campaign during the afternoon keynote panel at Chelsea Piers. Massey praised Mayor Bill de Blasio – his presumptive opponent – on his universal pre-kindergarten initiative and his plan to build a streetcar connecting the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts.
But his campaign will focus on areas where he feels the mayor has fallen short, including safety, fixing the city’s broken school system and tackling the affordable housing crisis.
“I think the affordable housing, that’s the business that I’m in. The incentives need to be there. If the incentives are there, we will have the affordable housing we need on a scale that we need it,” he said. “The affordable housing that we’re creating now is de minimis.”
“We need much more housing than we have now, and that’s going to take a partnership between the mayor and the governor that is not currently there,” Massey added, referring to the notoriously bitter relationship between de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Massey cited the Durst Organization’s Hallets Point project — a portion of which was put on hold when the 421a abatement expired — as the cost of what can happen when Albany and City Hall can’t work together.
But when pressed for specifics on some of his policies regarding things like allocating the city’s budget and reforming rent regulation, Massey said he was still working on hammering out the details.
“With every one of our initiatives, we’re going to bring a team of experts together,” he said. “That’s a topic we’ll address. We’re not there yet, but we will learn exactly what we need to do.”
“You’re already sounding like a politician,” Wylde noted.
“Not ducking, not ducking,” Massey responded. “Everybody knows that we’re at the beginning of our journey.”
The Massey campaign so far includes GOP operative Bill O’Reilly (not the Fox News personality), former SL Green executive David Amsterdam, former Massey Knakal CFO Michael Wlody and Kenneth Gross, an election attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom who worked on Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign.
Wylde asked Massey about his path to success, considering the fact that de Blasio won an overwhelming majority of the vote in 2013 in an environment where voter turnout was very low.
The real estate executive said he already had a strong network of connections in each neighborhood thanks to Massey Knakal and the former brokerage’s famous territory system.
Massey also said his campaign was working on a big war chest.
“I am not taking city matching funds, so the incumbent is likely – if he’s going to take matching funds – going to be limited in what he raises and we’re going to have significant firepower in excess of that,” he said. “So I think we have a real path to victory.”
One challenge Massey is bound to face, though, is how to deal with the vast political and special interests that bombard City Hall. He said he learned consensus building during his time in business, but that he “absolutely” sees himself as a mayor in the model of Bloomberg – a professional manager first and a politician second.
“Well, I think Mayor Bloomberg took that same approach, but he had [Deputy Mayor] Kevin Sheekey,” Wylde said. “You better surround yourself with some political [advisers].”
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the Durst Organization’s project in Astoria. It is Hallets Point, not Astoria Cove.