Big Real Estate Warms to Senate Dems

For many years in Albany, a town with many an uncertainty, there was one constant: Joe Bruno was the majority leader in the Senate, and the New York City real estate world was a loyal benefactor. The industry was a steadfast supporter of that Republican majority, and poured campaign contributions into Republican coffers (and not, with some minor exceptions, into Democratic ones). In turn, the Senate Republicans were equally loyal defenders of the policies that big real estate cared deeply about (issue No. 1: keeping rent regulations limited, or eliminating them all together).

Times have changed.

The latest campaign finance filings, released earlier this month, show an industry that is trying to adapt to what may be a new long-term reality. While landlords and others in the industry indeed continued to throw significant money at Republicans (at least $190,000 between January and July toward two accounts controlled by the Senate Republicans), the big surprise of the latest filing was the large amount of cash directed at the Senate Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which took in at least $290,000 in real estate money in the same period. This offers a clear sign that the real estate industry is acknowledging that the slim Democratic majority in the chamber may indeed hang on to control in November, and landlords are not solely focusing their efforts at regaining Republican control.

Much of this haul by the DSCC came from a single fundraiser hosted by the powerful Real Estate Board of New York. Held at REBNY’s headquarters in early July, the DSCC listed at least $126,000 from real estate interests coming in on a single day (filed as July 9, but I’m told the event was on July 6).

Among those giving at least $10,000 checks: Daniel Brodsky, Larry Gluck’s Stellar Management, REBNY chair Mary Ann Tighe, Burt Resnick, and Tishman Speyer.

“Seeing the real estate industry embrace reality is both logical and reassuring,” said a Democratic insider familiar with the donations.

With all this said, there is not total unity in direction: the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords with large amounts of rent-regulated stock, has in particular has been throwing money at the Senate Republicans, directing at least $100,000 in the last filing toward the group. Still, RSA gives to many Democrats as well.

“I wouldn’t say we’re betting on anything,” RSA vice president Frank Ricci said when asked if the group was hedging its bets. “There’s reasonable people on both sides.”

Hedging, of course, is probably a prudent idea. If REBNY worked solely at destroying the Democrats and then they actually maintained control in November, it would be hard to think many in the Senate majority would be eager to assuage the industry’s legislative concerns. Instead, the industry seems to be turning toward individual candidates. Both REBNY president Steve Spinola and Rent Stabilization Association president Joe Strasburg have urged landlords to support individual Democratic Senators who are generally liked by the industry, (one example: Long Island Democrat Craig Johnson).

A few other things to note from the latest filing: a challenger to Harlem Democratic Senator Bill Perkins, Basil Smikle, took in a decent bit of real estate cash. And a bunch of folks in the real estate industry gave to Republican state comptroller candidate Harry Wilson (a fundraiser was held at REBNY’s offices). 

ebrown@observer.com