By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Peter Vallone's mayoral campaign may have taken second place in last week's fundraising reports, with his $2.2 million war chest falling short of comptroller Alan Hevesi's $3.3 million bank. But a Voice analysis shows that Vallone exceeds Hevesi and other major Democratic mayoral hopefuls in one area: collecting money from the real estate industry.
According to the reports, filed with the city's Campaign Finance Board (CFB), more than 14 percent of the contributions raised by Vallone from July 12, 1999 through January 11, 2000 came from developers, property managers, real estate brokers, landlords, and their law firms. The next closest candidate in terms of reliance on real estate dollars is Bronx borough president Freddy Ferrer, whose campaign culled 9 percent of its income from the industry. Trailing behind were Hevesi, with 5.5 percent, and Public Advocate Mark Green, with 4 percent.
Adam Macy, a spokesman for Vallone's campaign, said contributions don't necessarily influence a politician's decisions. As for the real estate sector's donations to Vallone, Macy says, "it's just not a large portion of what he raises." Amounts calculated as coming from real estate donors are minimums, since the occupations of some contributors are not always disclosed.
Indeed, of the $1,392,725 in contributions that Vallone's campaign reported, at least $205,165 comes from real estate sources. In dollars, the industry gave more than three times as much to Vallone's campaign as it did to Ferrer's ($60,370 of a total $671,967) or Hevesi's ($66,100 of $1,199,864), and more than five times what it gave to Green's ($37,650 of $933,440).
Tenants have been watching Vallone's contributions carefully because of his long alliance with landlords and his willingness to use his council role to support their agenda. Last summer, he allowed landlord lobbyists, including his former chief of staff Joe Strasburg, to write a lead-paint law that favors owners and harms tenants. In 1994, he passed a law deregulating vacant rent-stabilized apartments renting for more than $2000 a month and occupied apartments if tenants earned more than $250,000 for two consecutive years. Now, the council has until April 1 to renew the rent laws, and while Vallone has introduced a bill to do just that, tenants are skeptical that he might maneuver to shortchange tenants and prevent further pro tenant provisions from being added to the bill.
But despite Vallone's top spot as a magnet for real estate dollars, his CFB filing was somewhat surprising in that it did not contain contributions directly from landlord lobbies. In particular, not a single penny appears to have come in from the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) despite an unprecedented October appeal made by its president, Steven Spinola, to his membership on Vallone's behalf, a move he explained to Crain's New York by saying that the speaker "has been a friend of the industry." But while REBNY contributions were not apparent in the filings, sources say that among the 230 Vallone donors with ties to real estate are many REBNY members who are not identified as such.
The bulk of real estate donations to Vallone's campaign came in contributions of $500 or less. Macy says that reflects Vallone-supported changes in CFB rules; those rules are intended to encourage more, smaller contributions by offering a heftier match from public funds. For instance, the first donation of $250 wins the candidate $1000 in CFB money.
But not all of Vallone's real estate donors gave small change: Among those maxing out at the $4500 limit are magnate Lew Rudin; Ziel Feldman of Property Markets Group, which converts single-room occupancy buildings into tourist-class hotels; and the Pistilli Realty Group, which owns property in Manhattan and Queens and is based in Vallone's home base of Astoria. One donor, Vornado Realty Trust chair Steven Roth, donated the $4500 limit twiceonce in late July and again in early Januarymoves that would appear to exceed CFB limits.
The absence of some expected real estate donors from last week's report is because they maxed out last year. Bernie Mendik and his wife Susan, for instance, each gave Vallone $4500 last spring, as did the mega firm Tishman Speyer, developer Peter Kalikow, and Jack and Susan Rudin.
Real estate donors to Ferrer's campaign include heavyweights Mendik along with Burton Resnick, Stephen Ross of the Related Companies, and Brooklyn's David Walentas, who is developing Williamsburg. All gave the $4500 limit. Among Hevesi's contributors are members of the Lefrak Organization, owner of the the huge Queens apartment complex. They gave a total of $2500, as did Donald Trump. Adam Rose of Rose Associates Inc. gave $1000; so did Robert Speyer of Tishman Speyer Properties. Nino Vendome of the Vendome group gave $4500. Green's donations include $8500 from various employees and corporate arms of Tishman Speyer, $4500 from Ross of the Related Companies, and $6000 from employees of Newmark & Company.
Among Vallone's expenses, one in particular draws tenants' attention: Half a dozen rent checks for $524 each made out to William Street Associates. The checks pay for the 22nd-floor office of Vallone 2001 at 123 William Street, where, coincidentally, the city's largest landlord lobby, the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), occupies the entire 14th floor. That lobby is run by former Vallone staffer Strasburg. Macy says there's no smoking gun there.
"It seems incredible to make a connection between the RSA and Joe Strasburg being in the same building with Vallone, given that it is in such close proximity to City Hall," where Vallone's council offices are. "It's simply convenient for him."