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Adams’s Re-election Bid Fueled by Real Estate Titans and Out-of-Towners

Mayor Eric Adams, a stoic look on his face, walks into a City Hall news conference where reporters awaited him last month.
Of the $1.3 million that Mayor Eric Adams raised since January for his re-election efforts, about $550,000 came from outside New York City.Credit...Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Despite falling poll numbers and critical news coverage, Mayor Eric Adams clearly has the continued monetary support of two influential spheres of influence: real estate leaders and the donor class from New York City and beyond.

Mr. Adams has raised $1.3 million since January for his 2025 re-election effort in the latest reporting period, drawing maximum $2,100 donations from real estate magnates like Marc Holliday, the chief executive of SL Green, the city’s largest commercial landlord, and its founder, Steve Green; and Alexander and Helena Durst, members of The Durst Organization real estate dynasty, according to new filings with the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

About $550,000 came from donors outside New York City who live in the suburbs, Florida and other states — a continuation of a pattern displayed early in his tenure, when he held fund-raisers in Beverly Hills and Chicago in his first months in office.

As mayor, Mr. Adams has often taken positions that benefit the real estate industry, including being supportive of rent increases and criticizing state lawmakers for failing to replace a tax-incentive program for developers known as 421a.

He has frequently met with real estate leaders and has used One Vanderbilt, one of the city’s newest skyscrapers, developed by SL Green, as a backdrop for photo ops and news conferences. As a small-time landlord, Mr. Adams once declared, “I am real estate.” And major landlords have consistently been among his most faithful donors.

Mr. Adams frequently asserts that his political base of working-class New Yorkers and churchgoers understands and supports his mission. But the continued support from real estate interests only furthers the notion that Mr. Adams may be too aligned with major developers.

Vito Pitta, a lawyer for the Adams campaign, insisted that the mayor’s success in addressing crime and job losses was driving donations.

“Our campaign is well on its way to raising the maximum amount it can spend under the city’s campaign finance system — just 18 months into the mayor’s tenure — because New Yorkers see that Mayor Adams is lowering crime, increasing employment, and moving our city in the right direction,” Mr. Pitta said in a statement.

The spending cap for the 2025 primary is $7.9 million. Under the city’s generous public financing system, his campaign is expected to have about $4.6 million on hand, after matching funds are included.

Mr. Adams has faced a series of setbacks in recent weeks. His approval rating fell to 46 percent in a Siena College poll last month. A longtime associate of his was charged in a straw donor scheme to raise money for his mayoral campaign; the mayor was not implicated. The New York Times reported that a photo of a police officer killed in the line of duty, which the mayor said he had long carried in his wallet, was created by employees in the mayor’s office last year, and was made to look old.

The mayor also drew attention for his response last month to an 84-year-old tenant-rights activist whose family had escaped the Holocaust. The mayor publicly likened her to a plantation owner after he believed the activist had been disrespectful to him.

Still, Mr. Adams, a Democrat who ran for office on a public safety message, could be difficult to beat in 2025.

He is likely eager to show off a large war chest to fend off a serious competitor. He won a competitive Democratic primary in 2021 by only 7,197 votes.

“The bigger the fund-raising number, the less likely that someone else gets into the race,” said Chris Coffey, a former campaign manager for Andrew Yang, one of the mayor’s primary opponents in 2021.

Mr. Coffey said that the mayor’s low approval rating was not too worrisome, noting that Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor, had an approval rating as low as 24 percent in his second year in office and still won two more terms.

“If the city has made progress on public safety, it’s really hard to see the mayor have any re-election challenges,” Mr. Coffey said.

The real estate industry once again also provided the largest donor base for Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat who narrowly won a full four-year term in November. Of the $4.5 million her campaign raised in the first six months of the year, more than $950,000 came from developers and real estate investors, and more from other industries with business before the state, according to an analysis of her public filings by The Times.

At least 45 donors connected to the real estate industry chipped in $18,000, the new legal maximum for statewide candidates, including Mr. Holliday, Scott Rechler and Jeff Blau. Mr. Rechler and Mr. Blau are both Democratic megadonors whose firms are competing with Mr. Holliday’s for a license to operate a casino in the New York City area.

With New York facing an affordable housing crunch, Ms. Hochul has spent much of the year fighting for new government programs to spur development. On Tuesday, she announced she would bypass opponents in the legislature and take executive actions that had been a priority of the real estate industry.

Other major donors included members of the Sands family, which controls the Rochester-based beverage giant Constellation Brands; well-known Albany lobbyists Emily Giske, Giorgio DeRosa and the firm Cozen O’Connor; and tech executives like Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber. Ms. Hochul also brought in more than $250,000 at a fund-raiser this month from board members and doctors connected to Somos Community Care, a Bronx-based nonprofit that has tapped into lucrative government health programs.

Ms. Hochul managed to raise the sum — plus another $1.5 million for the state Democratic Party — despite new, stricter contributions limits that cap individual gifts at $18,000, down from nearly $70,000 last election cycle. For much of the period, Ms. Hochul was also dealing with tumult within her political operation after reporting by The Times prompted the ouster of her top political aide.

For his part, Mr. Adams was a prolific fund-raiser in 2021 and received significant support from a super PAC, which received donations from Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire who owns the Mets and is vying for a casino license in the city. Earlier this year, SL Green retained Frank Carone, the mayor’s former chief of staff, to aid its bid to build a Caesars Palace casino in Times Square.

A Broadway fund-raiser for the mayor last month at a showing of the musical “New York, New York” proved especially lucrative. The campaign raised about $600,000 at the event, which was organized by Mr. Carone, according to Evan Thies, a spokesman for the campaign.

Fred Elghanayan, a founder of TF Cornerstone, a real estate company, and Todd Cooper, a founder of RIPCO Real Estate, both donated to the Adams campaign. A dozen people who work at Morgan & Morgan, a national personal injury law firm, donated a total of $25,000 to the mayor’s campaign. Four employees of Meridian Properties, another real estate firm, donated $8,400. Six people who work at another real estate firm, Top Rock Holdings, each gave the maximum of $2,100 to the mayor’s campaign.

Many donations came from outside the state, including from Alex Havenick, a gambling and cannabis entrepreneur in Miami, and David Kovacs, a virtual reality video game developer in Miami. Brock Pierce, a cryptocurrency investor who once flew Mr. Adams to Puerto Rico on his private jet, donated $2,100. He listed his address as a ZIP code in Puerto Rico.

There were plenty of smaller donations as well. A senior pastor at a church in Queens donated $250 to the mayor’s campaign, as did the director of a New York City children’s theater.

Posted on 19 Jul 2023 01:24 link