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Real estate super-PACs back Bottcher, bash Marte in City Council races

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Let’s “unpack” this… .

Erik Bottcher’s five City Council District 3 primary election opponents are furiously piling on the front-running candidate after a real estate super-PAC paid for a mailing on his behalf.

But Bottcher, for his part, is slamming the PAC, saying he does not want its support and demanding that it “halt all spending immediately.”

Meanwhile, in an unusual twist, a leading tenant advocate and Bottcher ally claims the real estate PAC actually wants Bottcher defeated, fearing him above all the other contenders. The pro-Bottcher mailer, the supporter maintained, is really a convoluted ruse designed to stoke District 3 (Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen) residents’ anti-development passions, turning them against the leading candidate.

The mailer in question, which cost $13,000, was paid for by a group called Voters of NYC, a super-PAC funded mainly by big real estate interests. In addition to Bottcher, the group reported spending in support of five Council candidates in other districts.

Meanwhile, an affiliated super-PAC, Common Sense NYC, mainly funded by developer Stephen Ross and billionaire Ron Lauder, reported spending in 22 Council races, both for and against candidates. This latter group, for example, put out a mailer against Christopher Marte in District 1 in Lower Manhattan but one for Julie Menin in District 5 on the Upper East Side, again, each mailer costing around $13,000.

All six candidates in the District 3 race reportedly had promised not to accept any real estate or corporate PAC money.

Although, under campaign finance laws, candidates have caps on how much their campaigns can spend, PACs are not limited by spending rules. As a result, they are, in some cases, accused of wielding overly large influence on elections.

On Saturday, the other candidates in the District 3 race issued a joint press release denouncing the super-PAC mailer, and saying it proves that Bottcher, Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s former chief of staff, is big real estate’s favored candidate. The five candidates include Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick, Marni Halasa, Aleta LaFargue, Lelise Boghosion Murphy and Arthur Schwartz.

“Big Real Estate’s message to the voters of District 3 is clear: Their candidate is Erik Bottcher,” the candidates’ joint statement said. “Their mailing arrived in voters’ mailboxes today. This PAC’s donors are real estate mega-developers, such as Silverstein Properties and Rosewood Group.”

“The fight for affordable housing is one of the most important missions of my life,” LaFargue said. “I thought that everyone in this race shared that vision. Unfortunately, I was wrong.”

“It’s both disappointing and disturbing to see,” Boghosian Murphy said of the super-PAC’s pro-Bottcher mailer. “Voters trust us to be transparent about our plans and priorities. That trust is extremely important to me and we as candidates must show we’re worthy of it.”

“Erik Bottcher does not care about working New Yorkers,” Fitzpatrick charged. “How do we know? He says he ‘will not accept contributions from real estate developers.’ But the reality is he is perfectly O.K. with outside corporate real estate money being used to further his campaign, rather than standing up for those in our district who desperately need more affordable housing.”

The contentious mailer touted Bottcher as “an experienced leader.”

However, Schwartz said, “His experience has done nothing for rent-stabilized tenants being squeezed out and folks in NYCHA housing, whose buildings only deteriorated more during Bottcher’s time in city government.”

Halasa declared, “Everyone in the district who laments the luxury development land grab, gentrification and the crisis of small business closures needs to understand that Erik is responsible.”

Bottcher, though, released his own statement, saying he didn’t ask for the PAC’s support, nor does he want it.

“I denounce this independent expenditure and I am calling on its funders to halt all spending immediately,” he said. “This isn’t something I’ve asked for, it’s not something I know anything about, and I want it to stop. From day one, our campaign hasn’t accepted a dime from real estate developers, anyone who works at a lobbying firm or corporate PACs. We are a grassroots campaign, powered by local residents. There is too much big money in politics. That’s something I’ve fought against for many years. That is why I strongly support repealing the Citizens United court decision — either by judicial reversal or a constitutional amendment. This kind of outside spending is harming our country.”

In the Citizens United decision of 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits government from restricting independent (or “outside”) expenditures on campaigns — as opposed to direct campaign contributions — by corporations, billionaires and PACs.

