Carl Heastie’s BFFs
A snapshot of three confidantes of the Assembly speaker
Some of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s longtime allies are often hired by real estate players to protect their interests in Albany. Here is a look at three of them.
Stanley Schlein, a lobbyist, election attorney and political fixer is often described as the “kingmaker” of the Bronx.
Schlein has been involved with the Bronx Democratic Party for more than 40 years. In 2008 he played a crucial role in Heastie seizing control of the organization from Assembly member José Rivera.
A close Heastie ally, Schlein led the lobbying efforts of the Real Estate Board of New York and the Rent Stabilization Association against a pro-tenant overhaul of the rent laws in 2009. Landlords won that battle.
Schlein lobbies for a number of real estate firms, including private equity developer Bauhouse Group, affordable housing developer Arker Diversified Companies and MADDD Equities, which spent $30,000 lobbying for the Inwood rezoning that was approved by the City Council in 2018.
When Heastie became speaker in 2015 he hired Schlein’s law partner Howard Vargas as his executive counsel. Vargas previously ran a lucrative side business as a court-appointed receiver of distressed multifamily properties, according to news reports at the time.
In that role from 2007 to 2011, Vargas appointed the same real estate management firm to oversee 21 of the 23 foreclosed properties for which he was responsible. Vargas was the subject of a recent exposé by the Albany Times Union, revealing that Heastie may still rely on Vargas on sensitive matters. Following a conversation between Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Vargas contacted the Joint Commission on Public Ethics about their vote to investigate Joseph Percoco, a close Cuomo ally until a corruption scandal led the governor to cut ties. Heastie and Cuomo have denied instructing Vargas to make the call.
Lobbyist Patrick Jenkins has had a personal connection to Heastie for at least three decades.
Jenkins was Heastie’s college roommate at SUNY Stony Brook and served as his top aide in 2009 and 2010. Although he left Heastie’s staff to start a lobbying firm with Marisol Rodriguez, Jenkins was still collecting a retainer from Heastie’s office as a paid consultant in 2016.
Jenkins, who heads his eponymous lobbying firm, is now one of Albany’s most sought-after influencers. Developer Will Zeckendorf tapped him earlier this year to nix a proposed pied-à-terre tax that had broad support but would have reduced sale prices of high-end apartments. The industry said the tax would have unintended consequences and proposed higher transfer taxes instead. The legislature quickly adopted that alternative.
Jenkins’ other real estate clients include affordable housing developer B&B Urban, developer Barone Management and Royal Realty Corporation, a subsidiary of the Durst Organization.
Roberto Ramírez, a former Bronx Assembly member, has ties to Heastie that date back to the 1990s.
Ramírez became head of the Bronx Democratic Party in 1996, serving until 2002. In 1998, the Times credited Ramirez with restoring the Democratic machine’s control over Bronx politics, achieving “a degree of party discipline unusual in the Bronx since the days of the old bosses.”
In 2000, Ramírez announced that Heastie was the Democratic Party’s candidate for an open seat in the Assembly. Attorney Joey Jackson, who had also been close with Ramirez, later announced that he would challenge Heastie in the primary. Efforts were made to get Jackson to withdraw.
At one point, according to Jackson, two men approached him in the street and threatened harm to his family if he didn’t back out of the race. Schlein was not connected to the incident.
Ramírez and Schlein later took a declination form to to Jackson’s house, secured his signature and filed the document with the Board of Elections, withdrawing his candidacy. Two hours later, Jackson appeared at the Board of Elections to rescind the declination before the midnight deadline. After Ramírez’s lawyers intervened, the board rejected Jackson’s attempts to rescind the declination, smoothing the way for Heastie’s rise.
After leaving the Assembly in 2000, Ramírez founded strategic consulting firm the MirRam Group with Luis Miranda Jr., the father of lyricist and playwright Lin Manuel-Miranda.
MirRam, which boasts on its website that it has worked with “the best known developers in the state,” counts Community Housing Improvement Program, Industry City, nonprofit housing developer Broadway Housing Communities and commercial real estate firm Olshan Properties among its real estate clients.
In 2008, Ramírez quietly supported the so-called Rainbow Rebellion that saw Heastie, Schlein and then Assembly member Ruben Diaz, Jr. seize the reins of the Bronx Democratic Party.
In February 2015, the Daily News reported that Ramírez was taking an active role in helping Heastie transition to his role as speaker. A few months after assuming the post, Heastie hired Kim Ramos, who had spent the previous 13 years as a lobbyist for Ramírez’s firm, as the Assembly’s deputy secretary for intergovernmental affairs.