The Real Deal New York

A brief history of candidates rejecting
New York real estate money

Affordability crisis has driven concern over industry's influence
January 29, 2019 10:45AM

From left: Jimmy Van Bramer, Julia Salazar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Zephyr Teachout (Credit: Getty Images)

When Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced yesterday that his campaign would not accept donations from real estate developers or their employees, he was the latest in a growing line of Democratic politicians to do so recently.

Other candidates who have made similar pledges include:

  • Queens City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, considering a run for borough president in 2021
  • Brooklyn Democratic Socialist Julia Salazar, who defeated an eight-term incumbent state senator
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman elected to the United States House of Representatives
  • Zephyr Teachout, who sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general
  • Investigative reporter Nomiki Konst, running for New York City public advocate
  • Zellnor Myrie and Alessandra Biaggi, newly elected state senators for District 20 (Brooklyn) and District 34 (Bronx and Westchester), respectively

Concerns over affordable housing in the city, as well the type of corruption revealed in the Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos scandals, has made the real estate industry’s influence over city and state politics a hot-button topic.

“I think it’s increasingly one of those issues that people want a response on from their elected officials and candidates,” Van Bramer told Gotham Gazette last year. “And I think that they’re right to be concerned about the influence of big money, generally speaking.”

On the other hand, these things are often easier said than done. Public advocate candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito was caught on tape telling voters she doesn’t accept donations from real estate interests, despite actually receiving thousands of dollars in contributions from those interests. And in his previous run for City Council Speaker, Johnson received tens of thousands of dollars from the real estate industry as well.

“The real estate industry is pretty broad and diverse,” Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for the Durst Organization, told the Gotham Gazette. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of blaming in politics these days and it’s easy to point to one group or person or industry and say they’re responsible for everything that’s bad in this world and that’s pretty simplistic and wrong.” [Gotham Gazette] — Kevin Sun