Queens candidates to return some real estate cash

Industry giving is limited for contenders receiving public matching funds

From left: Costa Constantinides, James Van Bramer and Donovan Richards (Credit: iStock)
From left: Costa Constantinides, Jimmy Van Bramer and Donovan Richards (Credit: iStock)

Real estate donors in the Queens borough president race will see some of their checks returned, but this time it’s not because the candidates don’t want their money.

The limit for donations is $750 for candidates seeking to receive the highest level of public matching funds. For City Council member Donovan Richards, the Queens Democratic organization’s endorsed candidate, that means he will have to return as much as $21,000 to real estate donors by January 15.

Two other contenders will also send money back.

Richards, who chairs the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, pulled in at least $38,000 from real estate–related groups in his campaign — nearly 30 percent of his donations.

Richards’ largest real estate donor, the Real Estate Board of New York, contributed $4,850 through its expenditure committee, Taxpayers for an Affordable New York. Richards did not declare his run for borough president until much later. The campaign expects to return the surplus.

Candidates in the city have increasingly been rejecting real estate donations for fear of voter backlash, but that is not the case with Richards. In a statement, a spokesperson for his campaign said Richards has built “countless relationships in his years working to improve his district and build more affordable housing.”

The spokesperson said those relationships have resulted in seven projects of entirely affordable apartments — 6,000 of them — and Richards hopes to leverage those relationships as borough president to get more affordable housing built.

REBNY declined to comment.

Real estate donations to Richards’ campaign also include a combined $7,500 from five members of the Ciampa family tied to Flushing-based developer The Ciampa Organization. Stanley Schuckman, founder of Long Island and New York City-based brokerage Schuckman Realty, gave $3,000.

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The Partnership for New York, whose board of directors includes representatives from real estate heavyweights Tishman Speyer, the Related Companies and Blackstone, gave Richards $1,000 in February. He also attracted $500 apiece from Realtor’s PAC and the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents rent-stabilized landlords.

City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, who has positioned himself as the progressive in the race, also received donations from the real estate industry. After The Daily News reported that he had yet to return them, he posted the returned checks on Twitter. But he will not return nearly $5,000 in donations from five people gathered by real estate developer Shibber Kahn in June 2018 because that was before the campaign decided not to accept money or bundled contributions from real estate, a campaign spokesperson said after the initial publication of this story.

Van Bramer’s campaign treasurer, Karina De La Cruz, said the checks bundled by Kahn were written by people in fields other than real estate. “We don’t … disqualify donors who work in other sectors like interior design,” she said. But no longer will checks be accepted if bundled by real estate interests, according to the campaign.

Van Bramer garnered media attention for fighting Amazon’s proposed campus in Long Island City and rejecting in 2016 a 209-unit affordable housing project slated for his district.

Astoria Council member Costa Constantinides received at least $25,390 from real estate donors, accounting for about 7 percent of his total donations through his latest public filing.

His largest real estate benefactor is the Astoria-based Scaldafiore Realty, whose personnel gave a combined $6,500 to the campaign.

Other large donors to Constantinides include Sal Lucchese, a manager at the Astoria-based The L Group, who gave $4,350; and his business partner, Astoria-based real estate attorney Philip Loria, who gave $1,500.

A spokesperson for Constantinides’ campaign said the candidate won’t accept financial support from what he deems to be “Big Real Estate developers.”

“Costa regularly returned any checks from big real estate developers, and fought Jobs for New York’s 2013 efforts to spend in his name,” the spokesperson said, referring to a REBNY political action committee. “He believes in being an honest broker when it comes to negotiating fair deals that ensure real, deep affordability for western Queens.”

This article has been updated to include comments from Jimmy Van Bramer’s campaign.

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