-By Arthur Schwartz
Dark Money Wins Our Congressional Primary
(So Does Its Beneficiary Dan Goldman)
Westview readers know that in July and August I wrote positively about a Congressional Candidate named Mondaire Jones, and then, after Dan Goldman, the Levi-Strauss businessman turned politician got 26% of the vote in a 5-way race, I called on my neighbors to unite around the second place finisher, Yuh-Line Niou, who I thought was going to run against Goldman on November 3 on the Working Families Party line. But at the deadline, Yuh-Line declined to run, having been emotionally exhausted, not just by campaigning, but by the relentless character attacks blasted through mailings from a Political Action Committee (PAC) which called itself the New York Progressive PAC. In the end, the PAC won the election, not Dan Goldman. The NY Progressive PAC mailings not only cost Yuh-Line the 1500 votes she lost to Goldman by, they also scared a 35-year-old rising star out of electoral politics, at least for now.
I didn’t oppose Goldman because he will be the wealthiest member of Congress. I disagreed with him on key issues, like universal government-run health insurance, which I see as the way to address our status in the world as one of the unhealthiest nations (more COVID deaths per capita, high maternal and fetal mortality, highest cost per person of medical care in the world, etc.) He opposes plans to expand the Supreme Court, to move towards the elimination of all fossil fuel use, and, clearly, to bar big money expenditures in elections (and I am not just speaking of the 4-5 million of his own money he spent to get elected.
But for now, I am more upset about how quiet Mr. Goldman and his “progressive” supporters like the Village Independent Democrats and Brad Hoylman, have been about what happened with the expenditures of the NY Progressive PAC (just like they said nothing when several real estate PACS sent out mail supporting Eric Bottcher and attacking Chris Marte (now the City Council Member in District 1) in last year’s City Council election.
Days before the Aug. 23 primaries, NY Progressive Action PAC launched an aggressive effort to stop the leading Yuh-Line Niou, who was tied with Goldman in most polls, from winning the crowded race for the open seat in District 10 that includes the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope, Borough Park and Sunset Park and a stretch of Lower Manhattan. New York Progressive PAC, spent $225,000 in direct mailers and digital ads targeting Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who was backed by the Working Families Party .
Jeff Leb, the Super PAC’s treasurer, said it was formed “to educate voters on Niou’s hypocritical positions” and to call into question her progressive credentials. One of the mailers highlighted Niou’s participation in a lawsuit to save a community garden in Soho, which, if successful will stop a building project for low-income seniors. Her position was the same as Community Board 2, as well as Assembly Member Glick, and Council member Marte. The mailing characterized her as opposed to affordable housing and an enemy of seniors. In another mailing, she was labeled an anti-Semite because she supports efforts to stop Israel from the mistreatment of its Palestinean population. The mailer cried out: “Attention voters: Yuh-Line Niou supports antisemites and opposes Israel,..she is too extreme for our community.”
“This congressional seat is among the most closely watched open seat in America,” Leb said. “It’s critical that we hold candidates accountable for their actions. You can’t say one thing and do something else. Too much is at stake for our democracy.” But Leb isn’t some broker for honesty. He runs a well-paid consulting firm, Capitol Consulting, which specializes in spending money, particularly from super-Orthodox groups, through difficult-to-trace, cutely named PACS, to influence elections at the last minute, often too late for the attacked candidate to respond to. Leb has multiple names for his Super PACs.
In June, five progressive Assembly candidates filed a joint complaint with the State Board of Elections claiming a pair of political action committees headed by Mr. Leb, tied to real estate interests, had skirted election rules after sending attack mailers two weeks before the June Assembly primary.
The candidates filed the complaint against the two super PACs — Voters of New York Inc., and Common Sense New Yorkers, Inc. —claiming no daily or weekly disclosure requirements were filed by the groups 30 days or less before an election, as mandated by state law. Both PACs’ disclosures, which date back to April and whose contributions total more than $1 million, were posted shortly after the complaint was made. One of the Super PAC — Common Sense New Yorkers, a public safety-focused political action committee launched in 2020 — spent over $1.2 million in an aggressive campaign against the left-leaning challengers in Democratic primaries for State Assembly. The group is backed by prominent real estate moguls, including Gary Barnett, Larry Silverstein, Will Zeckendorf, Albert Laboz, and Thomas Tuft.
Super PACs are not new. But the entry of Super PACs into Democratic races, in New York and elsewhere is a growing problem. It is a way for multi-millionaires who want to push the Democratic Party to the right, in districts where Republicans are largely irrelevant (like in our Congressional District), is a challenge to democracy. These folks come in late, distort candidates’ records, and way outspend what most candidates can raise. There are others besides the two PACS I have discussed. One is called the New York Solidarity Network (chaired by West Village resident Gary Ginsberg, and which has hired our former City Council Member Corey Johnson as a consultant) and another is the United Democracy Project, a Republican-funded PAC which intervened in six major Democratic Congressional primaries this year. PACs are not about democracy; they are about wealthy people shaping public opinion in a way that folks who donate $25 can’t do. In the 10th Congressional District, these folks combined their money, with $4-5 million from candidate Goldman, and hijacked our local election.
That pisses me off. I am waiting for someone else to join me. I am holding my breath waiting for the Village Independent Democrats and Brad Hoylman to call on candidates to reject Super PAC support. I may asphyxiate.
* Arthur Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and the Political Director of the NY Progressive Action Network.