The Real Deal New York

Editor's note: The great unraveling

By Stuart Elliott | October 01, 2018 10:00AM

Stuart Elliott

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks in this country. The gap between the right and left has never seemed larger. A battle rages over the Supreme Court. The #MeToo movement continues to redefine the workplace, the home and the basic relationship between men and women. The social fabric feels frayed; nerves are strained.

Even in New York real estate, it can feel that way. Things are turned on their head, and we are hurtling toward somewhere new.

Here are a few scenes from the issue:

In Bushwick, a group of men in T-shirts arrives at a graffiti-covered warehouse carrying fresh copies of the book “Radical Markets” and discussing breaking the constraints of current financial and legal systems and envisioning a new economy, where money in its current form no longer exists.

No, these aren’t Marxists plotting a worldwide uprising of the proletariat — they’re real estate entrepreneurs looking to turn a profit. Check out our deep dive into the brave new world of blockchain and crypto services on page 46. A growing crop of startups promises a golden age of transparency, security and democratization of real estate beyond the bitcoin buzz we’ve seen so far. But can they deliver on that promise?

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Politics makes for strange bedfellows. And this election season, the real estate industry is finding itself tossing and turning, hard-pressed for a good night’s sleep.

In our cover stories this month, reporters Kathryn Brenzel and Will Parker examine the shifting political winds in Albany heading into November’s Election Day.

Andrew Cuomo, who looks set for re-election as governor, has been a close ally to many developers and landlords in the city. But a primary battle with Cynthia Nixon caused him to pivot left on issues such as stronger tenant protections and repealing vacancy decontrol — a concern for many in the industry. See our coverage, which begins on page 34.

And at the State Capitol, the industry-friendly GOP is trying to hold onto control of the Senate by the skin of its teeth — even by one member — fighting a groundswell of politicians from the left who have aggressively condemned REBNY. Those challengers include candidates such as Julia Salazar, a 27-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America, who crushed her incumbent primary opponent on a campaign of “universal rent control” in a district that stretches from Bushwick to East New York. See page 38.

Meanwhile, Letitia James, the likely next state attorney general, has not been shy about calling out landlord misdeeds and has clashed with property owners over her annual “Worst Landlords Watchlist.” While the industry gave more money to one of her rival candidates, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, during the primary, it’s now making nice with James. But will she be a friend or foe? See page 40.

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Tensions are spilling over at industry gatherings, too. As reporters Rich Bockmann and E.B. Solomont write, “An otherwise sleepy real estate event turned into a shouting match between two industry bigwigs late last month,” when Brown Harris Stevens’ Bess Freedman challenged John Catsimatidis over comments he made about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

After the developer called the alleged sexual assault at the heart of the confirmation hearings a “romp,” Freedman jumped up, rebuking Catsimatidis and later labeling him a “disgusting troll.” See page 70.

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Finally, Charles Dickens once wrote,“If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.” On page 84, we take a look at some of those lawyers, who have built up the city’s biggest real estate practices. We also tallied law firms by the volume of the commercial sales and loans they handled. In total, we found more than 1,100 real estate lawyers working at the top 20 firms — a nearly 7 percent increase from last year. 

In these polarized times, you’d expect the number to keep rising.

Enjoy the issue.

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