Cuomo’s Resignation Draws ‘Sigh of Relief’ From Many in Real Estate

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For many members of New York’s real estate community, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation brought relief.

The governor — known for his aggressive, hands-on governing style — announced on Tuesday he would resign in 14 days, just days after an investigation by the New York attorney general’s office found he sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo continued to deny the allegations, but announced he would step down anyway to let the state government focus on combating the pandemic, rather than conducting a lengthy impeachment process. He will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will remain as governor until Cuomo’s term ends on Jan. 1, 2023.

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The real estate community has long been cautious of criticizing the governor, even after he signed tenant-friendly rent reforms in 2019, and many have been unwilling to speak on the record with their criticisms. That’s changed now that Cuomo is officially leaving office.

“I think everybody’s breathing a sigh of relief today,” Jeff Gural, chairman of GFP Real Estate, told Commercial Observer. “I agree with the governor that the state couldn’t function with an impeachment trial and all this other stuff. He did the right thing.

“I’m also glad that he is essentially being forced to resign, because he was a bully and he ran the office like a criminal enterprise,” Gural added.

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) offered a more tempered reaction in a statement to CO.

“Governor Cuomo made the right decision and is doing what is best for the state and its residents,” said James Whelan, president of REBNY. “It is critical that we all stay focused on advancing New York’s economic recovery from the pandemic. We are committed to working with incoming Governor Kathy Hochul and all elected officials on efforts to ensure a strong and equitable recovery for all New Yorkers.”

The Durst Organization also believed Cuomo had made the right move for the state by resigning, agreeing with Whelan’s statement, but declining to provide its own. Other major developers and owners, including Rudin Management and Empire State Realty Trust, kept quiet, too, either declining or not returning requests for comment.

The real estate industry has long been a bastion of support for Cuomo, with the outgoing governor raking in cash from developers, including Durst, RXR Realty, Fisher Brothers, and more in the past. But, they were also wary of crossing the notoriously aggressive Cuomo.

However, that started to change slightly in recent months after the sexual harassment allegations and the Cuomo administration’s handling of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes came to light.

Cuomo only raised $2.3 million for his reelection campaign as of July, losing key donors like Gural and John Samuelsen, head of the Transport Workers Union. It was the second-smallest amount Cuomo’s ever secured in any similar period, and he was beaten by Republican rival U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, who pulled in more than $4 million, according to campaign finance disclosures and The Wall Street Journal.

Yet, unions and other real estate figures stayed with Cuomo until the bitter end, with many heaping praise on him earlier this month and only changing their tune after Attorney General Letitia James’ report came out.

Gural thinks Cuomo’s departure would be good for the real estate community in New York, adding that Hochul will offer a much friendlier ear to listen to their concerns. He went as far as to say that Hochul should run for a full term in the 2022 election. 

“I think [Cuomo’s resignation] will give us the ability to go up there to Albany and make our arguments, and try to convince the governor that what we’re proposing is correct, without having to worry about retaliation, and without having to worry about a governor who was only concerned with his image,” Gural said.

Gural also did not expect Cuomo to run again, saying he believed the governor’s political career was over.

“It’s really a tragedy because he accomplished a lot and was very talented, but, for whatever reason, he thought that the way to govern was purely through fear,” Gural said. 

Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), which represents the city’s landlords of rent-regulated apartments, focused on the governorship of Cuomo’s replacement, Hochul, who will become the first female governor of New York, in a statement to CO.

“New York has much work to do on its road to recovery,” Martin said. “Kathy Hochul will be a strong, competent governor, and we need her leadership now more than ever.”

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, who was one of the few union leaders not to outright disavow Cuomo when the attorney general’s report was released, was also optimistic about working with Hochul in the future.

“As we recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo’s decision to resign is the right choice, and is in the best interest, of our state and its people,” said LaBarbera. “Hochul has been a longtime ally of organized labor, and recognizes and respects the dignity of working people. We wish her the best as she prepares to assume the governorship of New York state, and look forward to working closely with Ms. Hochul and her team as we continue to build toward New York’s future.”

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.