Critics Question REBNY Over Cuomo Disclosures
Tobias Salinger July 31, 2014, 9:15 a.m.
A week after a three-month investigation by the New York Times substantiated earlier reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s staff shielded the Real Estate Board of New York from scrutiny before disbanding the so-called “Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption,” good government advocates called for the public release of all documents related to the defunct commission and raised questions about REBNY’s political sway.
REBNY President Steven Spinola hasn’t sat for an interview since news leaked on June 17 that he would step down by the end of next year, and the saga of the commission’s stilted examination of the 421-a tax abatements that Mr. Cuomo and state Lawmakers awarded to five developers last year has provoked queries about the nature of the prominent trade and advocacy group’s Albany activities.
“The real concern is to what extent, if any, does REBNY use its considerable financial resources and political clout to wield influence in the legislative process,” said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “On all this stuff, you never really know. There could be some innocent reason that ties all this together.”
Mr. Horner joined other advocates in asking for the release of all documents from the Moreland Commission, a trove which would include the documents that REBNY voluntarily supplied on the tax breaks after the Governor’s office reportedly quashed a subpoena investigators wanted to serve. The five developers who picked up the tax benefits under the legislation the governor signed in January of 2013 collectively gave over $440,000 to campaign accounts in 2012, with $150,000 going to the governor, according to a 2013 report by the nonprofit Metropolitan Council on Housing. With controversy swirling over the tax abatements, observers were watching closely to see how the commission handled the matter, said Jaron Benjamin, the group’s executive director.
“This is definitely something that we presented to the Moreland Commission–we expected them to use this report and go deeper,” he said. “If the governor shielded REBNY, that’s a scary thought for all tenants.”
REBNY officials declined to supply any of the documents it turned over to the Moreland Commission and Mr. Spinola, long known as one of the most forthcoming and compelling interviewees in the city, hasn’t made himself available to the media since news of his departure broke last month. Asked for comment, REBNY spokesman Jamie McShane sent a prepared statement.
“REBNY cooperated with the commission’s investigation at all times and responded to the commission’s requests for information, as the New York Times reported,” Mr. McShane said.
Though Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, is reportedly investigating the governor’s handling of the commission, a spokeswoman in his office said the U.S. Attorney’s office doesn’t confirm or deny any pending investigations.