An otherwise sleepy real estate event turned into a shouting match between two industry bigwigs Wednesday, when John Catsimatidis was challenged by Bess Freedman over comments the developer made about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Catsimatidis, CEO of the Red Apple Group and a friend of President Trump’s, was the keynote speaker at the Asian Real Estate Association of America’s annual “East Meets West” conference at the New Yorker hotel in Midtown. About 15 minutes through his remarks, he turned to the state of national politics.
“I mean, what’s going on in Washington now is crazy,” he said, referring to the controversy surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination. “You’ve got two teenagers – 36 years ago – had a romp. And you should disqualify people from a security clearance, from a job, because they fooled around in high school?”
“Give me a break,” Catsimatidis continued. “Where are these Democrats coming from?
It was then that Freedman, co-president of Brown Harris Stevens, stood up at her table in the crowd.
“Give me a break,” she yelled at Catsimatidis
He bellowed back, “Give me a break; that’s the way we say it,” and a few audience members responded with a nervous trickle of applause.
But then Freedman said to him: “I think you’re out of line!”
“I’m out of line? I’m just giving you my opinion,” he responded.
“You don’t know the facts,” Freedman shot back. “Get back to talking about real estate.”
Catsimatidis did indeed return to shop talk and ended his speech without incident.
But after the event, Freedman said in an interview that she felt an obligation to speak up.
“I’m still like, who is he to do that? Another privileged white male to be the judge and jury,” she said. “He’s a disgusting troll of a human being.”
It was the latest illustration that real estate has not been excluded from the broader conversation about the treatment of women in the workplace and society in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
An Apology is Warranted from Bess Friedman
A Public Forum where speaker expresses Opinion
is Cursed out Where are going in America
— John Catsimatidis (@JCats2013) September 27, 2018
In February, casino and hotel magnate Steve Wynn was ousted from his job as chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts following multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him. In June, Equity Group Investments chairman Sam Zell apologized for responding to a question about promoting women by saying: “I don’t think there’s ever been a, ‘We gotta get more pussy on the block, OK?’” That same month, the head of Wafra Investment Advisory Group’s real estate division was fired over allegations that he routinely sexually harassed a vice president at the company, including sending her a firecracker in a note.
And just on Tuesday, a former female employee of Cushman & Wakefield filed a $30 million discrimination lawsuit against the company, assailing the “old boys’ network” at the firm.
This isn’t the first time the Kavanaugh drama has popped up in the real estate universe. One of his defenders recently used Zillow floor plans to attempt to prove that allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh were false.
Incidentally, prior to getting into real estate, Freedman was an Assistant District Attorney in Maryland, where Martha Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh’s mother, was a judge.