running bill

Hotel Owners Seeking City Hall Help Threw a $90K de Blasio Fundraiser

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference in Trump Tower, May 13, 2019.
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference in Trump Tower, May 13, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mayor Bill de Blasio netted $90,000 from a fundraiser thrown by the owners of the Chelsea Hotel days after they sought his administration’s help on their plan to renovate the building, THE CITY has learned.

Hotel owners Ira Drukier and Richard Born collected contributions to de Blasio’s federal political action committee Fairness PAC, generated by the March 4 event that Born paid for, records show.

All told, they bundled 18 checks of $5,000 each from an array of wealthy donors — including one of their partners in the Chelsea, Sean MacPherson, as well as power couple Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg. Also stepping up with contributions were developers Aby Rosen and Michael Fuchs, who recently bought the Chrysler Building, records show.

De Blasio’s presidential campaign refused to say whether he’d personally asked the hotel owners to raise money for him — and wouldn’t even say whether he attended the event.

The mayor’s donations from the affluent come in sharp contrast to his campaign rhetoric — including the catchphrase he debuted at last week’s Democratic presidential primary debate: “It’s time to tax the hell out of the super-rich.”

‘Not Worried About Donors’

In a social media video last week for his presidential campaign, de Blasio declared, “We’re not worried about donors.” He didn’t note that since he became mayor in 2013, he’s collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy donors who were at the time actively seeking help from his administration on various projects.

While the mayor’s PACs are supposed to help Democrats in New York and across the country, THE CITY found that some funds were used in the run-up to his May 16 announcement that he’s running for president.

As THE CITY reported last week, Drukier and Born began raising money for de Blasio last August shortly after rent-stabilized tenants at the Chelsea Hotel began filing complaints with the city about construction at the 19th-century landmark.

Since last year, Drukier and Born have helped raised a total of $132,400 for de Blasio’s federal PAC and his presidential campaign, state and federal records show.

Chelsea Hotel owner Ira Drukier and his wife Gale.
Chelsea Hotel owner Ira Drukier and his wife Gale. Photo: John Abbott/Weill Cornell Medical College

According to a Fairness PAC disclosure filed Wednesday, Born paid for the March 4 fundraiser as an “in-kind” contribution, which he listed as costing $1,265.

Because Born already had donated the maximum legally allowed amount to the PAC, $5,000, the PAC later reimbursed him for the cost of the event, campaign spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie told THE CITY.

The de Blasio campaign said an unnamed “vendor” provided an invoice they used in the reimbursement. Federal campaign finance laws require campaigns to keep such documentation on hand for three years, but the campaign refused to provide a copy of the invoice to THE CITY.

The heavy hitters who wrote checks that day — including Drukier, Born, MacPherson, Diller, Von Furstenberg, Rosen and Fuchs — did not respond to requests for comment.

De Blasio had issues with accounting for party expenses in the past.

A 2013 mayoral campaign donor, Harendra Singh, admitted in court that he threw fundraisers at his Queens restaurant but didn’t submit a bill. A year later when the Campaign Finance Board auditors showed up, Singh said in court that he ordered his staff to concoct backdated invoices to send to de Blasio’s campaign.

Tenants Fighting Hoteliers

The March 4 fundraiser took place about 10 weeks before de Blasio declared his presidential run. The event also came 17 days after Born and Drukier filed an application for a so-called Certification of No Harassment with de Blasio’s housing agency, the Department of Housing Preservation & Development.

The document, if it’s approved, would certify that the owners are not trying to illegally force out the hotel’s tenants — and would allow the owners to continue transforming the famously grungy Chelsea into a luxury hotel.

Rent-stabilized tenants there have blocked construction via a lawsuit charging that ongoing renovations are illegal because the owners lack a no-harassment certificate.

The Chelsea Hotel was undergoing renovations, July 30, 2019.
The Chelsea Hotel was undergoing renovations, July 30, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The donations raised by the Chelsea Hotel owners continue the trend of de Blasio receiving checks from individuals seeking favors from City Hall, dating to his now-defunct Campaign for One New York nonprofit.

With Fairness PAC, THE CITY found a half-dozen donors pressing de Blasio’s City Hall for everything from zoning changes to development approvals. Partners in the law firm of Abrams Fensterman, for example, wrote $15,000 in checks to Fairness PAC while hiring lobbyists to press top de Blasio members for favorable zoning changes, records show.

Last fall, de Blasio was privately cited by the city Department of Investigation for violating city ethics rules for improperly soliciting donations for his now-defunct non-profit, the Campaign for One New York, from individuals actively doing business with the city.

The mayor has declined to comment on the DOI report, which was revealed in response to a Freedom of Information request by THE CITY. He insists his fundraising presents no conflicts of interest because he says he takes no money from anyone listed on a city database of entities doing business with the city.

But that database, listing only execs at firms involved in city contracts and certain other transactions, is far from complete. The Chelsea Hotel owners, for example, aren’t on it, even as their request for a certification of no-harassment is pending. Neither is the law firm of Abrams Fensterman.

Sign up for “THE CITY Scoop,” our daily newsletter where we send you stories like this first thing in the morning.

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.