BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated June 21, 11:30 p.m.: Don’t believe the TenantNet hype!
The primary elections are coming down to the wire, there’s a mini-Burning Man festival in Washington Square Park every night, and for some reason, John Fisher, who runs a Web site, TenantNet, has decided to pick a fight with The Village Sun.
As The Village Sun first reported, Erik Bottcher’s five opponents in the June 22 primary sent out a statement condemning the fact that a real estate super-PAC spent $13,000 on mailers supporting his candidacy. This is what’s known as an independent expenditure since it was not a direct contribution to the candidate’s campaign.
“Big Real Estate’s message to the voters of District 3 is clear: Their candidate is Erik Bottcher,” the five candidates said, in part. “This PAC’s donors are real estate mega-developers, such as Silverstein Properties and Rosewood Group.”
As I was reporting for the article, I spoke to Bottcher’s campaign spokesperson and noted to him that John Fisher of TenantNet had also issued his own statement, in which he called for Bottcher to drop out of the race over the super-PAC mailer, charging it proved that Bottcher was pro-development.
“Early in the campaign, Bottcher said he was not bought by real estate interests and [now] has not denounced the developer expenditures made in his behalf [in the form of the mailer],” Fisher wrote at the time. “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.”
In turn, apparently wanting a tenant advocate to speak on Bottcher’s behalf to counter Fisher’s attack, Bottcher’s spokesperson suggested I call Michael McKee, the longtime tenants activist and current Tenants PAC chairperson.
McKee proceeded to tell me that the super-PAC’s mailer supporting Bottcher was, in fact, a clever ruse — that it was actually intended to hurt Bottcher. The mailer noted in fine print in its upper corner that its top three funders were real estate companies. McKee argued that, given how strongly anti-development voters in Council District 3 are, a mailer coming from a real estate super-PAC would surely make them vote against that candidate. McKee claimed that the developers actually fear Bottcher more than any of the other five candidates and desperately want to keep him from getting elected.
I sat there listening to McKee, who I have known for years as a hard-working advocate in the trenches on behalf of tenants’ rights. I jotted down what he said and I reported it. I tried to adhere to the journalistic rule of “keep the writer out of the article.” I figured readers would come to their own conclusions as to whether they bought McKee’s theory or not.
Out of some deference to McKee and his record of activism, I was conscious of making an effort not to “editorialize” on his comments, just reported them matter of factly. But, again, that is basically the standard for news articles, anyway. Did I throw in some adjectives that would have betrayed my own opinion, such as “convoluted,” “implausible,” “ridiculous” or “laughable”? No, I did not.
Honestly, when I was listening to McKee spin his theory, I was surprised that he was actually saying this to me. Personally, no, I do not believe the super-PAC sent out the pro-Bottcher mailer in order that it would boomerang against him. I think that’s completely ludicrous. When a bunch of big real estate companies get together and send out a mailer in support of your candidacy that means…they support you! They want you to win! Conversely, it also probably means that, as much as the super-PAC supports you, they are really afraid of the other candidates getting into office.
Bottcher subsequently said he sent a cease-and-desist letter to the super-PAC, Voters of NYC, calling on it to stop all independent expenditures on behalf of candidates in District 3. I then did an article about that.
I reached out to a few of Bottcher’s opponents for comment, including Marni Halasa and Arthur Schwartz, asking them for their reaction to the cease-and-desist letter and also to McKee’s statements.
Halasa told The Village Sun, “The fact that Voters of New York did an independent expenditure on behalf of Erik is indicative of the fact that he is the candidate for big real estate — it’s not rocket science. The cease-and-desist letter reminds me of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ — ‘He doth protest too much, methinks.’ He got caught and he’s trying to cover it up. If he’s saying that he didn’t know this was going to happen… .”
As for McKee’s defense of Bottcher, Halasa scoffed to The Village Sun, “That is the most bizarre reverse-psychology gaslighting statement I have ever heard in my life. Mike McKee must think we’re all fools.”
Schwartz did not respond for comment for that article. However, he subsequently told me that he felt Bottcher’s letter was a “publicity stunt” since a cease-and-desist letter is always sent from a lawyer but Bottcher’s was not.
He said that claiming the super-PAC’s letter backing Bottcher was actually meant to derail his campaign is “like saying Black Lives Matter and ‘Antifa’ were behind the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.”
Schwartz also subsequently charged that Bottcher’s original statement denouncing the super-PAC’s mailer on his behalf — which Bottcher posted on Twitter — was “backdated” to June 11 to make it appear that Bottcher had issued it the day before the five candidates’ joint statement on June 12 decrying him for being the super-PAC’s preferred candidate. The tweet was actually posted after June 11.
“I denounce this independent expenditure and I am calling on its funders to halt all spending immediately,” Bottcher said, in part, in the tweet. “This isn’t something I’ve asked for, it’s not something I know anything about, and I want it to stop.”
Bottcher’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from The Village Sun on Schwartz’s charges that Bottcher’s cease-and-desist letter was bogus and that Bottcher backdated his Tweet denouncing the super-PAC’s support. Again, readers, make of that what you will! But maybe the fact that the campaign did not respond might color your thinking.
At any rate, perhaps TenantNet’s John Fisher did not see The Village Sun’s follow-up article that included Halasa’s hard-hitting comments on Bottcher’s cease-and-desist letter and also on McKee’s spin in support of his pal.
Today TenantNet posted an article that stated, “The Village Sun buys into this sorry excuse [the McKee explanation] that doesn’t even pass the giggle test. The paper reports it, but doesn’t question its absurdity of the excuse or even the credibility of McKee.”
Again, John Fisher, please read the article.
The Village Sun was the first outlet to report the five candidates’ joint statement criticizing the super-PAC expenditure on Bottcher’s behalf. Mike McKee made a statement, and I reported it. I thought readers would have the same reaction to it that I did — that it was absurd. But it’s politics, it’s an election, and people will say whatever they feel they need to say to help their candidate get elected. If I misjudged readers on that — that some might actually take McKee’s spin as fact — then I’m now stating for the record, again, that I think it was a bunch of baloney.
John Fisher, don’t shoot the messenger. Actually, don’t shoot anyone. Save your attacks for the real estate PACs.
Anderson is the editor of The Village Sun.