Real estate favorites fend off progressive challengers, DSA incumbents hold onto seats

New York primaries brought few surprises for the industry and its PACs

Real Estate-Backed Candidates Hold onto Seats
Brooklyn Assembly member Stefani Zinerman and Bronx Assembly member Michael Benedetto, Assembly member Sarahana Shrestha, Assembly member Emily Gallagher (Zinerman, Benedetto, Shrestha, Getty)

Real estate-backed incumbents fended off new progressive challengers in closely-watched state Assembly primaries, while progressive members also held onto their seats on Tuesday. 

Brooklyn Assembly member Stefani Zinerman and Bronx Assembly member Michael Benedetto appear to have defeated their respective challengers, Eon Huntley and Jonathan Soto, both backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, according to unofficial results from the state Board of Elections. 

Industry professionals, both individually and through political action committees, targeted competitive Assembly races where moderate candidates faced challenges from the far left. Most focused their energies on Democratic races, as few Republican primaries were contested. 

Elsewhere, progressive incumbents saw a number of victories, despite the industry’s attempts to oust them.

In Greenpoint and Williamsburg, DSA-endorsed Assembly member Emily Gallagher beat Anathea Simpkins, a non-profit professional who campaigned on youth safety and education.

In downtown Brooklyn, incumbent Brooklyn Assembly member Jo Anne Simon, who favored delaying the Gowanus rezoning and opposed the Soho/Noho rezoning, crushed Scott Budow, who positioned himself as the pro-housing candidate.

In Queens, Claire Valdez, who was endorsed by the DSA and the Working Families Party, won Assembly member Juan Ardila’s seat in Assembly District 37, according to unofficial results. Ardila faced calls to resign after sexual harassment allegations were made against him last year.  

Political consultant Jeffrey Leb’s independent expenditure committee, Defeat the DSA, received contributions from Vanbarton’s Richard Cole, Eastdil Secured’s David Lazarus, Apollo’s Aaron Welsh and Benjamin Gray, and GFP Real Estate’s Brian Steinwurtzel. The committee paid for ads supporting the campaigns of Zinerman, Assembly member Edward Gibbs, Jordan Wright (son of Assembly member Keith Wright) and Council member Kalman Yeger’s bid for Assembly District 41, all of whom appear to have won their respective races.   

In the lead up to the primaries, a number of developers contributed to a pro-Israel political action committee, Solidarity PAC, as well as New York Women Who Lead and Hudson Valley Voters. All of these groups targeted primaries with DSA-endorsed candidates. 

Members of the Durst and the Elghanayan families, as well as SL Green, the Brodsky Group, Walentas and Rudin donated to Women Who Lead, which backed Zinerman among other pro-landlord candidates, according to the City. 

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As with Congressional races, candidates’ stances on the war in Gaza played a role in state primaries. In its endorsement of Huntley and Soto, the DSA described the candidates as “pro-ceasefire insurgents.”

Developer Hal Fetner told The Real Deal this month that his support of Zinerman and Benedetto had nothing to do with real estate but “everything to do with my values, who I am, and my Jewish identity.”

The battles of Hudson Valley

In one of the most highly anticipated races, Westchester County Executive George Latimer defeated DSA-endorsed Rep. Jamaal Bowman. The New York City District Council of Carpenters was a vocal supporter of Latimer’s campaign. 

On the state level in Hudson Valley, Assembly member Sarahana Shrestha handily defended her seat against new challenger Gabi Madden, who was backed by big industry names, including SL Green’s Marc Holliday, GFP Real Estate’s Jeff Gural, Henry and Frederick Elghanayan, Douglaston Development’s Jeffrey Levine, Rudin Management, developer Hal Fetner and Two Trees Management’s Jed Walentas. 

Madden also received over $100,000 in advertising support from Hudson Valley Voters, a committee tied to George Fontas, whose firm spearheaded Homeowners for an Affordable New York’s campaign against good cause eviction. The Rent Stabilization Association’s political action committee contributed $40,000.

Shrestha’s winning bid was backed by the “Yes in My Backyard” group Open New York, citing her support for both policies that encourage housing development while ramping up tenant protections. Shrestha voted against the state budget, believing that the good cause eviction policy that was ultimately approved was too watered down. Madden’s campaign said she is largely supportive of the policy, but cited “constitutional issues” with good cause. 

The primaries followed a particularly consequential state legislative session for the industry. The state budget included several housing-related policies, including a replacement to the property tax break 421a, changes to a program that allows landlords to increase rents on renovated stabilized apartments, and a tax break for office-to-residential conversions. The budget also included good cause eviction, a measure long derided by landlords.

The version of good cause in the budget, however, was much milder than what was originally proposed and included several exceptions. Localities outside New York City are not automatically subject to the policy — they have to separately adopt the policy, just as they do with rent stabilization. Kingston became the first upstate locality to adopt rent stabilization in 2022.  

In Upper Hudson Valley, the industry’s preferred candidate, Assembly member Didi Barrett, held onto her seat. She also received support from the Solidarity PAC and New York Women Who Lead, and was challenged by Claire Cousins, who serves on the Columbia County Board of Supervisors and was endorsed by the Working Families Party. 

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