Photo Illustration/Federal Bureau of Investigation/Fair Use

As REBNY ramps up efforts to stop or gut SBJSA, two politicians renounce campaign donations from the real estate industry

Two officials supported by Democratic Organisation of Queens County turn their backs on real estate money that supports the Queens Machine.

By Progress New York Staff

In recent weeks, the influence of the powerful real estate lobby has experienced a very public divergence, with the Real Estate Board of New York appearing to succeed in pressuring New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) to adopt its messaging regarding draft Municipal legislation that would restore some post-World War II leasehold rights to small business tenants, namely, that the bill would need to be watered-down, on the one hand, at the same time when two prominent Democrats announced their intention to reject future campaign donations from the real estate industry, on the other.

Days apart, the two politicians, State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), made unexpected announcements that they would stop accepting real estate donations, although, the announcements were immediately seen as disingenuous by some critics. State Sen. Gianaris chairs the State Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, an entity that, some say, impotently kept the Democrats from ever achieving a majority in the upper chambre of the State legislature. Moreover, the state committee has a history of accepting large donations from the real estate industry, including from Rudin Management Company, which called in its financing to the former St. Vincent’s Hospital in order, some say, to lead to its premature demise. The state committee overseen by State Sen. Gianaris has also, in a potentially-compromised manner, employed at least one, major campaign consulting firm, The Parkside Group, which doubles as a lobbying firm and which elects establishment Democrats loyal to Big Money donors, some say.

Councilmember Van Bramer, for his part, accepted almost $1 out of ever $5 in campaign contributions in the last Municipal election cycle from the real estate industry, according to an analysis published by the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project. Because of their prior, heavy reliance on real estate donations, and their perceived support for real estate development projects that displace low-income families, State Sen. Genaris, and Councilmember Van Bramer, in particular, were met with skepticism.

“Jimmy Van Bramer’s promise to avoid taking real estate money in his race for Queens borough president is as phony as he is,” said Pauline Park, a long-time Queens resident and LGBT activist who co-founded the Guillermo Vazquez Independent Democratic Club of Queens in 2002 and led the campaign for transgender rights law enacted by the New York City Council in 2002, adding, “I’ve known Jimmy for 22 years, and those who know him and his record well know that he’s with the real estate industry and those pushing gentrification at the expense of working class and low-income people ; Queens voters shouldn’t be fooled by this cheap political stunt.”

Despite the skepticism, the campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has linked the State Sen. Gianaris announcement with the efforts of advocates for “housing for all.”

The about-face by two prominent Queens officials to real estate donors follows reports that Federal law enforcement are monitoring the activities of the Queens Machine.

State Sen. Gianaris’ power over the state committee that has failed election cycle after election cycle to take back Democratic Party control of the State Senate is the nexus of the Cuomo-Crowley power structure, where the leadership of the state committee that acts as a pass-through entity for establishment Democrats is held by a political soldier loyal to outgoing U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY 14), who, in turn, chairs the Democratic Organisation of Queens County, also known as the Queens Machine. For two terms, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) has counted on the state committee to reliably fall short of its stated mission in order to keep the Republican Party in control of the upper chambre of the State legislature. And although the Gianaris-Van Bramer announcements followed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s primary win over U.S. Rep. Crowley, the announcements also followed reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been monitoring the activities of the Queens Machine. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s southern district, which prosecutes prominent cases of political and campaign corruption, did not answer advance questions submitted for this report.

Despite the appearance of consternation over the Gianaris-Van Bramer announcements, real estate interests appear to be holding sway where it matters — over legislation that would restore some leasehold rights to small business tenants. Council Speaker Johnson, who controls which reform legislation gets scheduled for hearings and for full-floor votes, was showed to have raised 68% of his large donations in the last Municipal election cycle “from individuals with ties to real estate, Wall Street, nightlife, and corporate philanthropy,” according to an issues advocacy Web site published by the campaign of his electoral challenger, Marni Halasa. REBNY’s strategy to undermine the Small Business Jobs Survival Act appears to be being aided by a failed strategy, some describe as deliberate, by the team of FOX News analyst David Eisenbach and the author Jeremiah Moss, to de-politicise their opposition to establishment Democrats in the Municipal legislature. For his part, Mr. Moss denied that he is conflicted over his leadership role at rallies and at a recent City Council hearing. “I have no interest in ‘watering down’ the SBJSA, and I have no financial gain from anything pertaining to the SBJSA,” he said in a statement, in relevant part. Mr. Moss published a book about small business closings that received prominent literary reviews, including by the New York Times. For this report, Mr. Eisenbach did not answer a press inquiry. Mr. Eisenbach is the subject of a request, filed under the State’s Freedom of Information Law, that the New York City Council has failed to answer. The City of New York’s alleged, routine violation of FOIL is the subject of a complaint referred to Federal prosecutors.  The lack of Government transparency raises questions about the possibility of corruptive influences in the legislative hurdle faced by the SBJSA.

Meanwhilst, outgoing U.S. Rep. Crowley, who accepted real estate donations into his committee to reëlect, his personal political action committee, and the County party committee he chairs, has reportedly formed a new campaign committee under the jurisdiction of the New York State Board of Elections, according to a report published by the New York Post. Approximately five years ago, former Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) formed a State campaign committee to pay for, in part, $100,000 in legal fees in connection with reported ethics violations.