Who will replace Bloomberg?

A look at the NYC mayoral candidates, and their real estate ties

Feb.February 01, 2012 07:00 AM
New York City Hall

New York City Hall

With all the coverage surrounding the upcoming presidential election, New York City’s 2013 mayoral race feels a long way off. But that’s not the case for the politicos running for mayor — or even those rumored to be considering it.

Most have already been collecting campaign contributions for months or years, in many cases from prominent figures in the city’s real estate industry.

This month, The Real Deal looked at where real estate moguls are placing their bets in the mayoral race — and what each candidate means for the industry.

Of course, formal policy proposals and campaign platforms are still far in the future, so most big donors are hedging their bets — contributing to multiple candidates or hanging back entirely.

“It’s very early,” said Bruce Mosler, chairman of global brokerage at Cushman & Wakefield. “I don’t guess that a lot of people have decided who they’re comfortable with or want to back, or whether they’ll back multiple players.”

Mosler and his wife, Wendy, the managing principal at Miller Global Properties, have each donated to both City Council speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer. Still, Mosler said he’s waiting to hear more from each of the candidates before officially backing someone.

Below is a rundown of some of the candidates making headlines, how much money they’ve raised as of the most recent campaign finance-filing deadline last month and where they’ve come down on the real estate issues of the day.

Christine Quinn

Christine Quinn

Christine Quinn

Current position: City Council Speaker (Democrat)

Money raised: $4.98 million

Real estate contributors: Developers William and Arthur Zeckendorf, Jeffrey Gural of Newmark Knight Frank, the Corcoran Group’s Pam Liebman, developers Harold Fetner and Douglas Durst.

Background/positions: Council speaker since 2006, Quinn was a favorite to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009, before he decided to seek a third term. So she’s had ample time to raise money for her 2013 run. Many major New York real estate players donated to her last campaign, including Larry Silverstein, Extell’s Gary Barnett and CBRE’s Mary Ann Tighe. Still, donors say support in that election (from which Quinn retains her campaign funds) does not necessarily equal support in 2013.

Quinn — a former housing activist who made history twice by becoming both the first female and first openly gay speaker — has recently been working on a council-wide compromise on the controversial “living wage” bill, which would require developers who get significant city subsidies to pay employees at least $10 an hour.

Kenneth Patton, a professor at the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate and a critic of such measures, said they were a key indicator of whether a candidate will create a development-friendly climate.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, an industry group representing landlords, said Quinn — like Stringer and public advocate Bill de Blasio — has sought to strike a balance between prodevelopment and antidevelopment statements.

Before becoming speaker, Quinn was a leading opponent of Bloomberg’s West Side stadium proposal, but in recent years she’s frequently taken industry-friendly positions, like opposing a property tax hike and supporting Vornado’s proposed 15 Penn Plaza over the objections of the local community board.

Quinn also presided over the council’s approval of Bloomberg’s Willets Point redevelopment in exchange for more affordable housing — delivering a higher percentage of affordable units than initially planned, though far less than opponents sought.

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio
Current position: Public Advocate  (Democrat)

Money raised: $2.02 million

Real estate contributors: William Zeckendorf, Durst and Fetner, the Related Companies’ Stephen Ross and Steiner Equity Group’s Douglas Steiner.

Background/positions: As a City Council member, De Blasio was a vocal critic of controversial architect Robert Scarano, who’s been charged with filing misleading plans. In 2007, he held a rally at the site of one building in his district, 360 Smith Street, calling for Scarano’s removal from the project. The architect has since been barred from filing any construction plans with the city.

De Blasio, a former regional director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development who worked as a campaign manager for Hillary Clinton in 2000, is a longtime advocate of rent reform. When running for public advocate, he campaigned to preserve and strengthen state laws that protect rent-stabilized tenants from evictions and rent increases.

Stasburg of the RSA, which lobbies against government regulation, nonetheless said that for candidates to be electable in the city, especially Democrats, supporting rent regulation is mandatory. “Anyone who doesn’t, it’s like touching the third rail of politics,” he said.

Still, De Blasio has burnished his development credentials, in part, by supporting mega projects like Willets Point and Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. He endorsed the use of eminent domain to secure land for both projects — at Atlantic Yards, he argued that the project’s potential to create jobs and affordable housing made it worthwhile.

Scott Sringer

Scott Sringer

Scott Stringer
Current position: Manhattan Borough President (Democrat)

Money raised: $2.21 million

Real estate contributors: The Zeckendorfs, Durst and Fetner, Newmark’s Eric Gural, developers David and Jed Walentas, Taconic Investment Partners’ Charles Bendit and Paul Pariser.

Background/positions: Like Quinn, Stringer has a job that gives him a key voice in the approval process known as Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) for major development projects. In that role, he’s supported expansions by Columbia and Fordham universities in exchange for restrictions on building size and public housing contributions.

Also, in November he endorsed Rudin Management’s plan to redevelop the St. Vincent’s Hospital site, which the community board and many activists have opposed. In exchange, the developer agreed to concessions, including limiting the project’s density. Stringer also supported the 15 Penn Plaza project and endorsed the original 1,250-foot height of the planned Jean Nouvel tower being developed by Hines next door to the Museum of Modern Art. The city later ordered the height to be reduced by 200 feet.

The Stringer camp says it’s raised $3.2 million — but hasn’t yet rolled over more than $900,000 from an old campaign account.

