Real estate showers Hochul with cash

Industry gives guv at least $4.6M, led by Vornado, Related, Haugland

UPDATED Jan. 31, 2022, 9:50 a.m.: The receipts are in for real estate’s gubernatorial favorite and it’s Gov. Kathy Hochul by a landslide.

With at least $4.6 million from prominent New York building owners and developers, Hochul’s haul for the upcoming election blows away what Andrew Cuomo collected from the industry during his final run for governor, The Real Deal’s analysis of campaign disclosures found.

All of the top real estate donors have business interests that depend directly or indirectly on state support. Some have projects on or beside state-controlled land or venues: airports, rail yards, transit hubs and the World Trade Center site, for example. Others have huge amounts of money riding on the outcome of legislative debates to be decided this year, such as the 421a tax break and good cause eviction.

Hochul’s fundraising over the past six months is record-smashing. The governor raked in $21.6 million, more than triple Cuomo’s $6 million four years ago. That’s in part because Hochul only became governor last August and had to fast-track her fundraising for this year’s primary and general elections.

TRD analyzed contributions from the most generous backers — those giving $25,000 or more. Their donations clocked in at $10.2 million, just under half of Hochul’s total for the period.

Within that bracket, about half came from real estate. It was an impressive showing, considering the many industries hoping to curry favor with the favorite (Hochul has a substantial lead in the polls and two of her four Democratic rivals, Attorney General Letitia James and former mayor Bill de Blasio, decided not to run). Tech giants such as LinkedIn creator Reid Hoffman, hedge fund managers including New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, and health care executives all gave heavily.

Among the city’s real estate titans, donors affiliated with Vornado Realty Trust, Related Companies and the Haugland Group shelled out the most. Donations associated with each firm came in at over $209,100.

Individual contributions are capped at $69,700. But often, multiple donors from a firm will give, as will their spouses. To rank the top 20 donors to Hochul’s campaign, TRD grouped donations made by firm associates and included those made by C-suite spouses.

From Vornado, CEO Steven Roth and trustees David Mandelbaum and Russell Wight Jr. each gave the max of $69,700. Roth is also CEO of Alexander’s, a REIT where Mandelbaum and Wight are directors; the trio co-founded Interstate Properties. Roth is Interstate’s CEO.

Vornado is behind one of the city’s biggest projects announced last year — a 32-story mixed-use building in Rego Park, Queens, to include 573 apartments and 61,000 square feet of commercial space. But that’s child’s play next to the series of towers Vornado plans to raise around Penn Station, a plan that relies heavily on Hochul’s support.

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Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross, who endured a backlash two summers ago for hosting a fundraiser for Donald Trump, contributed the maximum of $69,700. CEO Jeff Blau matched that, as did his wife, Lisa Blau. She runs the investment fund Able Partners, which backs brands associated with “positive living,” such as mental health or wellness, according to its website. Related developed Hudson Yards in cooperation with the state.

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The Haugland Group, a major construction firm out of Plainview, New York, contributed over $200,000, through its patriarch, CEO William Haugland, and co-presidents Joseph and William Haugland Jr. The firm has “lucrative state contracts at Kennedy Airport and with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority,” the New York Times reported. Both entities are essentially controlled by the governor.

Other major donors to Hochul, who was a powerless afterthought until her predecessor fell from grace, picked up where they left off with Cuomo — and made up for lost time.

Silverstein Properties CEO Larry Silverstein and his wife, Klara Silverstein, gave $114,400. The Silverstein executive had donated $25,000 to Cuomo’s last run. Extell Development’s Gary Barnett and wife Ayala Barnett gave a combined $91,000, swamping the $50,000 they gifted Cuomo in 2018. Silverstein is best known for the World Trade Center redevelopment, another state-dependent project.

Douglas Durst, a prolific Cuomo contributor, gave $55,000 to Hochul. Billionaire Barry Diller, along with his wife Diane von Furstenberg, donated $75,000. Cuomo had rescued Diller’s Pier 55 project after Durst had blocked it until the state promised to finish Hudson River Park.

Jane Goldman, an heir to the Sol Goldman fortune and head of Solil Management, one of the largest landlords in the city, donated the campaign maximum of $69,700. Goldman had contributed $25,000 to Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign. Her cousin Lloyd Goldman, who founded investment firm BLDG Management, another prominent city landlord, also gave $69,700.

Some old Cuomo donors weren’t as generous with Hochul’s campaign. RXR Realty founder Scott Rechler, arguably Cuomo’s closest ally in real estate, handed Hochul just $25,000 after pouring $90,000 into Cuomo’s last re-election campaign. And Triangle Equities backed Hochul with $25,000, half of what it gave Cuomo in 2018.

The Democratic primary is still five months away, but in politics, early donations count more, because they help scare off competition.

The other gubernatorial candidates didn’t come close to Hochul’s fundraising numbers. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams brought in just $222,000. Another Democrat, Long Island and Queens Rep. Thomas Suozzi, gathered $3.3 million, some of it from real estate.

Arnold Gumowitz, the real-estate mogul who refuses to sell his Madison Square Garden-adjacent office building, complicating Vornado’s Penn Station plans, gave Suozzi $22,600. Other Gumowitz family members contributed $90,400.

The expected Republican nominee, Rep. Lee Zeldin, raised $4.2 million. James Ranalli, a prominent Syracuse developer, gave him $25,000, and Steve Klinsky of New Mountain Capital, a private equity firm that provides financing to real estate, contributed $50,000.

This story had been updated to include donations from Jane and Lloyd Goldman.