New York City voters face a tough choice on October 1st, 2013, when they will cast their vote in the Democratic run off for Public Advocate. The candidates, Letitia “Tish” James and Daniel Squadron, have been campaigning, debating and fighting for votes these past few weeks in a hotly contested race that has them agreeing on some issues, while fighting over the few key differences.
Letitia James, a councilwoman from Brooklyn, is very well known to local activists from her years of community organizing, and has drawn wide support from groups like 32B-J/199-SEIU and New York Communities for Change. In an email to supporters, Theresa R. Revesz, Chair of Citizen Action in New York City, wrote that “over the last decade-plus, there has not been a single more active, reliable and hardworking advocate for progressive values in New York City than Tish.”
From the fight to keep city hospitals open to the fight against Atlantic Yards/Barclay’s Center, what James doesn’t have in Daniel Squadron’s campaign budget (Squadron raised about $1.7 million, James raised about $800k) she may be able to overcome thanks to the concerted efforts of her allies in the activist grassroots.
It’s perhaps this grassroots appeal that has been the strength of James’ career. As explained at In These Times, “in 2003,.. she ran on the Working Families Party ticket and became the first third-party candidate to win a city council seat since the 1970s—with 77 percent of the vote.”
Daniel Squadron was elected to office as a State Senator in 2008, and he has his own progressive chops: for example, helping to create the “benefit corporation” designation, which allows for companies that allow to pursue social good instead of profit. Squadron also helped end the policy of charging homeless families for emergency shelter.
NYC and the Real Estate Oligarchy
But Squadron came into office with the promise of fighting off developers who wanted to place luxury housing in the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Once elected, Squadron ended up cutting a deal with Bloomberg, and housing (exclusively high-priced, luxury housing) has since been approved. While Squadron is acknowledged by insiders for reducing the total amount of luxury housing to be built in the park, the incident serves as a hint at what makes him so suspect to the New York activist set.
According to the Atlantic Yards Report (a highly respected local blog on the Atlantic Yards/Barclay’s Center development), real estate giant “Forest City would like Dan Squadron, not Tish James, to become Public Advocate.” As expressed at DailyKos, in a post entitled “What’s Wrong With Daniel Squadron, Anyway?,”
“Mr. Squadron has close and long-standing ties with the true rulers of New York City, its real-estate developers… While he loudly proclaims that he accepts no corporate PAC money, he has no problem accepting donations in the maximum allowable amount from private individuals with significant ties to the real estate industry, such as the following people connected to Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner, the developer of the widely-opposed Atlantic Yards project:
Ellen Ratner (sister of Bruce) and her spouse Cholene Espinoza (resident of Cleveland, OH), $4950 each
Forest City Ratner VP Mary Anne Gilmartin, $200”
While Squadron has made consistent noise about Letitia James' status as a landlord herself (she owns a rowhouse, part of which she rents out), it's Squadron's own connections to the real estate industry that have left some in the progressive quarters of the Democratic Party less than enthusiastic about his possible stint as New York City’s Public Advocate.
Besides the connections listed in the Daily Kos piece above (where, in total, over $40,000 dollars worth of connections are laid out between Squadron and NYC’s biggest real estate players), according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board website, in 2012-2013, Squadron received $4.950 from George Klein, CEO of the Park Tower Group, which is currently trying to push through the Greenpoint Landing project.
Finally, as the run-off has drawn nearer, numerous complaints have surfaced on twitter, FaceBook and blogs of Squadron (or his allies) using robo-calls and flyers to attack Letitia James (the dailykos post above has two pictures in their updates). Even with Squadron’s serious financial advantage (and the fact that James was nonetheless leading in early polling), the sheer nastiness of the recent negative campaigning has shocked some activists into wondering whether Squadron is just another power-broker in progressive clothing. The connections that have come to light between Squadron and multi-millionaire real estate developers, the dreaded economic plutocrats of the city, probably aren't helping his progressive image either. [Update: nasty robo-calls against James have been confirmed and according to Politicker, Daniel Squadron dodged questions about his connections to those robo-calls]
In a year when so-called "faux-gressives," like Christine Quinn, have drawn the ballot-box ire of the local Left's activist roots, the appearance of a high-priced effort to make this an ugly campaign, combined with the revelations of Squadron's connections to developers, has a serious likelihood of backfiring on Squadron (who has said he will run for State Senate re-election if he's unsuccessful in his bid for Public Advocate).
-- M Jalonschi