John Liu

John Liu

John Liu
Current position: NYC Comptroller (Democrat)

Money raised: $2.02 million

Real estate contributor: Developer Sam Chang of the McSam Hotel Group.

Background/positions: In 2009, Liu became the first Asian-American to win citywide office. But in November, his campaign was shaken by the arrest of a fund-raiser, Xing Wu Pan, who was charged with conspiring to funnel an improperly large donation to Liu through straw donors.

Before then, Liu had been aggressively taking on the powers that be. In 2010, he took on the city’s Economic Development Corporation, charging that the organization failed to turn over $125 million to city government that it generated through real estate dealings. The EDC, which promotes development and manages city-owned properties, initially defended the practice, but later agreed to turn most of the money over to the city by 2014.

Like his colleagues, Liu argued in favor of rent control laws as a council member. He was one of a handful — along with De Blasio — to vote against Two Trees Development’s controversial Dock Street project in Dumbo. Opponents argued that it would block views of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge and urged politicians to defer to the local council member, David Yassky, who opposed the building.
In his home district, Liu supported the $850 million redevelopment project Flushing Commons, though he withdrew his support after the project was approved and plans were changed to reduce its parking and community development facilities.

Bill Thompson

Bill Thompson

Bill Thompson
Current position: Chief Administrative Officer at Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., a municipal underwriting firm

Money raised: $889,241

Real estate contributors: H.J. Kalikow & Co.’s Peter Kalikow, Rockrose Development’s Henry Elghanayan and the Continuum Company’s Ian Bruce Eichner.

Background/positions: Thompson, who served as the city’s comptroller from 2002 to 2009, came surprisingly close to beating Mayor Bloomberg in 2009, taking 46 percent of the vote — despite the fact that Bloomberg spent more than $100 million of his own fortune on the campaign. Thompson announced his 2013 candidacy shortly after that loss, but has been largely out of the public eye since.
As comptroller, he endorsed both the Atlantic Yards and Willets Point projects, saying they would help stimulate the economy. He also used his powerful seat on the city’s Industrial Development Authority to take positions on many other proposals, including the new Yankee Stadium (he supported it, but later criticized it for receiving city tax breaks) and the expansion of the Brooklyn House of Detention (he opposed it).

In 2009, he sided with opponents of the high-profile Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment project in the Bronx, where Related Companies proposed a $310 million shopping mall. Activists had pushed to require a living wage and union representation there in exchange for approval. When Related balked at the agreement, the City Council voted the proposal down. Last month, Bloomberg announced a request for proposals to get the project back on the drawing board.

John Catsimatidis

John Catsimatidis

John Catsimatidis
Current position: Owner, Red Apple Group (Republican)

Money raised: No reported contributions

Real estate contributors: Himself

Background/positions: John Catsimatidis, chairman and CEO of the Red Apple Group, which owns Gristedes supermarkets as well as diverse holdings in oil, aviation and real estate, considered running for mayor in 2009 before dropping his bid. The withdrawal was at the behest, Catsimatidis said, of Bloomberg, who called him in for a meeting and asked for his support. Now, Catsimatidis is pushing NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly as a candidate — though he said some city Republicans are urging him to run, and he will consider it if Kelly stays out of the race. (Despite showing no signs of running, a recent Quinnipiac University poll shows Kelly leading all candidates with support from 24 percent of voters.)

Catsimatidis — who debated developer Billy Macklowe at The Real Deal’s Lincoln Center forum in November — said that while he is not prepared to spend as much money as Bloomberg on a campaign, “I don’t have any problem spending 10 or 15 or 20” million dollars.
Catsimatidis’s local development projects include Ocean Dreams, a mixed-use project in Coney Island, with 400 condo units spread over three towers. In Downtown Brooklyn, he built the Andrea, a 95-unit rental and the first of several buildings on a 2.3-acre site.
The developer is running in the same mold as Bloomberg — as a self-funded billionaire business executive. He told The Real Deal he would like to make the city more business-friendly, complaining that his company’s delivery trucks incur thousands of dollars in parking and traffic tickets near his warehouse in Hunts Point, and that regulations should be eased on large employers. Catsimatidis also said he’d encourage transit-oriented development by up-zoning areas near subway stations.

Tom Allon

Tom Allon

Tom Allon
Current position: Publisher and CEO, Manhattan Media (Democrat)

Money raised: $99,079

Real estate contributors: David Picket of the Gotham Organization and developer Gregory Manocherian.
Background/positions: Allon’s company publishes Our Town, West Side Spirit, Dan’s Papers and the political journals City Hall and the Capitol. A former high-school teacher and graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, he announced his candidacy in July and plans to run on the ticket of the Liberal Party. (The party was once influential — it supported the successful mayoral candidacies of John Lindsay and Rudolph Giuliani — but Allon is its first candidate for citywide or statewide office since 2005.)

According to published reports, Allon hired powerhouse fund-raiser Cynthia Darrison, whose past candidates include Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. In the New York Times, Darrison described Allon, who has been a corporate client of hers, as a pragmatic nonideologue.

In public statements, Allon has supported congestion pricing, or charging drivers to bring their cars into Midtown. In an e-mail, he said the city’s property taxes and commercial real estate taxes had risen too much in recent years, and should be reduced. He also said the city should sell air rights above public school buildings to create new development sites in exchange for money from developers to repair the schools.

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