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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).
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.