Better call Paul: Massey adding muscle to mayoral campaign

Paul Massey as Saul Goodman on "Better Call Saul" (credit: AMC)
Paul Massey as Saul Goodman on "Better Call Saul" (credit: AMC)

Paul Massey isn’t used to being considered an also-ran. But unlike in his real estate career, he’s yet to be taken seriously in politics.

The Cushman & Wakefield executive, who is running for mayor, needs to change that perception by Jan. 17, when candidates will have to file their next fundraising disclosures. To be considered a real contender, Massey will have to show he’s capable of wooing big-ticket donors. And with an eye toward that goal, he’s brought on William Sullivan, the former president and CEO of the Ronald McDonald House charity, sources told The Real Deal.

“The expectation is he will raise a lot of money,” said E. O’Brien Murray, a top Republican consultant in New York political circles. “If he doesn’t raise a lot, no one will believe he’s serious.”

On the publicity side, Massey [TRDataCustom] has brought on board Maria Comella, a former top aide to Gov. Chris Christie, sources said. The goal now, political insiders say, is for Massey to raise his public profile.

Financing a campaign

As of the most recent filing in July, Mayor Bill de Blasio has raised $2.24 million for his 2017 reelection effort, campaign finance records show. And much of that money is coming from real estate industry: Backers including Bill Rudin, Sol Arker, Steven Witkoff, Bruce Ratner, David Lichtenstein and William Zeckendorf have together bundled more than $100,000 for the mayor since October of last year.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Because de Blasio is likely to avail of the city’s campaign matching funds program, many of the small donations he receives will likely be matched on a $1 to $6 basis by the city.

During this election cycle, donations can be matched up to a total of $3.8 million in each of the primary and general election cycles. Massey has said he will not participate in the city’s matching fund program, meaning he’ll be left to rely on bigger donations, but also that he won’t be held to the spending limits matching-fund participants agree to abide by.

Under Sullivan, the Ronald McDonald House raised $12.9 million in 2014, the latest year for which its tax returns are available. Top donors include the foundation set up by Reverence Capital co-founder Milton Berlinski, hedge funder Stanley Shopkorn and Brookfield Financial Properties, among many others.

It’s this pool of wealthy donors, sources said, that Sullivan will look to tap to support Massey.

Sullivan deferred questions to Bill O’Reilly, a spokesperson for Massey’s campaign, who declined to comment on staffing. But in October, O’Reilly told TRD the fundraising effort was getting off the ground.

“There’s no specific target,” he said. “It will be enough to win the race. We’re utterly confident of that.”

Sources said Massey most likely doesn’t have the kind of wealth to self-fund his run, even though he and Bob Knakal sold Massey Knakal Realty Services to Cushman for a reported $100 million. Michael Bloomberg spent over $108 million on his 2009 reelection bid, campaign finance records show. John Catsimatidis was valued at $3 billion in 2013, according to Forbes, when he pumped more than $10 million of his own money into his failed bid in the Republican mayoral primary.

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And even a big checkbook doesn’t necessarily make for an easy path to victory. In 2001, for example, Bloomberg spent $73 million of his own money on his campaign, outspending Democratic candidate Mark Green five-to-one. Even then, Bloomberg only eked out a win with 50.3 percent of the vote compared to Green’s 47.9 percent.

In the post-Citizens United world, however, the race could be influenced by outside spenders known as independent expenditure groups.

In the last election, de Blasio raised $6.7 million in private and matching funds. But outside groups spent another $7.5 million on the mayoral race, including $3.1 million (mostly by the United Federation of Teachers) supporting former Comptroller Bill Thompson and another $1 million opposing then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

The largest independent spender last time around was the Real Estate Board of New York-affiliated Jobs for New York, which spent $4.9 million exclusively on City Council races. Major real estate donors to the group included Brookfield Office Properties, the Durst Organization, Fisher Brothers, Glenwood Management, Jack Resnick & Co., Rudin Management and SL Green Realty.

Sources said these donors could pump cash into the race during its late stages.

Public profile

One of Massey’s biggest challenges will be to emerge from obscurity. Though he’s well known in New York’s business community, he’s a political unknown. When he announced his campaign in August, one real estate insider told Politico that the decision “almost comes off as a mid-life crisis.”

Massey has served as chairman of the board at the Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum, and is the chairman emeritus at the James Lenox House Association, which provides affordable housing and services to older New Yorkers.

And in recent months, he has been ramping up his public appearances in New York.

In late September, he spoke at the EisnerAmper real estate private equity summit, and in October he spoke at the MIPIM Proptech summit. He’s also scheduled to speak Dec. 5 at the REBNY commercial brokerage annual holiday luncheon.

But he’s yet to create a buzz outside the business community. The Massey campaign earlier this year set up a Facebook page and a Twitter profile, but aside from a few sparse postings both those accounts have remained nearly silent.

One key to a successful political campaign is a strong ground game: getting the message out to the community leaders in each neighborhood who can help persuade the John Q. voters in the coffee shops, neighborhood organizations and community boards.

Massey hopes to apply the principles of the Massey Knakal territory system, which broke the city up into districts each broker specialized in, to his mayoral campaign. But it’s unclear whether the model that worked so well when it came to selling development sites will help him score votes.

“There’s this thing that sits on everybody’s desk you call a Bloomberg [terminal],” one GOP insider said. “There’s nothing that sits on every desk called a Massey.”