Pols, real estate pros slam tenant attack on Democrats

Senate majority leader calls report “unfair, baseless”

From left: Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Sen. Monica Martinez, Sen. James Gaughran (Credit: Getty Images)
From left: Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Sen. Monica Martinez, Sen. James Gaughran (Credit: Getty Images)

A tenant-backed campaign attacking Democratic senators on Long Island for donations from real estate got a chilly reception from the Senate majority leader and real estate professionals.

“The united @NYSenDems accomplished great things this year. We protected and expanded rights for millions of New Yorkers,” Senate Majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins tweeted on Thursday. “We won’t allow unfair, baseless attacks divide us.”

The report highlighted $1.5 million in donations received by six Long Island senators — two of whom voted in favor of the Housing and Stability Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which bolstered tenant protections and eliminated mechanisms  for jacking up rents on rent-stabilized units. The tenant group asserted that tacit support of the bill was not enough, and the Long Island Democrats should have been more proactive and supportive throughout the legislative session.

But Sen. Monica Martinez, who the report said accepted $92,000 from real estate, told The Real Deal in a statement that she will continue to prioritize constituents rather than special-interest groups that “do not know or understand Long Island.”

Martinez was one of the four Long Island senators highlighted in the report who voted against the tenant-friendly bill, which passed in June.

“My independent record speaks for itself and I am confident my district wants me to do just that; represent them and not special-interest groups,” said Martinez.

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Sens. Todd Kaminsky and Kevin Thomas both voted for the legislation but were called out by the tenant group’s report anyway. In Kaminsky’s case, while his campaign fund has raked in $230,000 from real estate-linked donors this election cycle, at least one contributing developer mentioned in the report said he had “never heard of” the senator.

A Senate source said the tenant coalition that released the report, Housing Justice For All, and New York Communities for Change, which wrote it, missed the mark because rent regulation is not a pressing matter in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“The biggest issues on Long Island are property taxes and affordable housing,” the source said, adding that some numbers in the report were inaccurate. “The point that NYCC is trying to make that rent regulation is the top issue is out of touch with suburban realities.”

The attack, launched two months before the legislative session begins, is not winning the coalition points with real estate professionals, either.

“It may be sharp politics to paint an entire industry with a broad brush, and ignore its contribution to providing actual housing for people, as well as such a large part of the job base and property tax base of the region,” said Kenneth Fisher, a land-use attorney at Cozen O’Connor and former City Council member. “To be doing a public launch on a campaign like this, this early? To me it sounds like a fundraising ploy.”

For Sherwin Belkin, an attorney at real estate firm Belkin Burden Wenig and Goldman, the report is alarming evidence of an ideological purity test that treats the real estate industry as “anathema to the Democratic Party.”

“They’re now eating their own,” said Belkin, alluding to the Long Island Democrats’ role in the party’s capture of the Senate majority, which allowed the pro-tenant reform to pass.

He assailed “the notion that unless you are in complete lockstep with each and every position they take, you’re with us or against us — and there’s no such thing of diversity of opinion and we are now of one single mind, the right and true mind.”

Said Belkin, “I think it’s a very dangerous concept for any political party.”