Longtime tenant advocate Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC, rallied to Bottcher’s defense. McKee, a Chelsea resident, pitched the idea that developers actually fear the candidate and that the mailer saying to vote for Bottcher was, in fact, intended to get people to do just the opposite. At the same time, he noted that Tenants PAC has endorsed three of the six candidates, including Bottcher, that Voters of NYC is supporting.

“I think that they’re actually trying to hurt these candidates by saying that they’re in the hip pocket of real estate,” McKee contended. “Because they know that Erik is not going to vote for [their projects]. They don’t want Erik. It’s really insidious, it’s destructive,” he said of this allegedly deceptive strategy by the super-PAC, as he described it.

“In this district, it would be very damaging” for a candidate to be perceived as favorite of big real estate, McKee noted.

The mailer notes, in fine print at its top left corner, its top funders. They are all real estate organizations.

“I don’t think any one of the candidates running [in District 3] would be pro-development,” McKee said. “But any one of them would be less effective than Erik. I can’t imagine why they would do otherwise,” he said of his theory of the super-PAC’s mailer actually being a deceptive anti-Bottcher device.

McKee said he spoke to Bottcher on the phone about the mailer and counselled him: “I said, ‘Don’t let it throw you. This is what the real estate lobby does.'”

“I’ve worked with Erik Bottcher for years,” he said. “In 2015 he got arrested with 15 of us sitting outside Andrew Cuomo’s office protesting vacancy decontrol. This is someone who has worked his entire career against the real estate lobby.”

McKee noted that eight years ago, the Real Estate Board of New York, similarly did mailings on behalf of candidates it felt were pro-real estate, among them Margaret Chin. The current super-PAC mailings in this primary election are coming very late in the game, right as early voting has started and less than two weeks from the primary. But the mailings in 2013 came earlier in the election cycle and Chin kept resisting calls to renounce REBNY’s support and denounce the mailings.

“We went through this eight years ago,” McKee recalled. “I think 21 of the councilmembers were term-limited. There will be even more turnover in the Council this election. REBNY set up [the PAC] Jobs for New York and spent something like $5 million, more than what’s being spent now.”

Tenants PAC would not endorse Chin in 2013, McKee said, because she would not make a statement condemning Jobs for New York’s independent expenditure on her campaign. Candidates are actually not allowed to be in direct communication with the PACs.

“She said, ‘I can’t control what they do,'” McKee said. “I said, ‘Margaret, that’s not the question. Are you going to put out a statement telling them to stop?’ We interviewed Jenifer [Rajkumar, Chin’s Democratic primary opponent] but we decided to stay neutral.

“She’s been good on rent protection but she’s been terrible on development,” McKee said of Chin. “She supported every type of skuzzy development scheme — the N.Y.U. expansion plan and she supported the demolition of that historic building [on the Bowery] and they put up an office building.”

Meanwhile, John Fisher, who runs the Web site TenantNet, called on Bottcher to withdraw from the race.

“Early in the campaign, Bottcher said he was not bought by real estate interests…” Fisher said. “Clearly, this was a big lie. He should immediately withdraw from the race and let the remaining candidates compete in an honest and transparent manner.”

A mailer against Christopher Marte that was funded by Common Sense NYC, a super-PAC funded by the likes of developer Stephen Ross and billionaire Ron Lauder.

In addition, Christopher Marte, running in District 1, was targeted by the Common Sense NYC super-PAC, whose recent mailer tries to paint him as soft on crime. The mailer quotes a statement, reported by The Village Sun, that he made about defunding the police during a candidates forum last October hosted by Downtown Independent Democrats. The mailer, quoting a statement reported by Tribeca Citizen, also claims Marte “supports closing all jails.”

Marte responded to the mailer in a statement, saying, “It’s actually Stephen Ross who is too dangerous for the City Council. We cannot let the chairman of Related Companies determine the future of our Council district. If he is choosing to spend his money against our grassroots campaign, it’s because he knows I will never let him convert his recently purchased Section 8 buildings into luxury housing. To have one of Trump’s biggest supporters attacking our campaign should be a signal to voters that I am the only candidate running as an actual Democrat, committed to fighting for working people, safer communities and affordable places to live.

