by Elisabeth von Uhl.
In the past week, I have received three flyers endorsing Andrew Cohen in education, safety, affordable housing, and job creation. The sender, “Jobs for NY, Inc.”, is a political action committee (PAC) funded by REBNY (Real Estate Board of New York). REBNY, whose goals (as outlined in their 2012’s Annual Report) are opposing legislation on paid sick leave and living-wage jobs, working against city mandates that limit commercial rent increases, and lobbying for tax subsidies for the real estate industry. REBNY also cites “Jobs for NY, Inc.”’s interest (from their memo sent out last May) as “New York’s ability to address challenges like job creation and affordable housing hang on the outcome of these races. The idea behind this Independent Expenditure is to bring the real estate industry and labor together to ensure that the candidates elected to the Council address these issues in a serious and substantive way.” In fact, Steven Spinola, the president of REBNY, according to The New York Times, called Mr. Bloomberg’s time in City Hall a “wonderful era” and said his organization’s PAC would support candidates that have similar priories to his organization. So why does this PAC want to throw money behind any campaign in the northwest Bronx? Bloomberg’s policies were not exactly celebrated in this area; the 2009′s mayoral election results show Bloomberg taking Riverdale while Bedford Park, Norwood went to Thompson. Bloomberg’s push for the Kingsbridge Armory to be sold to Related, Inc. (a huge contributor to the “Jobs for NY, Inc.” PAC) and turned into a shopping mall were vehemently opposed by the community, along with Council Member Koppell. Bloomberg’s failed promises regarding the Croton Filtration Plant still cause area residents, along with Assembly Member Dinowitz, to grit their teeth. So, is “Jobs for NY, Inc.” simply “greasing the wheels” of the northwest Bronx’s political machine in hopes of the next 11th district Council Member turning a blind eye when real estate goals do not match those of the community?
Even more, on Sunday, September 1, the NY Campaign Finance Board sent out a tweet documenting that “Jobs for New York, Inc.”, spent $144,957 since August 5 on independent expenditures (mailers, phone call banking, etc.) for Andrew Cohen. This is a lot of money to spend in such a short amount of time on a local, city council race. Once again, it is not evident what the “Jobs for NY, Inc.” angle is in throwing money towards Cohen’s campaign. Cohen, according to his platforms on his campaign’s website, supports living wage and paid sick leave legislation. Additionally, Cliff Stanton who is Cohen’s opponent and a subject of a very negative “Jobs for NY, Inc.” mailer that connects a Stanton campaign donor to Score’s strip club shares many of the same platforms; both candidates vying for The City Council support legislation for paid sick leave and a living wage. As our district has recently rezoned Webster Avenue, continued to fight against the Mueller Armory being turned into a homeless shelter, and hotly debated the Hebrew Home being expanded against community zoning regulations, it is not clear what the REBNY gains from their $144,957.
Additionally, now that “Jobs for NY, Inc.” has jumped into local council races in The City, it has rightfully earned some opposition. Brad Lander, who is a council member whose district includes Park Slope, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens, wants to close a loophole in The City’s campaign laws so that PACs will not be able to “buy democracy” by funneling tons of cash into certain campaigns. According to DNAinfo.com, “under current state law, individuals can give up to $150,000 annually to registered political committees. While corporations are restricted to a fraction of that, certain companies — limited liability corporations or LLCs — are able to give as much as individuals.” Lander’s legislation would close this loophole and require PACs or Independent Expenditures to list their top donors and include language in their advertisements clearly identifying who sponsored the ad. Of course, this legislation, if passed, would not affect next week’s upcoming election. But, we do have to ask ourselves if our votes, our future land use preferences, and real estate development needs are worth selling? Finally, what does REBNY really gain by having a northwest Bronx City Council candidate’s campaign $144,957 richer than without their “Jobs for NY, Inc.” cash?