Real estate’s winners and losers in the City Council primaries

Socialists in line for just two seats; industry-backed candidates nearly sweep

New York /
Jul.July 07, 2021 04:00 PM
From left: Open New York’s William Thomas, Related's Stephen Ross, Tiffany Cabán, Michael Hollingsworth and Crystal Hudson (Open New York, Getty)

From left: Open New York’s William Thomas, Related’s Stephen Ross, Tiffany Cabán, Michael Hollingsworth and Crystal Hudson (Open New York, Getty)

New tallies show that most of the City Council candidates most feared by the real estate industry likely won’t be taking office.

The release Tuesday night of ranked-choice voting selections, including absentee ballots, in the 35 Council primaries reveals key victories for the industry and only a handful by socialists. Results won’t be certified until later this month.

The New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed six candidates for City Council, but only two won: Tiffany Cabán in Queens District 22 and Alexa Avilés in Brooklyn’s District 38. Two out of 51 seats will not give the DSA much sway over who succeeds Corey Johnson as City Council speaker or any direct means to stop rezonings in 49 districts.

Common Sense New York, a political action committee that received $1 million from Related Companies’ Stephen Ross, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing candidates backed by the DSA.

The industry-backed PAC’s biggest outlay, $103,000, was to defeat Michael Hollingsworth, who sought to replace Laurie Cumbo in Brooklyn’s 35th District — a hotbed of development fights. Crystal Hudson, the projected winner, leads him by 2,444 votes.

Jeffrey Leb, treasurer of Common Sense as well as of another PAC that received real estate dollars, Voters of NYC, said Hollingsworth was particularly outspoken in favor of defunding the police. He said the PACs supported candidates “who were pragmatic, pro-growth candidates” concerned about quality of life and public safety.

“The Council races have the ability to really shape the direction of the city,” Leb said.

But Hollingsworth said his history as a tenant advocate and his opposition to key rezonings was likely what really drew opposition from the industry. Hollingsworth is an organizer with the Crown Heights Tenant Union, part of the Housing Justice for All Coalition, which successfully fought for changes to the state’s rent law in 2019.

He also fought BFC Partners’ redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory, which required and received Cumbo’s approval, and has helped lead opposition to the proposed rezoning of Continuum Company’s 960 Franklin Avenue, which would pave the way for two residential towers with 1,578 apartments, 789 of which would be affordable.

“I think the real estate industry realized, with me, that I’m not someone who can be compromised,” Hollingsworth said. “It is about the threat to real estate.”

He blamed his defeat in part on the money from the real estate industry paying for negative ads, including some that criticized his and the DSA’s position on Israel. Crown Heights has a substantial Jewish population.

Meanwhile, Hudson, a former Cumbo staffer, had the backing of pro-development groups including the New York City District Council of Carpenters, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council.

Common Sense’s favored candidates lead in 11 of the 14 City Council races it targeted. In addition to the two wins for the DSA, the preliminary results show a loss for the industry-backed PAC in the 39th District of Brooklyn, where Shahana Hanif, who was endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Working Families Party, has the edge. In the race — to succeed Brad Lander — Common Sense had backed Doug Schneider and Justin Krebs, who were not fans of the industry but were seen as less hostile to it than Hanif.

Pro-housing group Open New York sought out candidates who support the proposed rezonings of Soho and Gowanus, as well as those willing to oppose member deference — the City Council’s custom of voting on land use actions based on the decision of the local Council member.

The group’s endorsements had some crossover with those of the Working Families Party, which also backed Marjorie Velázquez in District 13 and Althea Stevens in District 16, both of whom appear to have won their Bronx races.

When asked about the focus of real estate-funded PACs on DSA candidates, William Thomas, executive director of Open New York, said he didn’t agree with the strategy.

“I think the focus on DSA as villains of housing policy is misguided,” he said. “I think they are fighting for a lot of good issues.”





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