Kathy Hochul Gets High Marks for Now From the Real Estate Industry

It’s only been four weeks, but New York's new governor is making smart moves to make constituents and power players happy — and with none of Andrew Cuomo’s baggage

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Ugh.”

So texted John Catsimatidis, owner of the Red Apple Group, along with a link to an article about New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signing a bill to extend the eviction moratorium.

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“I am concerned about the eviction moratorium,” the operator of the Gristedes and D’Agostino supermarket chains later said. “It abnormally affects the real estate industry.”

On Sept. 1, New York state legislators passed a new measure to extend the protections against evictions until next year. The move came a week after Hochul assumed the state’s top executive job, following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation amid sexual harassment allegations and a week after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s federal moratorium.

New York became the first state to take such a step to protect the hundreds of thousands of people that have fallen behind on their rent due to the pandemic.

While real estate attorney Loran Bommer, whose client base comprises real estate investors in Buffalo and the surrounding area, is not in favor of the eviction moratorium extension, he appreciates that Hochul included provisions that allow him to question tenants claiming COVID-19 hardship.

Still, Bommer said, “I think it got way out of hand. No one has talked about how to fix it.”

One problem is that delinquent renters haven’t been able to access the full $2.7 billion in federal aid provided to the state for rent relief, as its distribution has been beset by delays and technical glitches. (The Rent Stabilization Association, a landlords group, sued in federal court late last week to overturn the extension.)

“We’re not going to abandon our neighbors in need, especially since the state of New York failed in its responsibility to get the money that was allocated by Congress out to people in need earlier this summer,” Hochul said at the time of the moratorium extension, per Rochester daily newspaper Democrat and Chronicle.

At least one real estate pro seems hopeful that Hochul will succeed, even if she is partly motivated by next year’s election. (Hochul remains as governor until Cuomo’s term ends on Jan. 1, 2023.)

“She knows that she’s got to get that done,” Jeff Gural, chairman of property owner and manager GFP Real Estate, said of the $2.7 billion in relief.

The eviction moratorium extension is just one of many real estate-related decisions Hochul has and will face as the state’s 57th governor. And real estate executives with whom Commercial Observer spoke expressed confidence in Hochul, who came out of the gate running.

On Aug. 24, Hochul, 63, was sworn in as governor, becoming the first woman to hold the role in New York. Hailing from the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg, the moderate Democrat is married to William Hochul, a senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Delaware North, a Buffalo-based casino and hospitality company. He is a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York and federal prosecutor. The couple has two children.

The week after her inauguration, Hochul ordered a special session to get cracking on the recreational cannabis program, with a zinger aimed at Cuomo. She said she wanted “to jumpstart the long-overdue decisions pertaining to establishing cannabis in the state of New York.”

Real estate plays an important role in the cannabis industry in New York state, as companies seeking licenses require commercial real estate in order to obtain them.

While the state officially legalized cannabis this April, Gural said Cuomo was dragging his feet on appointing people to the new Cannabis Control Board, the entity responsible for awarding licenses to cannabis sellers.

“He was basically holding that over the legislature because he wanted the legislature to approve his appointees at the [Metropolitan Transportation Authority],” Gural said. “So, you had nothing happening on the marijuana front. Whereas Kathy came in and, within a week, basically picked out the people to run that.”

The swift Cannabis Control Board appointments were “a big win for her and for the industry,” said Gregory Tannor, a principal at Lee & Associates NYC, who has secured locations throughout the state for cultivation and retail dispensaries. “She did what she said she was going to do and did it quickly.”

On Labor Day, Hochul marched in the Buffalo Labor Day Parade — for the first time as governor — after signing four significant pieces of legislation. One makes construction contractors liable for wages owed to employees of their subcontractors. Another one requires the payment of a prevailing wage to building service employees at co-ops and condos that receive a special tax abatement called 467-a. A third bill establishes a demonstration program implementing speed violation monitoring systems in work zones. And the fourth piece of legislation extends shared work benefits.

Those bills were very important to labor leaders.

“That demonstrates right out of the box her commitment to the working people and certainly the role that organized labor plays — protecting not only our members, but all workers in the state and the city,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

He said he’s optimistic about the work Hochul will do when it comes to economic development and construction projects. And LaBarbera is not the only executive feeling confident.

“We worked with her for a very long time,” said Paul Brown, president of the Buffalo & Niagara County Building Construction and Trades Council. “She’s great. She’s very strong with labor.”

As Erie County clerk from 2007 to 2011, Hochul ensured building trades representatives “were always at the table,” Brown said.

Specifically, Brown recalls when some Department of Motor Vehicles buildings needed to be upgraded, Hochul “made sure they were done under a labor agreement.”

Freshman Assemblymember Jonathan D. Rivera, whose district includes Hochul’s Hamburg, has known the governor since she was clerk. Rivera’s experience with Hochul is that she’s “very approachable, very accessible, humble, a person who’s a constant student of government, someone who’s eager to find solutions to things. She’s driven in the best sense of the word.”

In contrast, Rivera found her predecessor to be “fairly arrogant.”

Rivera cited as an example the fact that within the six months his tenure overlapped with Cuomo’s, he met the governor one time. Within the one month since Hochul has assumed the post, he has interacted with her twice.

