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Voting started on Saturday in the Democratic primary elections to replace term-limited Corey Johnson as the New York City council member for District 3 (which includes Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and the West Village). There are six candidates on the ballot. This weekend, all six of those candidates denounced an advert backed by real estate developers through a political action committee (PAC).

The advert from Voters of NYC that has been denounced by all 6 candidates.

Candidate Erik Bottcher was the beneficiary of the advert in which $13,000 was spent on a direct mail campaign that lauded Bottcher’s role as “Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s Chief of Staff” saying that he had dedicated “his career to our community”. The PAC, Voters of NYC, is supported by Silverstein Properties and Rosewood Realty.

All candidates had agreed to not take money from real estate developers or PACs. Bottcher went on the record saying how important that was when he gained the endorsement of the Jim Owles Democratic Club in January. He put himself forward as a candidate “willing to shake up the system and make brave decisions based on the facts and data, not on the wishes of special interest groups, lobbyists or donors” and promising “our campaign is not taking contributions from real estate developers, people who work at lobbying firms, corporate PACs or the fossil fuel industry.”

In a joint press release on Saturday, the other 5 candidates — Aleta LaFargue, Arthur Schwartz, Leslie Boghosian Murphy, Phelan-Dante Fitzpatrick and Marni Halasa — denounced the $13k expenditure by a real PAC in support of Bottcher.

Last night, in response to the press release, Bottcher issued a statement on Instagram, Twitter and Facecbook also denouncing the actions of the PAC. “Dear friends. Many of you may have received a mailer in the mail this weekend that looks like it was from our campaign. It was not. Some billionaires spread money around on an independent expenditure in 28 Council races, including ours. Clearly they thought they’d curry favor with me if I won. Well, they’re dead wrong. I condemned it and demanded that its funders halt all spending immediately,” he said. Bottcher has so far raised (without this PAC money) $157,283 from 1,172 people or organizations.

In a City Council race where candidates have a cap on the amount of money their own campaigns can spend, a PAC spending $13,000 to support a candidate can have an enormous impact. “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,” said District 3 candidate Marni Halasa (whose fundraising to date has reached just less than $25,000).

Candidate Aleta LaFargue said: “The fight for affordable housing is one of the most important missions of my life. I thought that everyone in this race shared that vision, unfortunately I was wrong.” LaFargue has raised $33,134 for her campaign.

“It’s both disappointing and disturbing to see,” said District 3 candidate Leslie Boghosian Murphy. “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.“ Boghosian Murphy has raised the second most money in the campaign, at $43,635.

“Erik Bottcher does not care about working New Yorkers,” said candidate Phelan-Dante Fitzpatrick. “How do we know? He says he ‘will not accept contributions from real estate developers’ but the reality is he is perfectly okay 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.” Fitzpatrick has fundraising of $29,131.

Referring to the mail piece touting Bottcher’s “experience and leadership”, candidate Arthur 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.” Schwartz has raised $42,596 so far.

In his statement, Bottcher said: “I denounce this independent expenditure and I am calling on its funders to halt all spending immediately. 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.”

Schwartz responded: “Money is being spent all across the city to oppose progressive candidates and support incumbents and centrists. Regardless of what he says, they are doing what’s in their best interest — and against working class people’s interests. He can’t just say ‘I denounce this’ and be done with it.”

In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that real estate and business executives have donated more than $1.47 million to an independent expenditure committee looking to influence some of the dozens of races for seats on the New York City Council this year.

In the complex world of New York City politics, the New York City Campaign Finance Board tracks every dollar spent on local campaigns. It’s a key area if you want to spend time looking at who throws money into the election races — from Mayor to Council Members — you can find it all via their “Follow the Money” section.

We have asked the PAC, Silverstein Properties and Rosewood Realty for a response to this denouncement by the candidates and will update this story.

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14 Comments

  1. This is a VERY ONE SIDED ANTI STORY. And of course know where it started. IT WAS NOT A DIRECT PAYMENT TO THE CAMPAIGN; as explained. It you check closely the campaign has REFUNDED money from people you had conections to real estate. Check the finance reports. I am very disappointed in W42 for only getting political statements and not fully checking the records.

    1. Hi Kevin. Thanks for taking the time to comment. The finance reports were checked — you can see the links in 8 places in the story. Are there other records that we have missed?

      The report in City and State about Erik returning a donation was not included in the story as it would give an imbalance of space to one candidate. However, readers can reference it here.

