Just three days before he announced his run for President of the United States, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a chaotic press conference at Trump Tower.
The stated reason for the event was to promote a forthcoming city law that requires building owners to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. But considering he’s long toyed with joining the roughly two dozen candidates making a play for 2020 — not to mention held multiple fundraisers and traveled to crucial primary states — the presser took on a different, possibly presidential, tone.
De Blasio officially launched his campaign on Thursday, introducing the tagline “Working People First” and calling out the president in a video: “Donald Trump must be stopped. I’ve beaten him before, and I will do it again.” Some in the real estate industry feel that now that the mayor’s candidacy is official, he’ll orchestrate stunts similar to the one at Trump Tower and make more policy pronouncements aimed at real estate — such as the “ban” on glass and steel buildings the mayor announced last month. (De Blasio has yet to sign the bill, and has not explained why.)
“It’s gonna suck for us. Donald Trump is a real estate developer, and that’s who he’s running against. So he’ll use New York City real estate as a proxy for how tough he is,” said one executive for a Manhattan development company. “He’s going to come up with more of these half-baked policy proposals to demonstrate that he can stick it to Donald Trump.”
In his five-plus years as mayor, he’s had a complicated relationship with the real estate industry, drawing ire with comments about private property rights and affordable housing. When asked in a recent interview why he thought it was more difficult to build in the city than other areas of the state, Danny Goldstein, principal of E&M Management said: “To sum up in one word: Bill de Blasio. That’s the answer.”
At the same time, his tenure has been marked by questions over his close ties to the industry — specifically, whether or not he solicited donations from developers and others who had business before the city in exchange for political favors. And though affordable housing and homelessness were key parts of his mayoral campaigns, some feel he hasn’t done enough to provide housing for lower income residents.
“For the past few years de Blasio has been in office, [Vocal-NY] has tried to get him to set aside housing for homeless people. In terms of legacy, this is his biggest failure,” said Paulette Soltani, political director of VOCAL-NY, which organizes people impacted by homelessness. “He has used government resources to help the people who didn’t need it the most.”
Aaron Carr, founder of the Housing Rights Initiative, noted that the mayor is launching a campaign when the future of the New York City Housing Authority remains uncertain. The agency is short $31.8 billion needed for repairs, and is still short a CEO, who will be selected by the mayor and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the next 42 days. The appointment has been delayed multiple times.
“I cannot think of a worse time for a quixotic presidential bid,” Carr said in a statement. “The mayor seems to be under the impression that politics is national, and that is why he is focusing his attention on the White House, rather than putting out the fire that burns in his own house.”
But both real estate professionals and advocates likely agree that De Blasio could have favorable influence in at least one area: the federal tax law. Alvin Schein, partner at real estate development law firm Seiden & Schein, said if de Blasio makes it to the White House, it “would be very good for real estate and New York specifically,” because the mayor would likely roll back the recently imposed $10,000 cap on state and local taxes.
“I think he would be an advocate to reverse a lot of the negative things that happened as a result of the tax law changes,” he said. He added that the mayor “deals with affordable housing issues in the city every day,” so he’d likely help curb funding cuts to HUD.
Vicki Been, deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development, touted the mayor’s affordable housing program during a speech before the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, noting that nearly 39,000 affordable housing units have been created, and another 83,000 preserved, during his administration. Afterward, she said she hopes de Blasio’s candidacy will lead to more discussion of affordable housing on the national stage.
“We need to be talking about it,” she told The Real Deal on Thursday. “It’s an important issue for him.”
Paul Massey, who briefly ran a mayoral campaign against de Blasio in 2017, was not a fan of his former rival’s plan to seek the presidency. He claimed that the mayor had no significant accomplishments he could point to and would be better off focusing on building middle class housing and reforming the school system in New York.
“This is clear evidence that he really wanted another job all along,” Massey said. “His heart is not in his current job.”
Jerry Wolkoff, founder of G&M Realty, dismissed de Blasio as “the worst” and said he had an extremely thin record of accomplishments as mayor. He said he is likely just running to boost his name recognition and land a job in a presidential administration if a Democrat beats Trump in 2020, given that he only has about two years left as mayor of New York.
“They will place him somewhere, maybe,” he said. “I don’t know where, but I think that’s his reasoning. He knows he can’t win.”
John Catsimatidis, head of the Red Apple Group and one-time mayoral hopeful, said the mayor is no different than other Democratic hopefuls, all of whom will look to “beat up Donald Trump.”
“I’ve known him for 25 years. I think he wants to increase his name recognition,” he said.
With such a crowded field, he said it’s impossible to make any predictions as to de Blasio’s chances. But he has at least one reason to hope de Blasio gets elected.
“If he wins, and is no longer mayor, I get to run for mayor,” he said.