Hochul is not a political novice, having served as lieutenant governor from 2015 to 2021 under Cuomo and as a U.S. representative from New York’s 26th congressional district from 2011 to 2013, after a long run in local leadership positions upstate.

Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, said that Hochul “gets” economic development and job growth. Though he has known her since his time as president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce between 2012 and 2016, the pair worked more closely together when Hochul was the chair of New York’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative (REDC) and Scissura was on the New York City Regional Economic Development Council, one of the 10 regional councils comprising REDC that helped to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth.

“When we talked about projects, her major priority was job growth,” Scissura said.

In addition to a focus on jobs, Hochul is supportive of minority and women entrepreneurs and equity and inclusion initiatives.

In 2019, as lieutenant governor, Hochul toured minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) statewide in celebration of Women’s History Month. Hochul said in a press release at the time: “New York remains committed to leveling the playing field and giving women and minority-owned businesses increased access to state contracts and funding.” Hochul didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

“So, as we talk about the next phase of these projects, she’ll make sure women and minorities have a seat at the table,” Scissura said. By “these” projects, he was referring to the second phase of the Second Avenue subway, the rebuilding of Penn Station and the area around it, and the upgradings of John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport.

Before Cuomo’s dramatic fall from grace, he had his proponents — and those that acted like they were fans for fear of retribution.

Setting aside the investigation by the New York attorney general’s office that found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, developer Francis Greenburger, chairman and CEO of Time Equities, gives Cuomo high marks for his tenure.

As a weekly rider on Amtrak, Greenburger is happy about the new Moynihan Train Hall, the home of Amtrak in New York City. As a property owner in Brooklyn, Greenburger is pleased that the governor prevented the MTA from shutting down the L train while the agency repaired damage from Superstorm Sandy. Other tasks Cuomo handled well, per Greenburger, include the ongoing transformations of LaGuardia Airport and JFK Airport, the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge with the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, as well as his often on-time state budgets.

“Obviously, he was a very demanding guy, which worked for us and the state in many areas,” Greenburger said. “He wasn’t afraid to take people on, like the MTA. But it’s a very particular style.”

Greenburger was critical of the rent-regulation rules that Cuomo championed. Greenburger is not alone on the landlord side in that position on the series of tenant-friendly rent reforms that the then-governor signed into law in June 2019.

While Greenburger supported Cuomo, he had also backed Hochul since meeting her through a friend a number of years ago.

“She’s a smart lady,” Greenburger said. “I’ve read that she can be quite tough, too, which she’s going to need to be. There’s no reason to think she won’t step up and do it very well.”

While Cuomo’s ties to the real estate industry ran deep, with supporters including legacy real estate firms The Durst Organization and Fisher Brothers, executives at those companies have also contributed to Hochul’s campaign bids.

That includes Douglas Durst, chairman of The Durst Organization. While Durst was unavailable for an interview, Jordan Barowitz, vice president of public affairs for Durst, emailed: “He has met the new governor a number of times and is impressed with her first few weeks in office. He looks forward to partnering with her administration on helping the city and state recover from the pandemic.”

Winston Fisher, a partner at Fisher Brothers, shelled out money for Hochul. Fisher and Hochul worked together when Hochul chaired REDC and Fisher served as co-chair of the New York City Regional Economic Development Council.

“I am confident that Gov. Hochul has the experience and bold ideas to navigate the serious threats facing New York as we pursue a robust and equitable recovery from the pandemic,” Fisher said in a statement provided to CO. “I believe she will continue to fight for policies that are essential to the state’s economic success, like public safety, infrastructure and workforce development.”

Hochul seems to be making the rounds as she ingratiates herself with industry players.

Gural, who has backed Hochul, saw the new governor a couple of weeks ago at a small meet-and-greet fundraising event in Saratoga, N.Y. “I just told her I thought this was a terrific opportunity for her, because she was a breath of fresh air and that everybody that dealt with the governor was afraid of him,” Gural said, referencing Cuomo.

Gural was vocal in his opposition to Hochul’s predecessor long before the string of sexual harassment allegations surfaced. Gural described Cuomo as a “bully” helming a “toxic” environment. He further said that Cuomo was not transparent or accessible, and hopes that Hochul will be.

On Aug. 21, Hochul was the guest speaker at an 80-person breakfast that Red Apple Group’s Catsimatidis hosted with Father Alex Karloutsos, the assistant to Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios of America, at Capri Southampton in Long Island.

Catsimatidis, who ran for the GOP nomination for mayor of New York in 2013 and whose daughter is chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party, was impressed with what he heard Hochul say at the event.

“We hope she’s a common-sense Democrat who will do the right thing for all people,” Catsimatidis said. “We are praying that she will take a middle-of-the-road position and be a governor for all people.”

For those from the Buffalo area, the emergence of one of their own as the head of the state’s government is unique, despite the fact that it’s not the first time it has happened. Grover Cleveland, who served as New York’s governor from 1883 to 1885 on his way to the White House, came from Buffalo.

“Buffalo, despite being the second-biggest city in the state, is so much smaller compared to New York City,” Assemblymember Rivera said. “To have a governor from here is just like a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”