      “Bottcher, however, has pledged to decline the same kinds of donations as Johnson, saying no to lobbyist, real estate developer or corporate PAC money. In fact, when City & State pointed out a $200 donation from William Gilbane of real estate developer Gilbane Inc., Bottcher campaign treasurer Mark Robinson said he would send it back. “Each of our over 700 individual contributors was vetted, but one slipped through, and a refund was immediately issued,” he wrote in an email.”

      Finally, it’s hard to write a story on six politicians without “only getting political statements”!

  2. BRAVO for calling this out! Erik can’t claim “ignorance” to this. Who exactly did he think created, mailed and paid for thousands of flyers suddenly appearing in everyone’s mailboxes??? Did Jesus Christ or the Tooth Fairy send them??? C’mon! He got caught and is now pretending he didn’t know.

    1. You really don’t know what you are talking about. I’m surprised the Magazine printed it because it’s just inaccurate, and baseless.

  3. The expenditure is on record. The mailing has the names of the developers who contributed. Erik’s “denunciation” was just about “outside money,” but he did not explain why big real estate supports him – nor could he without discussing Corey Johnson’s – and his as Chief of Staff – open door relationship with developers looking to build in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea (and Soho). Even his statement was not published until after he got a Twitterstorm of being called out. He put out his statement at 8:45 Sunday night on Instagram, and dated it June 11.
    By the way, Erik raised more because he started in 2019. I started in September 2020, during the Pandemic. Leslie Murphy and I have reached maximum matching funds, and we, like Erik, have a $190,000 cap on expenditures. But the PAC mailings (he has had others) don’t count against his PAC.

  4. Here is what Jenny Low, in District 1 wrote: note the denunciation of big real estate missing from Erik’s “denunciation.”
    I am opposed to the over-development 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.

    1. Arthur,
      I’ve seen you post a lot on these hyper local websites in the past few weeks. I’ve also seen you online in forums for Chelsea Now, etc… What I haven’t seen is your face up here in Hell’s Kitchen. I appreciate your work in the past in getting parks established. Clearly you care about your part of our district. I haven’t seen that concern extended past 34th Street – at least not in person.

  5. BMcG: I have spent a lot of time in Hell’s Kitchen during the campaign. Sometimes on the block with Manhattan Plaza, but often in places other ignore, like 48th and 10th, 50th and 9th. I stopped cuts in the C & F trains back in March, which helps Hell’s Kitchen residents, got an injunction against removal of station agents from subway booths, affecting 10 subway entrances in Hells Kitchen, won a case with Beth Israel Hospital to keep it from closing which helps folks in Hells Kitchen, and including those who want Beth Israel to provide beds for people needing mental health treatment. You are right that prior to becoming a candidate my local work focused on Greenwich Village (I was on that community board). Politically I have ofen worked with Hells Kitchen activists: around creation of Hudson River Park, running Obama’s Manhattan campaign in 2008, as Bernie Sanders lawyer and running a slate of delegates in Nadler’s district in 2016, and again in 2020. I have learned an awful lot since I announced late last summer and will leave my mark in HK, I promise you – and it won’t be doing the bidding of Larry Silverstein and other real estate moguls helping Erik Bottcher get elected.

  6. Real Estate Developers will do anything they can no matter how sleazy to discredit those candidates that want to keep them from abusing tenants. Trust me, I know. I have been a victim of outrageous misconduct from a super wealthy real estate developer who tried everything immoral, unethical and illegal to evict everyone from my building several years ago. City Council members including Erik Bottcher, Corey Johnson and other elected officials and their staff stood on protest lines with us and did everything in their power to keep us from losing our tenancy and we WON. Remember anyone can write something untrue about you and publicize it….and guess what, most people will believe it and shun you for it. It doesn’t take much to discredit someone. Follow the money, yes, but just remember there are those that will stoop OUTRAGEOUSLY LOW to discredit candidates who are fighting for the rights of tenants, low income residents and seniors. Tenant organizations are now fighting to get all financial supporters to be listed in bold print on their flyers. If you notice, these bad actors so far have been listing their names in small letters hoping to discredit the candidates who refuse real estate funding. It’s manipulation at its worst offense. DON’T buy into it!! It’s designed to turn you away from the candidates you plan to vote for!

  7. How sleazy to say these things about Erik. This is the same tactic they did to Christine Quinn when she was about to win. The very same thing last minute slander, So we got DeBlasio! Erik is out there everyday doing the hard work that some candidates don’t do. I believe in Erik, he helped my family when my husband almost died of Covid by going to the hospital and insuring extra vigilance for him. It made a big difference the hospitals were so overwhelmed. Stop the dirty politics. I stand behind Erik, he should and will win.

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