money in politics

Queens District Attorney Hopeful Melinda Katz Rakes in Developer Dollars

Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is doubling down on developer dollars in the crowded race to become district attorney.

Katz’s donors include a who’s who of the city’s multi-billion dollar real estate industry, making up roughly 29% of all the money she received between mid-January and late May, the latest campaign finance filings with the state Board of Elections show.

She raised $560,000 during the four-month filing period — about $158,300 of which came from people, companies and organizations in the real estate industry, according to THE CITY’s analysis of campaign finance disclosure documents filed by the committee KATZ NYS.

Of the nearly $318,000 Katz raised from individuals, at least $126,000, or 40%, was contributed by developers and people in the real estate industry.

She’s bucking a growing trend of local politicians — among them Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams — who say they won’t accept developer dollars.

Katz’s platform includes a pledge to assign an investigator to every workplace accident that results in serious injury. She told THE CITY last month she would “absolutely” prosecute developers who are at fault in construction fatalities or injuries, and not just contractors implicated.

Grant Fox, a Katz campaign spokesperson, said: “Melinda is the only candidate in this race with a detailed plan to prosecute bad landlords and real estate developers who allow dangerous worksite conditions. Period.”

A Packed Field

With the June 25 Democratic primary looming, the borough president is the fundraising frontrunner in the seven-way race to replace the late Richard Brown.

Katz’s largest cumulative donation came from the family behind Two Trees Management, whose founder, David Walentas, and his wife each donated $6,250, in addition to the $6,250 donated by his son, Jed. That was followed by a $15,000 contribution by real estate developer Daniel Tishman of Tishman Realty & Construction.

Her campaign was also buoyed by donations from developers and construction companies that do business in the borough she’d have jurisdiction over if she becomes the next DA.

Katz received $12,500 from two people associated with Jackson Heights-based Nash Builders, which constructed an eight-story building in Elmhurst, and $11,250 from individuals tied to The Mattone Group, a College Point-based developer.

Two political committees tied to the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 property owners and agents, donated $10,000 to Katz. The political arm of the Real Estate Board of New York, an influential trade group, gave her $2,500.

Party Establishment Chips in

Katz also got a boost from former Rep. Joe Crowley, who stepped down as the head of the Queens Democratic Party in February after his stunning defeat by Ocasio-Cortez.

Joe For New York, the state campaign committee created by the former Queens political boss, donated a combined $3,050 to Katz’s campaign. Keith Wright, the head of the Manhattan Democratic political machine, gave $250.

In Brooklyn, Democratic district leader Steve Cohn — who’s known for his annual political cheesecake breakfast gatherings — donated $1,000 through his state campaign committee.

Crowley’s loss to an insurgent candidate with little money and name recognition in 2018 set off a chain reaction in Queens and elsewhere in the state and nation, emboldening grassroots candidates with little funding to take on the establishment.

Katz, who’s received the backing of the new Queens boss Rep. Gregory Meeks, counts  Tiffany Cabán among her rivals. The public defender’s insurgent campaign for district attorney recently notched the support of Ocasio-Cortez.

As THE CITY reported Tuesday, most of the contributions to Cabán’s grassroots campaign have come from contributors outside of the borough. And two campaign staffers made dozens of donations as small as $5.

Overall, Cabán raised $256,000 in the latest filings. Rounding out the fundraising field are former judge Gregory Lasak (nearly $445,000); former Civilian Complaint Review Board director Mina Malik ($397,000); City Councilmember Rory Lancman ($246,000); Jose Nieves ($70,000) and Betty Lugo ($57,000).

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