These new dirty words are “real estate,” “developers” and “condos” — printable, and yet filthy with disdain. But, conveniently, they have not stopped any of the major campaigns from accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the real estate industry.
“Last time I checked, it wasn’t the real estate industry’s town, and we were just living in it,” one candidate, Bill de Blasio, proclaimed at an event in July.
“Let’s stop letting the corporations and the developers take everything over,” another contender, John C. Liu, said before a lectern this spring.
At “most big real estate firms,” Anthony D. Weiner said during an interview last month, “the mayor is like a job on their organization chart.”
Yet out of about $30 million in individual contributions raised in the mayoral race as of late August, the candidates had collected at least $2.2 million from real estate executives and industry employees, according to an analysis by The New York Times. (These calculations included individuals from all levels of the industry, including high-ranking executives and real estate agents — anyone who listed occupations in real estate or property. Relatives, however, who often contribute alongside their executive relatives, were not necessarily included.)
Christine C. Quinn collected at least $716,700 from these individuals, the analysis found, the most of all the Democratic mayoral candidates. Mr. Weiner was close behind, with $643,550. Next came William C. Thompson Jr., with $299,000; Mr. de Blasio with $215,300; and Mr. Liu with $141,800. On the Republican side, Joseph J. Lhota has raised at least $118,500 from the real estate industry. John A. Catsimatidis, who is mostly self-financing, has received $3,000, and George T. McDonald has raised just $1,465 from donors in real estate.
“Candidates are using this particular issue as a way of distancing themselves from the Bloomberg administration,” Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University, said of the Democratic field. “There is a difference between the kinds of things you have to say and do to win elections, and the kinds of things you have to say and do to attract campaign donations.”
Among the leading Democratic candidates, Mr. de Blasio has invoked the real estate boogeyman with the greatest enthusiasm, in debates, in news releases and at a rally, Hospitals Not Condos, he held two weeks ago, outside the former St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. Even the actress Susan Sarandon has jumped into this particular fray on his behalf, in a star-studded campaign advertisement. (She said she wanted a New York “where hospitals stay hospitals; they don’t turn into condos.”)
But Mr. de Blasio, who polls show has recently become the front-runner, has had plenty of company shaking a fist at developers. Mr. Liu and Mr. Weiner have each taken shots at the real estate industry and its influence in the city. Sal F. Albanese, who came in at 1 percent in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, has announced repeatedly that he would refuse to accept campaign contributions from the real estate industry — though he admits he has not had much opportunity to tear up any of its checks. (The Times analysis showed he did take in a total of $250 from people who work in small, local real estate agencies, not exactly the gilded halls of power.)
Even Ms. Quinn and Mr. Thompson — who have been reluctant to antagonize the real estate industry publicly, though she has said she supported a rent freeze on rent-stabilized apartments — have tried to lash Mr. de Blasio to this unpopular lead balloon in recent days. Through their campaigns, they have criticized him for holding meetings with real estate lobbyists as he chastised them on the stump.
All the way down the ticket, candidates are trying to milk that distaste in a bid to get more votes. A mailer from Deley Gazinelli, for example, a candidate for Democratic district leader in Manhattan, proclaimed in bold lettering, “I am running against a real estate lawyer who doesn’t care about the Village.”
Some members of the real estate industry may grumble to find themselves on the raw end of a stump speech, said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group, but most just shrug it off.
“It’s political pandering to a public sentiment that the middle class and low-income people have been left out of the prosperity of the past decade,” Ms. Wylde said. “I think, for the most part, they would govern with very different interests than their political rhetoric suggests.”
And so the money rolls in.
While many businesses are regulated by federal or state government, real estate interests are largely controlled by New York City, which means the industry tends to be among the biggest campaign donors in its politics. In this election, for example, a political action committee called Jobs for New York, led by the Real Estate Board of New York, pledged to spend up to $10 million on electing a business-friendly City Council, where many land-use issues are decided. In the race for mayor, big players in real estate tend to spread their donations among several likely candidates to cover their bases, Ms. Wylde said.
Many of the candidates have been raising money for several years, and some of the donations were made as far back as 2006.
The watchdog group Common Cause New York looked at campaign contributions made by top executives and their spouses at some of the city’s most powerful real estate companies — those represented by Officers on the Real Estate Board of New York’s Board of Governors, like Extell Development and Rudin Management. The group found that Ms. Quinn had collected the most money from real estate donors in total. Since 2011, however, they found Mr. Thompson had received the highest amount. Mr. de Blasio jumped from fourth place to third in that more recent bracket.
Ultimately, the titans of real estate will not be picking up their skyscrapers and leaving the city no matter who wins the election, or how much they are criticized in stump speeches. And in the meantime, it is voters, most of whom cannot afford a luxurious new apartment, who are listening.
“It’s a very rational electoral strategy, to appeal to people who are less and less able to live close to where they work, and who frequently have to leave neighborhoods they knew and loved,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. Besides, he added, “How many people do you know who love their landlord?”
Kate Taylor contributed reporting.