The Real Deal New York

Real estate bet big (and lost) on outgoing Rep. Joe Crowley

Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York's 14th congressional district by 15 points
By Will Parker | June 27, 2018 01:08PM

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Joe Crowley, and the Parkchester Housing Complex at 2000 East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx (Credit: Getty Images and Google Maps)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old socialist who made New York’s affordable housing crisis a focal point of her Democratic primary campaign for the House of Representatives, defeated Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens by a stunning 15 point margin on Tuesday.

During the 2018 election cycle, Crowley, who represents New York’s 14th Congressional District and has long headed the Queens County Democratic machine, raised more money than he ever had before, bringing in $3.4 million, according to election data analyzed by the nonprofit group Open Secrets. The most generous industry was real estate, which accounted for at least $380,000, or more than 10 percent of the total raised.

Other major donors perhaps not represented in that total are also connected to real estate. Executives from Blackstone Group, the investment firm that is one of New York City’s largest landlords, gave $35,000, making it one of Crowley’s biggest corporate donors. This included donations from Jonathan Gray, the company’s current COO and former head of real estate, who gave $5,400. And Votesane PAC, a political action committee that counts many realtors as contributors, was another of Crowley’s largest donors this cycle, with $76,500 donated, records show.

Crowley’s most prominent real estate donors over the last 18 months included Related Companies executives, members of the Rudin real estate family, Rob Speyer, Jed Walentas, William Mack, Joseph Simone, Frederick Elghanayan, Scott Rechler, John Catsimatidis, Jeff Gural, landlord SL Green Realty and Washington lobbying group the Real Estate Roundtable.

Ocasio-Cortez campaigned against the influence of real estate money in New York City politics. “It’s time we stand up to the luxury developer lobby. Every official is too scared to do it – except me,” she tweeted in April. As of June 6, she had raised $301,000 for her campaign from 180 donors, federal elections records show. About a quarter of that came from Democratic candidate-supporting fundraising platform ActBlue.

Though considered by many mainstream pundits to be part of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Crowley had also long been a willing listener to the real estate industry. In 2015, real estate contributions to the candidate surged, with donors including Vornado Realty Trust’s Steve Roth, Extell Development’s Gary Barnett and Related Companies’ Steve Ross. Shortly after the money poured in, Crowley introduced a bill that effectively lowered taxes on foreign real estate investors, reforming the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act, or FIRPTA.

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign frequently mentioned Crowley’s developer ties in social media and criticized local policies such as subsidies for market-rate construction and New York State’s LLC campaign finance loophole, which many real estate firms have made extensive use of through the years. “Real estate is the currency of corruption in New York City,” she tweeted in January.

On Tuesday night, Crowley graciously accepted defeat. “I want to congratulate @Ocasio2018,” he said. “I look forward to supporting her and all Democrats this November. The Trump administration is a threat to everything we stand for here in Queens and the Bronx, and if we don’t win back the House this November, we will lose the nation we love.”