Follow the Money to an Absentee, Compromised Candidate
New York City Councilmember Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) is running for reëlection on Nov. 7. Since I successfully petitioned to get on the November general election ballot as a third-party candidate, my campaign supporters and I have been meeting and greeting voters from Greenwich Village to Hell’s Kitchen. Everywhere we go, voters ask, “Where’s Corey?” At first, I thought my opponent was running a Rose Garden strategy of just looking busy, instead of campaigning for votes. But the more I have done research about the role of money in my opponent’s campaign, it appears that the incumbent office holder is running for office — by running away from his record.
An analysis of my opponent’s campaign contributions shows that 70% of all of his campaign contributions were donations of $1,000 or more. Of those large donations, 68% came from individuals with ties to real estate, Wall Street, nightlife, and corporate philanthropy. These statistics, which are irrefutable, are a damning indictment of how much my opponent has embraced the role of money in his campaign. My opponent is the candidate of big donations.
But it doesn’t stop there.
The incumbent office holder has raised over $92,000 in campaign contributions from bundlers. The top bunder was Ethan Geto, a lobbyist, who has represented real estate developers in large-scale projects that have been opposed by New York City’s communities. One project that Ethan Geto represented was a residential building that was proposed for the polluted banks of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Another project represented by Ethan Geto was a high-rise project that neighbors opposed due to anticipated disruption to a neighborhood school. These controversies didn’t stop my opponent from accepting $22,150 in bundled donations from Ethan Geto.
During my opponent’s term in office, no major real estate project has ever been successfully opposed in Council District 3. Elsewhere in New York, activists in the northern Manhattan neeighborhood of Inwood defeated a zone-busting, 15-story luxury tower. In the Queens neighborhood of Sunnyside, activists defeated a 209-unit project that was too big for the community and would have overwhelmed the neighborhood’s infrastructure. But activists have not been that successful in Council District 3. Is it because of my opponent’s reliance on donations from real estate donors and real estate lobbyists?
Real estate donations
One group of big money donors to my opponent is Daniel Brodsky and his two sons, Alexander and Thomas. They work for the Brodsky Organization, which has developed buildings in the West Village, Chelsea, and Midtown West, which are in Council District 3. Daniel Brodsky is on the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York, the powerful lobbying group of real estate developers. Together, the three men have donated $4,750. When an elected official starts taking money like that, it’s hard to reject your patron’s advances. And in Corey Johnson’s case, it’s clear who he works for.
Corey Johnson’s lack of principle when it comes to accepting money from big real estate donors should be an outrage to voters in Council District 3. Like former Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) before him, Corey Johnson has accepted donations from the Rudin Family, owners of Rudin Management Company, the real estate development company that bought St. Vincent’s Hospital for pennies on the dollar and converted it into a $1 billion luxury condominium and townhouse complex. Corey Johnson has accepted a large campaign contribution of $1,000 from Fiona Rudin and a $250 donation from her husband, Eric Rudin. Eric Rudin’s cousin is William Rudin, head of Rudin Management Company. Very large campaign contributions made by the Rudin Family to former Council Speaker Quinn became a campaign issue in the 2013 mayoral race. Despite the campaign controversy, Corey Johnson accepted the donations from Fiona and Eric Rudin.
Two other examples where Corey Johnson was unscrupulous about real estate development projects included the birthday party he held at the Ace Hotel, which his former employer developed from an SRO after having evicted its tenants. Corey Johnson also accepted a $250 campaign contribution from lobbyist James Capalino, who was involved in the controversial luxury condominium conversion of Rivington House, a fromer AIDS hospice. Despite the fact that Corey Johnson purports to be a leader of the LGBT community, Corey still took the lobbyist’s campaign contribution, showing that he is not principled about his commitment to defend healthcare infrastructure for the LGBT community.
The methodology used for this analysis included doing Internet searches for all of my opponent’s large donors. Research revealed that even many of the “homemakers,” who donated money to my opponent’s campaign committee, had ties to, were married into, or had discretion over public policy regarding real estate, Wall Street, or other big money industries, like Carol Mehas, who donated $2,750 to my opponent’s campaign committee. She sits on Manhattan Community Board 4, the composition of which my opponent can influence. There is also “homemaker” Susanna Aaron, who is a member of Manhattan Community Board 2 ; she is a director of Hudson River Park. And then there is Joseph Altuzarra, who is a fashionista and married to Seth Weissman of Weissman Equities, a major private real estate company.
One reason my opponent has raised so much money is that he made the deliberate choice not to observe the donation cap that is otherwise applicable to all City Council candidate running under the matching dollar program of the Campaign Finance Board. The incumbent office holder has reportedly used some of this excess money to curry favour with other Councilmembers in order for my opponent to win the Council speaker race, which he is reportedly currently actively engaged in. He can’t even be bothered to attend his own Participatory Budgeting Events, but he has all the time in the world to attend politician fundraisers. Whereas I have been on the campaign trail, meeting with voters to win elected office, the incumbent office holder has been busy meeting with party leaders and passing around money to other Councilmembers to win the speaker’s race. One central aim of progressive politics has been seeking to eliminate the role of money in campaign races, not to embrace it to such an extreme, as has been done by my opponent.
When I mention the subject of my opponent’s reliance on all this money to voters, some voters admit to being cynical and resigned to the fact that everybody in politics takes money from real estate developers and lobbyists. But that is not true. I have not taken any such money. Instead, I have almost entirely self-financed my own campaign. I am trying to be principled about reform. Unlike my opponent, I don’t want to sell myself to big money donors. And for that reason alone, I am the best candidate for City Council, someone who is independent, uncompromised and can act in the community’s interest – the sole obligation of a councilmember.