The Real Deal New York

Take the money and run for office: The industry’s City Council bets

There are 10 open seats on the City Council for the upcoming 2017 elections
By Eddie Small | August 25, 2017 07:00AM

From left: Mark Gjonaj, Ruben Diaz Sr., Robert Rodriguez and City Hall

UPDATED, 3:20 p.m. August 25: When a seat on the New York City Council opens up, the candidates come marching in—and so does the money. The Real Deal recently dove through data from the New York City Campaign Finance Board to get a sense of which candidates were attracting the most donations from the real estate sector. Here is what we found:

District 13: Mark Gjonaj: $639,273.40 in total, $97,220 from real estate

This fundraising race isn’t even close, with Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj raising more money solely from the real estate industry than other candidates in this race have raised altogether. Gjonaj, a major power broker within the Albanian community, currently represents District 80 in the Assembly, covering Allerton and Morris Park in the Bronx, and he is running to represent District 13 in the City Council, which covers neighborhoods like Pelham Bay and Throgs Neck. His donations have come from Stagg Group CEO Mark Stagg, Bajraktari Realty Management president Harry Bajraktari and Link NY Realty founder Valon Nikci. “Our campaign is proud of the support we have received, which is a reflection of the record of results and vision Mark Gjonaj brings to this race,” Gjonaj spokesperson Jennifer Blatus said in a statement, adding that almost 1,000 people have contributed to his campaign so far.

District 8: Robert J. Rodriguez: $140,097 in total, $21,070 from real estate

Robert J. Rodriguez currently sits on the State Assembly, where he represents East Harlem’s District 68, and he is running to replace outgoing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to represent District 8 on the City Council, which covers both East Harlem and the South Bronx. He has raised the most money by far out of all candidates vying for the council seat, and his donations have come from real estate professionals including Pantheon Properties CEO Ken Cohen and WRA Properties president Frank Chiarello. Callie Klotz, a spokesperson for Rodriguez, stressed that the donations “reflect only a small percentage of the overall backing this campaign has received” and that Rodriguez was happy to have support from the real estate industry along with several others.

District 18: Ruben Diaz.: $124,991.54 in total, $13,300 from real estate

State Sen. Ruben Diaz has taken in the most overall campaign contributions and the most from real estate employees in the race for District 18 in the City Council, which covers Parkchester and Castle Hill. Diaz, the father of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., is an extremely conservative Democrat who invited Sen. Ted Cruz to the Bronx during last year’s New York presidential primary and has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage. He represents the 32nd district in the State Senate, covering a stretch of the Bronx from Morrisania to Parkchester. His donations have come from real estate players including RS Development Company CEO Fernando Rodriguez and Somerset Partners founder Keith Rubenstein. Diaz’s campaign manager Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda described providing affordable housing as his “primary interest.”

District 41: Alicka Ampry-Samuel: $89,110.75 in total, $8,350 from real estate

Alicka Ampry-Samuel has worked as a senior advisor at NYCHA and as chief of staff for Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, and she is running to represent New York City’s 41st District, which includes Brooklyn neighborhoods like Brownsville, East Flatbush and Ocean Hill. She pledges on her campaign website to keep homeowners from being pushed out of the neighborhood and advocate for developments that receive input from and benefit the community. She has received donations from Jack Bawabeh, managing partner of Bawabeh Holdings, and Cushman and Wakefield Executive Vice Chairman Charles Borrok.

District 43: Nancy Tong: $66,325 overall, $6,900 from real estate

Nancy Tong has not raised the most money overall in her bid to represent District 43 on the City Council, which covers neighborhoods including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bath Beach. However, she has received the most donations from real estate employees at companies including Cushman & Wakefield, Bay Shine Real Estate, and Guan Realty Corp. She currently serves as the Female Democratic District Leader for New York’s 47th Assembly District. “My diverse group of supporters all have different professions in various businesses,” Tong said in an email. “I don’t believe anything is wrong with having the most contributors from real estate professionals.”

District 21: Francisco Moya: $119,933.84 in total, $5,875 from real estate

State politicians running for the City Council are four-for-four in terms of receiving the most donations from the real estate industry. Assemblyman Francisco Moya currently represents District 39 in the State Assembly, covering Corona and Jackson Heights in Queens, and he is running to represent District 21 on the City Council, covering Corona and East Elmhurst. Bajraktari has donated to his race as well, as have employees at Corcoran Group and Parkview Realty. Moya is taking on disgraced former state senator Hiram Monserrate. Moya said in a statement that his campaign had received “strong grassroots support” and that money from real estate represented a “meager” portion of the overall money he has raised.

District 44: Kalman Yeger: $97,884.88 overall, $3,910 from real estate

The winner by default in District 44, encompassing Borough Park and Midwood in Brooklyn, is Kalman Yeger, an ally of outgoing City Councilman David Greenfield. While the seat technically remains open, all other candidates for it have either terminated all campaign activity or do not have data for donations available with the NYCCFB. Yeger’s real estate donations have come from G & J Realty Principal Jacob Daskal and Jacob Gold Real Estate Principal Jacob Gold.

District 4: Jeffrey Mailman: $49,868.78 in total, $3,756 from real estate

Jeffrey Mailman has not raised nearly as much money as other candidates in the race for District 4, which covers a large swath of Manhattan’s east side, but he has raised the most from real estate workers at companies including Douglas Elliman, and Warburg Realty. He currently serves as legislative director to Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, who represents District 30 in Queens, and pledges to support affordable housing and tenants’ rights on his campaign site. Mailman stressed that the real estate donations to his campaign were not coming from large developers or CEOs. “The real estate professionals that have contributed to my campaign are residential real estate brokers and sales agents,” he said.

District 28: Adrienne Adams: $46,490.08 in total, $2,060 from real estate

Adrienne Adams, chair of Queens Community Board 12, is aiming to replace disgraced Councilman Ruben Wills, who was recently found guilty of corruption charges, to represent District 28 on the City Council. The district covers neighborhoods including Jamaica, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park in Queens, and the race has been extremely low-budget so far, with no candidate raising more than $60,000 overall as of August 23. Adams’ real estate donations have come mostly from self-employed real estate professionals, as well as employees at Home Source and Hillside Executive Realty.

District 2: Carlina Rivera: $154,958.01 in total, $1,995 from real estate

Community activist Carlina Rivera has raised both the most money overall and the most money from the real estate sector in the race for District 2 on the City Council, which covers the East Village and Alphabet City in Manhattan. Several of her contributions have come from self-employed real estate professionals, although she has also received donations from employees at Millennium Properties and Douglas Elliman as well. Rivera previously organized tenants with the housing rights group Good Old Lower East Side, and she has pledged to support laws ending evictions and unfair rent hikes. She said in a statement that she was “proud of our strong grassroots support, which secured us almost 400 individual contributions from right here in our community.”

(NOTE: All numbers for real estate contributions are approximate, as candidates are not required under city law to provide definitive industry labels for their contributors to the NYCCFB. TRD obtained its numbers by filtering through the “occupation” category of the database for jobs related to real estate. Additionally, the total amount raised represents only private contributions. Candidates on the list who received public funds include Robert J. Rodriguez, Francisco Moya, Nancy Tong, Henry Butler and Carlina Rivera.)

Correction: A prior version of this article inaccurately stated that Henry Butler had received the most funds from real estate in the District 41 race.