“The mailer sent by Ross’s super-PAC spreads lies about my positions and tries to make voters afraid,” Marte said. “Everyone knows that I fully support not building a new jail in Chinatown, but Ross tries to make this seem like a bad thing. In forums I have mentioned that the N.Y.P.D. should not have million-dollar robot surveillance dogs, and that we should use funds to make sure E.M.S. workers make above the minimum wage, as they respond to many crises in our communities.

“Every candidate in this race has called for N.Y.P.D. reform, but I am the only one Ross is targeting because we threaten his personal wealth, which he, in turn, uses to donate to Donald Trump and many far-right causes. He knows that what this campaign represents is powerful, and it will be the end of his plans to force out long-term tenants and small businesses, and turn Lower Manhattan into the next Midtown.

“I hope that voters will keep in mind my long track record of standing up for vulnerable people, advocating for safe streets, and investing in our neighborhoods, and are not fooled by Ross’s baseless attack.”

Sean Sweeney, for one, a leading member of D.I.D., said the PAC is targeting Marte because he is the front-runner in the District 1 race and the developers see him as a threat. D.I.D. overwhelmingly endorsed Marte last October.

16 Comments

  1. Arthur Schwartz Arthur Schwartz June 14, 2021

    Michael McKee is living in a fantasy. We had more luxury development in District 3 than anywhere in NYC, while Bottcher was Corey Johnson’s Chief of Staff. And we had zero truly affordable housing created in our district under Johnson/Bottcher. And how about our two NYCHA developments. Erik has embraced the privatization plan (which includes building “market rate” housing on NYCHA open spaces) while I have gone to court for tenants in a class-action to stop the privatization plan known as RAD/PACT. That is a critical lawsuit, as opposed to McKee’s conspiracy theories. And when Biden didn’t put enough money in his infrastructure plan to cover all of NYCHA’s capital needs, I spoke with Senator Schumer, along with others, and now they will get all $40 million. Erik – and Corey Johnson – said nothing. Tenants PAC had no endorsement process; Erik is McKee’s buddy, and he got the endorsement last year upon Michael’s decision.

  2. savenycjobs savenycjobs June 14, 2021

    Shame on all the District 3 candidates! You are running against a record of Eric and Corey that is historically the most disgraceful in Village history. Why doesn’t anyone do their homework on candidates’ records? The greatest destruction of the Village’s economy ever and Eric and Corey rig the system to deny every Village business owner economic justice and a real lifeline to survive and this shameful collusion with the real estate lobby is NEVER mentioned. Terrible advisers, total disconnect from voters who want their businesses saved and want the Village saved! Every empty storefront and every job lost in the Village since Oct 2018 can be blamed on Eric Bottcher and Corey Johnson for not keeping their word and amending the Jobs Survival Act and bringing it to a vote. THEY LIED! and still do today! Why doesn’t anyone realize this corruption?
    The real estate lobby does and that explains their support.

    • Johnny Dalton Johnny Dalton June 14, 2021

      OMG! Steve Null is on a roll with his same rant he always posts. While of course, much of the blame can and should be directed at Corey and Erik, the real question is why Steve Null and his sidekick Steve Barrison refuse to do any organizing on this issue? They claim they have the dean of NYC small business, but he never shows his face … he’s been “sick” for years. But where are the thousand of deli owners they claim the have? You abandoned the SBJSA years ago.

      Once you have and produce the real store owners, you might get more attention.

    • Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick June 14, 2021

      As the only Candidate who’s been a small business operator in the district for the past 17 years, who Lost my store in Chelsea, I’ve been saying this for over a year. That while small businesses were being closed because of covid, I reached out to the Council for help dozens of times. Corey and Erik were busy fundraising hundreds of thousands to secure themselves jobs while the rest of us were losing ours. Watch our latest debate here:
      Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick
      https://youtu.be/Qw9H-Qr1wT0

      • Johnny Dalton Johnny Dalton June 15, 2021

        Not entirely correct. Candidate Marni Halasa and her husband Peter Cecere lost their coffee shop located near West 34th and 9th Ave. This was prior to Covid, but it was due to the building owner seeking a sharp increase in rents. For most retail shops, the cost of real estate (own or rent) is the one significant variable that can make or break an otherwise viable business. In many cases, other costs, i.e., labor, utilities, market, cost of goods sold, etc. … can be adapted into the mix.

        Most pols announce “fixes” for small business that essentially do nothing. Corey sat on the SBJSA even after the City Council hearing. Erik Bottcher, as Chief of Staff, could have done something. He didn’t. Others like Gale Brewer or Robert Cornegy (Brooklyn) make nonsensical proposals that accomplish nothing. Some suggest making a list of vacant storefronts, others say reduce fines for illegal behavior. None of these solutions get to the core of the problem.

      • Johnny Dalton Johnny Dalton June 15, 2021

        I don’t support Dante for Council for a host of reasons, but on the small business survival, he is right on the money. This debate was hosted by Chelsea Community News. It would behoove The Village Sun to break this issue out into a separate article as it points to whether a new councilperson should be helping the small retail shop owner, the core of our communities, or benefiting from large spending from real estate moguls.

        Supporters of Bottcher can say all they want about experience, but in his case it’s to do the wrong thing. This district needs someone with basic beliefs of sustainability, principals not left behind and empathy for its residents beyond smiling, hugging and saying nothing.

        Expanding on Dante’s comment, go to the Zoom video of the debate (URL above) held on April 22, 2021. Then go to 1:33:56 into the debate timeline. I transcribed the Q&A. While Dante was speaking, it appeared that Bottcher was stone-faced, unable to say anything to mitiigage the pain he has helped cause, expect for an occasional smirk.

        Question:
        The Small Business Jobs Survival Act seems to be languishing in the City Council since it was introduced in 2018. This bill would give small businesses a minimum ten-year lease with the right to renew and would also prevent landlords from raising the rent because of their property taxes increase. You were a small business owner. What do you think is stopping this legislation from moving forward and how would you advance it into law?

        Answer by Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick:
        Thanks for the question. You know, losing my Chelsea store after sixteen years was devastating, not just for me, but for 20 black and brown LGBTQ employees that worked for me for so long. When I first signed that lease in 2011 the rent was $24,000. In 2020 when I closed my store because I couldn’t pay back the rent that was owed from our forced closures by the city, my rent was $39,000, and that doesn’t include real estate taxes.

        This bill was introduced in 2018. It was sponsored by 27 other councilmembers. And I think we all know why the SBJSA didn’t pass, because Corey Johnson wouldn’t let it. Corey has been in bed with and supported by in his multiple campaigns by the Real Estate Board of New York, otherwise known as REBNY. And I also think who was right there beside him the entire time … Erik (Bottcher) was, making $140,000-plus dollars a year, as by the way, the highest paid Chief of Staff in NYC. If you ask Erik, I’m sure he will tell you about the regular lunches and dinners with John Banks, who is the Chair of REBNY.

        You know if you want to change the gridlock in the city that impedes justice and well-being, we’ve got to elect officials that have the courage to stand up for entrepreneurs, many of whom are immigrants, who provide our neighborhoods with vital services and decent jobs … not elect a former Chief of Staff who had a hand in preventing the bill from passing in the first place. Corey wasn’t alone. He was supported by an infrastructure and team that supported … continually put the interests of corporate powerbrokers ahead of the interests of New Yorkers, which has been done in this district for decades… for-profit overdevelopment for decades. A diversity of Mom-and-Pop stores which in this district is almost extinct. I think we can all agree with that.

