What's the rush, Brad? Lander's Damning Developer Donations

Sometimes, you just have to look at the numbers to understand Brad Lander.

Twenty-one maximum campaign donations from executives at the Related Companies. Six max donations from Two Trees Management (including family members). Five max donations from Silverstein properties (including family members). Two max donations from Abra Construction. Two from Forest City Ratner Companies. BerlinRosen. Capalino and Company.

These are just the most notable developer and lobbyist donations that our District 39 Councilmember Lander received during the 2017 donation cycle, according to an analysis done by the community group Voice of Gowanus based on data retrieved from the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

In total, over $130,000 of Councilmember Lander’s donations in the 2017 cycle came from real estate developers, real estate consultants, real estate lawyers, real estate agents, and architects. This number represents nearly one third of his total funding which came in at just over $400K.

Lander’s acceptance of bundled cash from developers, their family members and their consultants raises serious concerns about his motivations for advancing an immense rezone plan in his Gowanus district.

In particular, it casts a harsh light on his urgency to get this very costly rezone certified before his term is up, despite the deep cuts in NYC’s and NY State’s budgets and the fact that new developments built under his plan will contribute no property taxes for at least 25 years.

For his 2021 Comptroller campaign, Lander has sworn off donations from “corporate PACs or lobbyists, or from for-profit real estate developers or landlords” However, will Lander forget the folks who got him to this point? And while he’s recently refunded donations from a few real estate and developer companies who contributed to his 2021 campaign early on, would he be so successful at fundraising if it were not for these early investments in his campaign?

2017 Developer Donors

In 2017, the largest number of donations came from The Related Companies, the developer of Hudson Yards. Twenty-one executives at Related, including Vice Chairman Bruce Warwick, contributed a total $6,250. Since Related does work directly with the city, each executive donated the maximum amount allowable, $250 rather than the unaffiliated maximum of $2,750. These donations were bundled by Jay Kriegel, who has since deceased but was a Senior Advisor to Related and was instrumental in getting Hudson Yards completed. Kriegel was such a central figure in real estate development over the past several decades, he was awarded a posthumously honored with a public service award by Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) at it’s 124th annual gala. A recent analysis of Hudson Yards (“Hudson Yards: Another Crisis, Another Bill?”) highlighted the looming disaster the development presents to the city.

The second name that comes up most often is Two Trees Management, the developer that transformed DUMBO and built the controversial Domino Sugar project. Two Trees contributed a total of $7,750. Donors include founder David Walentas, CEO Jed Walentas (son of David), Director of Special Projects David Lombino, and project manager Bonnie Cambell. Each donated their maximum of $250. However, David’s wife and Jed’s mother, artist Jane Walentas, contributed a total of $3,000 ($250 in 2014 and $2,750 in 2016) while Jed’s wife, Kate Engelbrecht, contributed her maximum of $2,750. Two Trees owns the Lowe’s/Pathmark site along the Gowanus Canal - which has not yet been zoned for residential.

The third most common developer in Lander’s donor’s list is the Silverstein Properties which contributed a total of $5,500. Donors include Executive Vice President Roger Silverstein, founder Larry Silverstein’s son, President Tal Kerret, and Klara Silverstein, the elder Silverstein’s wife. John “Janno” Lieber, currently the Chief Development Officer of the MTA, contributed $250 while he was President of WTC Properties, a Silverstein company. Amy Glosser, Lieber’s wife, contributed a total of $2,000.

William Caleo, founder of The Brooklyn Company, is a developer specializing in boutique luxury condominiums and contributed $2,750. Caleo also hosted the Gowanus Conservancy Spring 2019 Gala along with Marcos Diaz Gonzalez, Senior Vice President of AECOM, one of the world’s largest infrastructure engineering firms with $18B in revenue. Mr. Diaz Gonzalez contributed $200 to the Landers campaign in 2017. As we have shown previously, the Conservancy has enjoyed privileged access to Gowanus rezoning decision making through its close relationship with Lander.

In addition to the listed above, major groups like Canal Development Partners, Excel Builders, Ascot Properties, Industry City, Ladder Capital Finance, The Mack Company, and Clipper Equity also contributed. The late John Zuccotti, founder of Brookfield Properties, contributed $1000. An executive from Federal Capital Partners, a developer based in Maryland, contributed $2,750.

The family members of two groups also contributed to Lander’s campaign, just as Two Trees and Silverstein had. Antonia Belt, the wife of DBI’s David Belt, and Ayala Barnett, wife of Extell’s John Barnett, both contributed the maximum of $2,750.

2017 Lobbyist Donations

Furthermore, Lander raised nearly $18,000 from public relations firms closely associated with developers interests. These groups often perform activities nearly indistinguishable from lobbying. In particular, he raised $8,650 from PR firms BerlinRosen (including from a managing director’s wife) and $2,700 from Capalina and Company.

BerlinRosen’s cofounder, Jonathan Rosen, has been referred to as “The Most Powerful Man in Politics – Outside City Hall” not just for his close associated with Mayor De Blasio but also for his close alliance with Two Trees Management.

Similarly, Capalino and Company has a reputation for being a bridge between its developer and politician clients. The firm most recently found itself the focus of Greenwich Village preservationists after Capalino and Company were retained by a real estate developer who sought to use the lobby firm’s connections with the De Blasio administration to accelerate a zoning change in the East Village.

The Raw Data

Take a look at the donations spreadsheet yourself. It’s hard to see how Brad Lander could forget his real estate developer pals as he continues to push for his sterile paradise of high rises of glass and steel in Gowanus, in a flood zone along a hurricane evacuation route, while sea levels rise.