Tenant Rights Group Slams REBNY on Independent Expenditures

Tenant rights group Tenants PAC is lashing out at the Real Estate Board of New York for its role in supporting favored political candidates through the independent expenditures of political action committee Jobs for New York.

City Hall (Credit: Human Impacts Institute)

City Hall (Credit: Human Impacts Institute)

The group has pledged not to endorse any candidates benefiting from the expenditures – unless the candidates agree to publicly denounce and reject them.

“This is a front for the Real Estate Board of New York – reprehensible people who would eliminate tenant rights,” Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, told The Commercial Observer. “These are people who think they own the city. And in a sense they do because they can usually get their way.”

Tenants PAC issued questionnaires to mayoral, city council, public advocate and borough president candidates, insisting they denounce the Jobs of New York expenditures, which will reportedly put forward $10 million for its independent endorsements.

Those who refused – even those with strong tenant rights backgrounds, like Council Member Margaret Chin and Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson – will not get a Tenant PAC endorsement. Laurie Cumbo, running for the 35th City District, did denounce the expenditures.

“I have officially and respectfully asked JOBS NY to immediately discontinue spending any independent funds in support of my campaign,” Ms. Cumbo wrote, in a statement that appears on her website.

But that may have come too late. Mr. McKee said Jobs for New York had already sent several mailers on behalf of Ms. Cumbo and Paul Vallone, adding that “four very glossy, slick mailings” were sent in one week on behalf of Ms. Chin.

“The City Council has very little power over anything besides development,” Mr. McKee said, noting that state law “ties the Council’s hands” on many tenants issues, like rent regulation. But, he added, the Council has “enormous power” on development issues.

“They want a quiet City Council that, no matter what the development is, no matter what the project is, whether it’s appropriate or not, will approve it – and that’s REBNY’s interest,” he said.

Jobs for New York is supported by REBNY and a group of private-sector unions, including the Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York, the New York City District Council of Carpenters and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500.

Tenants PAC has endorsed Bill de Blasio for mayor, Letitia James for public advocate, Gale Brewer for Manhattan borough president, among others, who Mr. McKee said have agreed to comply with the denunciation request. Rosie Mendez, Brad Lander and Vincent Gentile are among its city council endorsements.

Jobs for New York is backing Council Member Inez Dickens of Manhattan, Andrew Cohen of the Bronx, Assemblyman Rafael Espinal of Brooklyn, district leader Costa Constantinides of Queens; and Steven Matteo.

REBNY referred The Commercial Observer to a spokesperson for Jobs of New York, who declined to comment on Tenant PAC but defended his group’s transparency and compliance with state laws.

“It’s totally legal,” Mr. McKee said, citing the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which said the First Amendment allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they please to support or oppose political candidates.

“It doesn’t mean it’s healthy.”

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