        But those Mom-and-Pops improve and extend our lives. That diversity is being destroyed by unregulated greed. So if you are living in this district and you are a small business owner who was forced out because of unregulated commercial rent increases, of if your favorite restaurant or bar or bakery is closed, there’s only one candidate here who could have prevented that from happening, but he didn’t because he didn’t have the courage to do what was right. He had his time, and this city needs incorruptible strength and leadership; I’ll be that strength.

  3. David R. Marcus David R. Marcus June 14, 2021

    Pretty far-fetched to suggest big real estate interests would spend money backing a candidate they hope will lose. Erik Bottcher under the tutelage of his boss, Speaker Johnson, learned from the master how to covet the real estate lobby while professing to shun them. It’s deja vu all over again, as it was for Johnson’s first run for City Council when his time serving real estate was threatening his campaign. He too offered vigorous denials but this dynamic duo’s 8-year track record speaks volumes that, then as now, real estate money talks. Like Speaker, like Chief of Staff. Time for a councilperson that serves and respects the electorate and community that put them in office rather than strategizing and promoting themselves for the next higher office.

  4. Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick June 14, 2021

    Notice he never actually NAMES the real estate PAC he’s denouncing. “SOME BILLIONAIRES.” If you are denouncing an organization you don’t align with, then why not say the name of the organization? The denial that supporters of Erik are expressing can only be compared to the denial Trump supporters experience when they make excuses for him. It’s one in the same. Ignorance is not an excuse; it’s your responsibility to understand who you are voting for, and to admit when you’ve been duped. This is not a conspiracy against Erik. He’s been busted, and he’s doing what every politician has done since the dawn of time when they’ve been caught doing something they’ve promised never to do, and stand against: Claiming he didn’t know, instead of taking responsibility.

  5. Arthur Schwartz Arthur Schwartz June 14, 2021

    Note how different Erik Bottcher’s “denunciation” was from that of Jenny Low in District 1, where Silverstein and Related attacked her opponent:

    “I am opposed to the overdevelopment that has plagued Lower Manhattan. I’ve voiced my rejection of the Mayor’s Soho/Noho upzoning, the Governor’s Island upzoning, the Two Bridges mega towers, and the Howard Hughes project at 250 Water Street. I oppose the destruction of the Elizabeth Street Garden and any further building on the Washington Square Superblocks. As your council member, I will fight effectively to stop these real estate boondoggles which harm our communities, and I will continue to stand up to the real estate industry as they threaten the livability and affordability of the communities we all live in.”

    Erik doesn’t outline his record or position on development. Why not?

  6. Johnny Dalton Johnny Dalton June 14, 2021

    Why are VID, Chelsea Reform Dems and Hell’s Kitchen Dems continuing to support Bottcher? Copuld it be that Johnson controls these clubs?

    Bottcher needs to step down and the clubs need to pull their endorsements.

    • Sara K Sara K June 14, 2021

      You sound a little paranoid.

      • David R. Marcus David R. Marcus June 14, 2021

        Erik and Corey are the latter day Music Men. Total film flam and self interested promotion. We need advocates not sycophants; public servants that serve the public that elected them. Corey and Erik don’t fit that bill by a simple examination of their record; who they served and who they betrayed.

    • JS JS June 14, 2021

      VID is also supporting CCM Carlina Rivera, whose voting record is egregious and who also broke her campaign promises to her constituents.

    • Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick June 14, 2021

      Follow the money. Literally. Use the Campaign Finance Board’s “follow the money.” Erik and Corey made “donations” to every political club that they received donations from in the thousands. It’s on their expenditures. That’s not paranoia, it’s there in black and white.

  7. Sara Sara June 14, 2021

    It sounds like Arthur is “living in a fantasy” and once again has duped his fellow candidates into signing a statement that just makes them look inexperienced and desperate. Erik Bottcher has taken no real estate money and has the backing of the voters because they know him and he gets things done that protect constituents and improve lives.

    • Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick June 14, 2021

      “Paid for by Voters of NYC, INC. WLZ properties, LLC, Silverstein Properties, LLC, Rosewood Reality Group, INC.”

      It’s written ON the mailer. We aren’t duped, we just can read what’s printed on his mailer.

      Take a look for yourself.

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