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AOC-Backed Council Candidates ‘Too Dangerous’ to Elect, Pro-Business Super PAC Declares

Queens City Council Candidate Jaslin Kaur Garners
Queens City Council Candidate Jaslin Kaur is among the contenders deemed “dangerous” by a pro-business PAC.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Seven progressive candidates are “too dangerous for the City Council,” according to a pro-business, real estate-backed super PAC that’s sounding the alarm over crime and pushes to cut the NYPD’s budget.

Common Sense NYC, an independent expenditure group, has spent more than $331,802 on digital ads and mailers to oppose the “dangerous” candidates and support 15 others.

All but one of the seven got the seal of approval from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC, though the nods came after Common Sense NYC’s ad buys.

The PAC, Common Sense NYC, Enc., led by billionaire developer Stephen Ross paid for attack ads on City Council candidates including Jaslin Kaur in Queens.
Common Sense NYC paid for attack ads and mailings targeting City Council candidates, including Jaslin Kaur of Queens.
New York City Campaign Finance Board

The group’s negative spots target Adolfo Abreu, who is running in The Bronx; Christopher Marte, who is seeking a Manhattan seat; Brooklyn hopefuls Alexa Aviles and Michael Hollingsworth; and Moumita Ahmed, Jaslin Kaur and John Choe, all running in Queens districts.

The ads emphasize “skyrocketing” crime — pointing to the 45% increase in murders between 2019 and 2020 — and highlight the amount of money candidates are proposing to cut from the NYPD’s budget.

“The people who were chosen to go negative on are all socialist-related,” said Jeffrey Leb, Common Sense NYC’s treasurer. “We feel that they did not have the best vision or outlook for the city.”

Real Estate, Real Support

Common Sense NYC has raised almost $2 million since December, according to city campaign finance records.

A cool $1 million of that came from Stephen Ross, the CEO of the real estate firm Related Companies, which developed Hudson Yards. He previously seeded a Super PAC focused on voter outreach.

Stephen M. Ross, then chairman and CEO of Related Companies, at a Hudson Yards presser 13 months before ground breaking.
Stephen Ross, of Related Companies, at a Hudson Yards-related news conference.
New York City Council/William Alatriste

Ronald Lauder — an Estée Lauder makeup company heir, billionaire investor and president of the World Jewish Congress — gave Common Sense $500,000.

In this election cycle, Common Sense NYC has so far backed more than a dozen candidates for the Council, painting them as solutions-oriented, qualified and business-friendly, ready to crack down on crime and clean up streets.

Those candidates include: David Carr of Staten Island; Julie Menin and Carmen De La Rosa of Manhattan; and Brooklyn’s Henry Butler, Ari Kagan, Nikki Lucas and Farah Louis.

There’s also a packed slate in Queens: Selvena Brooks-Powers, Robert Holden, Lynn Schulman, Adrienne Adams and Nantasha Williams. Bronx hopefuls Althea Stevens, Oswald Feliz and Kevin Riley also notched Common Sense NYC’s support.

The candidates, according to some of the ads, offer “real solutions for real problems.”

The supportive ad for Carr, a Republican, promises he will “stand up to the failed socialist agenda in City Hall.”

Slashing Socialists

Four of the candidates attacked — Aviles, Abreu, Kaur and Hollingsworth — received the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America.

“We know voters in this city are smart and will see through these transparent attempts to discredit our candidates who have been doing heroic work in their communities for years,” said Michael Whitesides, a spokesperson for the New York City branch of the DSA.

“I wish that Common Sense would live up to their name, because they’re spending nearly $20,000 worth of nonsense on me, along with my slatemates in DSA for the City,” Aviles said in a statement.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez greeted constituents at the Parkchester station in The Bronx, July 31, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

All in the group Common Sense NYC is opposing — all save for Marte — were part of a slate of candidates who recently got thumbs up from Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC.

To be considered, candidates had to sign a pledge that in part committed them to rejecting contributions from corporate PACs and real estate money.

One of the candidates Common Sense is supporting — De La Rosa, an Assembly member — also got AOC’s A-OK.

“I’m happy that AOC and my IE are agreeing on something,” Leb said.

In a statement, De La Rosa denounced Common Sense NYC’s “attempt to interfere” in the election.

“As an Assembly member, I have stood with tenants and voted for the strongest tenant protections and rent reform laws in decades — legislation opposed by many of the real estate interests Common Sense NYC represents,” she said.

Badge of Honor

In statements, many of the candidates receiving the negative publicity are brushing it off.

“We cannot let the chairman of Related Companies determine the future of our Council district,” Marte said, adding that the attacks should “signal to voters that I am the only candidate running as an actual Democrat, committed to fighting for working people, safer communities and affordable places to live.”

Kaur also dismissed the influence of Ross and the super PAC. “Given the massive scope of our multi-faith, multi-ethnic, multi-generational coalition, I doubt anyone will fall for his desperate fearmongering,” she said.

Hollingsworth said the attacks show his campaign “is doing something right” and prove he won’t be in the pocket of wealthy real-estate interests if elected to City Council.

Brooklyn City Council candidate Michael Hollingsworth.
Brooklyn City Council candidate Michael Hollingsworth
Courtesy of Hollingsworth Campaign

A spokesperson for Ross did not respond to a request for comment, but Leb said the real estate executive “has nothing to do with the operations” of Common Sense NYC other than contributing to it.

“These attacks are not about generating real safety. For them, it’s about protecting their profits,” said Abreu, who pointed out his name was spelled incorrectly on an early version of a digital ad.

“They’re scared that a City Council that’s full of socialists and endorsed by candidates like AOC and Bernie [Sanders] will be a threat to their top dollar because we are very committed in guaranteeing a city that works for immigrant and working-class communities,” he added.

Ahmed faced attacks from Common Sense NYC during the Queens District 24 special election earlier this year, when she and seven other candidates ran to succeed former Councilmember Rory Lancman, who was term-limited and left his seat to join the Cuomo administration.

The group described her as “reckless” and a “socialist” who wanted to take “your hard earned money.” The group also spent $193,000 to boost James Gennaro, who ultimately won the Council seat.

Ahmed indicated she’s not surprised Common Sense NYC “renewed their racist smear campaign.”

“We need somebody in this district who will fight billionaire interests, and put up a resistance,” she said.

More to Come

With under two weeks left until the June 22 primary, the ad buy game is only just getting started. Voters should expect to see more communications from big-money groups flooding their mailboxes, on TV and radio and as they scroll the Internet.

Leb is the treasurer for both Common Sense NYC and another independent expenditure group, Voters of NYC, which is primarily funded by real estate money. He said both groups will have more positive and negative ads coming out in the coming days in an effort to help elect “pragmatic, forward-thinking individuals” to office.

Voters of NYC has spent $80,214 of its $473,000 to support six City Council candidates, all different from those backed by Common Sense NYC.

Gabe Tobias, who oversees Our City, a progressive PAC that has raised $101,000 so far, said his group plans to buy digital ads to defend the candidates Common Sense attacked. So far, Our City has spent almost $40,000 to support city comptroller candidate Brad Lander.

The progressive super PAC Road to Justice, which endorsed three of the candidates Common Sense NYC attacked, “will be making final decisions in the coming days about how best to support them against these senseless attacks,” said Daniel Altschuler, co-executive director of Make the Road Action, a backer of Road to Justice.

Relying on “six figures” of funding, he said efforts to reach voters would include door-to-door visits and phone banking.

“We are focused on spreading their positive visions of investing in communities’ vital needs, like ensuring truly affordable housing, access to health care, and high-quality public education,” he said.

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