Big N.Y. donor shifts support
Posted November 2, 2018 7:57 a.m. EDT
ALBANY, N.Y. _ A longtime chief campaign supporter of New York's state Senate Republicans, the controversial real estate giant Glenwood Management, is cozying up to a historically less receptive group of lawmakers: state Senate Democrats.
The Long Island-based company _ which played a central role in the corruption trials of former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos - has given about $188,000 in New York elections this year through an array of limited liability companies, according to a Times Union review of campaign records.
More than half _ $100,000 _ has still gone to Jobs for New York, an independent expenditure committee run by the powerful Real Estate Board of New York, an industry trade group. Jobs for New York has been spending so far this year to again help the industry's longtime Senate Republicans' allies _ though far less than in past years.
Much of the rest of Glenwood's largesse this year, however, has gone to individual members of the Senate Democratic conference: $5,000 each to Democratic Senate candidates Aaron Gladd and Assemblyman James Skoufis, who are in contested Senate races against Republicans; $5,000 each to Democratic state Sens. David Carlucci and Brian Benjamin; and $7,500 to Democratic state Sen. Tim Kennedy.
Meanwhile, none of the spate of limited liability companies registered to Glenwood's address in New Hyde Park, Long Island, have given to individual Senate Republican candidates this year.
A Glenwood LLC also gave $10,000 in mid-October to the Senate Democrats' campaign arm _ which brought protest from a leading housing advocate informed of the donation by the Times Union.
"I don't think they should have taken it," said Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC, which supports Democratic control of the state Senate. "Anyone who considers themselves a champion of tenants and affordable housing should not be taking money from Glenwood."
A Senate Democratic spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.
Records show, meanwhile, that Glenwood has given nothing directly so far this year to the Senate Republicans' campaign arm.
A Senate Republican spokesman also declined to comment.
The giving by Glenwood _ the empire of high-end residential real estate in Manhattan _ appears to be an attempt by the company to curry new allies, with Democrats confident they will retake the Senate majority in next week's election.
Next year, the Legislature will have to renew New York City's rent-stabilization laws, which greatly impact the bottom lines of Glenwood and other residential real estate developers. Senate Democrats promise to be more friendly to city tenants than Senate Republicans, who mostly represent districts outside New York City.
Senate Democrats have also pledged to close the "LLC loophole," the 1996 Board of Elections' decision that has long allowed Glenwood Management to be the state's biggest political donor _ including to Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Following the stain of a central role in the federal charges lodged against Skelos and Silver in 2015, Glenwood has substantially reduced its campaign giving _ ending its donations to Cuomo _ and has mostly stopped employing its stable of Capitol lobbyists.
When Democrats last held the Senate majority in 2009-2010, real estate interests retained influence among some members of the New York City-centered conference _ dashing the high hopes of tenant advocates, who sought to pass legislation that had been tangled up during decades of Republican rule.
On June 9, 2009 _ the day after the now-infamous state Senate coup _ the Senate Housing Committee had been scheduled to vote on a bill on the repeal of "vacancy decontrol." The longstanding major priority for tenant advocates would have curbed rent hikes on hundreds of thousands of city apartments. Instead, a day earlier, the chair of the housing committee, former Bronx state Sen. Pedro Espada, suddenly voted with another rogue Democrat, Hiram Monserrate, to put Republicans back in control of the Senate.
Real estate campaign donations to Senate Democrats, including Espada, were "very much a part of the coup," McKee said.
After a month's standoff, the Democrats were enticed to come back to the Democratic side, but the conference was badly damaged and has not controlled the chamber since 2010.
While real estate campaign donations could certainly affect Senate Democrats, McKee believes the situation will be somewhat different in 2019. That's because six of the eight members of the real estate friendly Independent Democratic Conference _ including its leader, Jeff Klein _ were defeated in primary elections this year, by opponents described as more tenant-friendly Democrats.
Under the so-called "LLC loophole" in state election law, Glenwood and other real estate interests can give virtually unlimited amounts to New York campaigns, using limited liability companies set up for each individual property they own.
Senate Democrats have pledged to close the LLC loophole _ which has disproportionately benefited Republicans _ but are continuing to take LLC donations under the current rules.
This year, Glenwood has also given $50,000 to REBNY's political action committee, which in turn has given $95,000 so far this year to the Senate Democrats and $135,000 to the Senate Republicans.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that REBNY's overall donations to Senate Democrats had increased dramatically this election cycle, while contributions to the Republicans had dropped somewhat _ although giving to the GOP was still greater overall.
In both the Silver and Skelos cases, the lawmakers were convicted of concocting schemes in which the developer would enrich them, or their families, in exchange for favorable treatment on one or several of the key issues Glenwood has had before the Legislature. The 2015 convictions of Silver and Skelos were later overturned, but both were convicted and sentenced to prison this year when they faced retrial.
Glenwood's senior vice president, Charles Dorego, testified in the Skelos case under a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors. The federal charges against Skelos said the former legislative leader _ "using explicit language" _ threatened to "punish" members of the real estate industry who he felt had not adequately supported him. According to the complaint, Skelos also directed Dorego to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations through limited liability companies.
In April 2017, Glenwood's 102-year-old owner, Leonard Litwin, long the state's biggest political donor, died.
A spokesman for Glenwood did not respond to a request for comment.