Real estate industry gets into beep race

Real estate industry gets into beep race
Photos by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

One of the powers entrusted to a borough president is to review and make recommendations on land use applications for development projects in Queens.

The real estate industry has been backing certain candidates in the race to replace current Borough President Helen Marshall, and it seems to be firmly behind former Democratic Councilwoman Melinda Katz, according to an analysis of campaign finance data from the city Campaign Finance Board.

The current Democratic field also includes state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Director of Community Boards Barry Grodenchik, Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).

Both Katz and Comrie, who was unable to file because of a technical difficulty, have served as head of the Council’s powerful Committee on Land Use.

Each candidate’s filings were examined for donations from real estate firms, developers, architects and real estate lawyers. The filings cover the period up to Jan. 15. Because some of the data was incomplete, the numbers are only rough estimates, but Katz is clearly preferred.

Katz stepped down as a lobbyist from Greenberg & Traurig in November and her filings date back to August. About $109,000, or about 38 percent, of her funds for the borough president race have come from real estate interests.

High-ranking employees of major Queens developers, like Cord Meyer, Tully Construction and the Hemmerdinger family’s ATCO, were all represented in the filings, but some of the biggest developers from across the city chipped in as well.

Notably, Katz received a total of $11,500 from the family of Stephen Ross, CEO of Related Cos., but not from the developer himself. His wife Kara, listed as the executive of her jewelry company Kara Ross New York, gave the maximum amount of $3,850 to Katz’s campaign. Ross’ two daughters, both listed as students, also gave the maximum of $3,850. Jessica Rizzo, listed as a certified public accountant for Related Cos., also gave the maximum of $3,850.

Three members of the Durst Organization, which is rebuilding the World Trade Center, chipped in a total of $960, according to the board.

Katz received at least 15 maximum donations of $3,850 from real estate interests, including the spouses of company executives. Only one other candidate received a maximum donation from a real estate interest.

Katz has also been endorsed by former Mayor Ed Koch. Though Koch himself did not donate any money to Katz’s campaign, 17 members of his law firm, Bryan Cave LLP, gave a total of $3,680 to her.

Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) has donations in his account dating back to 2005. But only the funds raised since he began his current term as city councilman were taken into account, since he will be term-limited out. Of Vallone’s $1 million war chest, just $165,000 was raised since 2010, according to the board. About $23,000, or 14 percent of the total, came from real estate interests, the data show.

Vallone received eight donations from Mega Contracting Co., a firm that constructs apartment buildings around the city and in Astoria, for a total of about $1,000. Of real estate interests, his only maximum donation came from David Wolkoff, listed as working for GOM Realty. Vallone also received a maximum donation from an unemployed woman named Lina Garber, the data show.

The part of the filing that describes a donor’s occupation was missing in about 4 percent of Vallone’s donations. For example, Andrew Rigie gave only $20, but it was not noted that he is the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) received about $16,700, or about 12 percent of his total donations, from real estate interests. Members of Macerich, owners of the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst and Atlas Park in Glendale, gave Peralta six donations, including one from the company’s political action committee, totaling $8,720, according to the board. Muss Development, which built Sky View Parc in Flushing and Queens Tower in Jamaica, gave Peralta three donations totaling $1,000.

Peralta’s filings could not be thoroughly examined, however, since nearly one-third of the donors did not have an occupation listed. Notable omissions were Mark Abbott, president of Major League Soccer; Brett Lashbrook, legal counsel and lobbyist for MLS; and Donald Graber, MLS commissioner, according to the board.

Jeff Gural’s occupation as chairman of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, a real estate firm that had been searching for investors for RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing last year, was also not listed, for example.

Peralta’s campaign said it is in the process of working with the board to amend the filings to include the occupations.

Grodenchik raised about $6,400, or about 11 percent of his total, from real estate interests, according to his filings. Grodenchik, who recently stepped down as deputy borough president, received a $2,000 donation from Christian Lee of TDC Development, the Flushing firm that built Queens Crossing. Grodenchik also received donations under $200 from both Joseph Mattone and Betsy Mak, who was recently selected by the city Economic Development Corp. to develop a downtown Flushing building.

The occupation field was left blank in about 6 percent of Grodenchik’s 290 donations, according to the board. One of those blanks included Ido Shargal, who works on Grodenchik’s campaign and gave $40.27. Donald Henton listed himself as retired. While he is a retired bus driver, he also works part-time as a community liaison for city Comptroller John Liu.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) only has $6,856 total in his account, which comes from 41 donors. Janet McCreesh, who gave Avella $175, is listed as an office manager of Duce Construction, a luxury apartment developer which has also built high-end homes in Bayside.

McCreesh is also president of the Broadway Flushing Homeowners Association, which fights overdevelopment in the borough.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.