In a vote-first ranked choice, an outside spending group promotes two rival candidates for city council – ordering voters to choose Eric Dinowitz first and Daniel Padernacht second in a special election for an open seat in the Bronx.
NYC Voters, a Super PAC funded by developer William L. Zeckendorf and others in the real estate industry, revealed on Tuesday that he mailed and purchased a newspaper ad containing the names and faces of the two candidates.
The promotions include an image of the ranked ballot along with instructions on how to select the two candidates in order.
The group paid a total of $21,668.50 on the double-header promotions, which, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, are not subject to the strict fundraising and campaign spending limits of the city.
In his accounting to the city’s Campaign Finance Council, NYC voters attributed $6,428 of those expenses to Padernacht and the rest to Dinowitz.
THE CITY reported earlier this week that NYC voters spent $34,000 on shippers supporting Dinowitz alone – and the world’s richest woman, Walmart heiress Alice Walton, is contributing the money to influence the special electoral contest in a neighboring district.
Documents filed by the City Campaign Finance Board show multiple contributions to NYC voters totaling $185,000 from real estate companies — including $100,000 from WLZ Properties, Inc. of Zeckendorf.
Early in-person voting is underway and ends Sunday for the March 23 special election in the 11th District, a North Bronx strip that includes Bedford Park, Kingsbridge, Wakefield, Woodlawn and Riverdale. The seat was vacated when former council member Andrew Cohen was elected to serve as a Bronx Supreme Court justice last year.
Dinowitz is a local Democratic Party district leader and son of longtime Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. Padernacht is a real estate transaction lawyer, according to his law firm’s website.
Dinowitz said in a statement to THE CITY that he was not aligned with real estate interests and did not support Padernacht.
“The real estate interests behind this shipper obviously don’t know me very well. I support labor, not real estate, and I have not endorsed a No. 2 in the race,” Dinowitz wrote. “I don’t want or need support from anyone who doesn’t share my values — and that means anyone in real estate. I am a proud Labor candidate and a neighborhood candidate.
NYC voter shippers passionately defend the pair.
“Make sure you vote Eric Dinowitz for city council: the leadership and experience we need on city council,” reads the letter, which was registered with the BFC on March 16. “If you don’t vote, the community loses!” ”
The last page features an inset photo of Dan Padernacht as “2nd choice” and a mock-up of the preferential ballot, on which the names of the other four candidates besides Dinowitz and Padernacht are blurred.
The Padernacht campaign did not respond to THE CITY’s request for comment.
The Independent Spending Group is also bolstering John Sanchez for the seat vacated by Rep. Ritchie Torres after he was elected to Congress last year. District 15 includes the central neighborhoods of the Bronx, East Tremont, Fordham, Belmont, Allerton, and West Farms.
Walton’s heavily funded group, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, bombarded central Bronx voters with more than $90,000 in direct mail, internet ads and live phone calls boosting Sanchez starting Thursday, according to campaign finance records.
News of big spending by wealthy foreigners in predominantly working-class and middle-class neighborhoods has drawn anger from candidates in both races.
Two candidates, Mino Lora in the 11th arrondissement and Elisa Crespo in the 15th, plan to hold a joint virtual event on Friday morning alongside tenant advocates “to protest against the attempt by wealthy real estate interests to elect candidates” in the ‘borough.
“The money speaks for itself. If you go back and follow the money in rezoning, development, land use, that’s what they’re interested in, as businesses and as consultants,” said Lora, a former nonprofit leader.
“And that we know – because we’ve seen this impact at the state level – is against tenant rights, is against expanding rent stabilization, against expanding tenant stability, and that’s the majority of our residents,” Lora added.
The influence of outside money is growing
Political watchers said voters should expect to see more independent spending on behalf of candidates, just like in 2013, the last time a city council majority was eligible for re-election.
That year, a political action committee called Jobs for New York, created by the Real Estate Board of New York, spent $4.9 million to support City Council candidates in their primaries.
Of the 47 candidates he backed — with his spending in some races exceeding $250,000 — 20 ended up winning Council seats.
“It happened, but I have a feeling this time it will be a lot more,” said Eli Valentin, a political analyst and lecturer at Union Theological Seminary.
With six candidates vying in the 11th District race, it’s possible that ranked-choice voting plays a role in deciding the seat.
Under New York City’s new voting system, voters’ second or lower choices could impact the race if no candidate meets the 50% threshold. If so, the candidate with the fewest votes for the first bracket is removed from the race.
Then, the vote from each ballot is automatically reallocated to other candidates in order of preference until two candidates remain.
Valentin said New York voters are likely making a calculated decision about who their backers might work well with on city council, while trying to exclude the most progressive candidates with anti-development stances.
“They’re probably looking for candidates who are willing to hire people who represent their interests and — in Dinowitz’s case, given that his father is a long-time elected and higher up in the Bronx Democratic machine — they can see a person who is more willing to sit at the table with them,” Valentin said. “As opposed to Mino Lora, who is endorsed by the most progressive people.”
He added, “I don’t think they see an opportunity to engage in conversations with someone like that.”
Gary Axelbank, who hosts BronxTalk and The Bronx Buzz on local cable TV station BronxNet, said outside spenders are likely investing in candidates they view as frontrunners — and looking to cash in on potential real estate returns Bronx pre-pandemic. boom.
“They’re hedging their bets on who they see as favorites and who they want to curry favor with – and the reason they want to curry favor is because they see the Bronx as fertile ground for the development,” he said. “It will be up to the candidates to hold the line on gentrification or other non-community projects.”