The Real Deal New York

Queens group raises red flags over Heskel Group CEO’s donations to elected officials

Opponents say donations violate spirit of the campaign finance law
June 18, 2018 09:11AM

From the left: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Melinda Katz, Francisco Moya and a rendering of 40-31 82nd Street in Jackson Heights (Credit: Queens Borough President and Getty Images)

A community group opposed to Yeheskel Elias’ planned Jackson Heights development is crying foul over donations the developer made to public officials who have the power to approve the project’s rezoning.

Elias, CEO of the Forest Hills-based Heskel Group, teamed up with Sun Equity Partners to pay $27 million in 2016 to buy the site of the former Jackson Heights Cinema at 40-31 82nd Street.

The developer applied to rezone the site in September 2017, and one month later made a donation to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s re-election campaign for $4,970 – $20 more than the maximum allowable amount, Politico reported.

Political donors with business before the city are limited to donations of $400, but Elias made his donation before the Department of City Planning certified his application, meaning it didn’t technically violate the rules.

Opponents to the project, however, say the donations raise suspicions.

“From looking at the time lines of those donations it’s without a doubt a violation of the spirit of New York City’s campaign finance laws. Even if it’s been made before the rezoning, it’s clearly with the intent of gaining approval,” said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, a member of the group Queens Neighborhood United which is planning on holding a town hall meetingMonday to discuss the project.

A spokesperson for de Blasio said the mayor “assiduously follows the campaign finance regulations and he and members of this administration are never swayed by donations — no matter the timing or the amount.”

Heskel Group spokesman Hank Sheinkopf said “all appropriate regulations were followed and have been for the more than three decades of supporting public figures.”

Elias also made a $3,850 donation to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who supports the rezoning, and a $1,000 donation to local City Council Member Francisco Moya, whose vote will ultimately determine the fate of the project.

Moya worked with Elias to secure 42 units of the 120-unit project for low- and moderate-income housing.

“The mere suggestion that receiving any type of campaign donation would influence my vote is insulting and it really goes against the integrity I have and have built as a legislator,” Moya said

“I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons,” he added. “I’m trying to make sure that this project ensures affordable housing.”

A spokesperson for Katz said the rezoning only adds three floors to the 10 stories Elias would be allowed to build as-of-right. [Politico] – Rich Bockmann