Elizabeth Crowley, a Democrat running for state Senate in a district that runs from Astoria to Williamsburg, has pledged not to take any money from big real estate developers.
But on Monday, NYC Forward, an independent expenditure committee running ads to support Crowley, a centrist Democrat, received $150,000 from real estate interests, campaign finance records show.
That committee was founded this month by District Council 9, the painters’ union that’s counted Crowley as a member — and took the spotlight in initial news coverage of the group.
But state campaign finance records show the majority of contributions to the committee so far have come from developer interests.
Those include the Real Estate Board of New York, whose campaign spending arm, “Putting New Yorkers to Work,” gave $50,000 to the pro-Crowley committee. So too did A&E Real Estate Holdings LLC, a firm with buildings across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
State Board of Elections records show NYC Forward paid for $198,000 in expenses listed as “promotional” that coincided with the real estate donations. The committee has also spent $48,000 on a “social media campaign.”
One of the committee’s ads circulating on YouTube opens with the bold white text, “CRIME…WE ALL FEEL IT” as clips of hooded men robbing stores and a Black man pointing a gun on a street in broad daylight roll on. “WE NEED A SERIOUS DEMOCRAT WHO WILL PROTECT OUR STREETS,” it continues before featuring a photo of Crowley.
A spokesperson for NYC Forward, Davon Lomax, who is also the political director for DC 9, defended the video in a statement to THE CITY.
“The ad depicts real footage of real crimes that were committed in or very close to the 59th Senate District. Our members live and work in this District and have experienced first-hand the uptick in crime in their own neighborhood and across the city.”
He added: “We are supporting Liz Crowley because she is one of us — a former DC 9 member that we believe can find solutions to the City’s toughest challenges, which includes a rise in crime. This is not about race; it’s about electing people that are going to focus on advancing issues that are important to our members and all City residents.”
In a statement, Crowley sought to distance herself from the group’s backing, noting that the ads “are not from” her campaign.
“This group does not speak for my campaign and it does not reflect the messaging my ads have paid for,” said Crowley, a former Queens City Council member and labor activist. “I do not condone the imagery nor content. I am running for State Senate to improve the lives of New York City residents. I am fighting to protect a woman’s right to choose, make our city more affordable, and reduce crime through smart investments in community programs, mental health and addiction treatment.”
In response to questions, the Crowley campaign also sent one of its own public safety ads, which strikes a less fear-mongering tone from those of the group independently backing her.
By law, campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with independent expenditure committees, which can spend unlimited sums of money in support of candidates they favor thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010.
But some of Crowley’s opponents took issue with NYC Forward’s messaging and its real estate contributors.
“We’ve known since the beginning that big real estate would target our race — it’s the same dirty tactic we saw in June’s primaries,” said Kristen Gonzalez, a Democratic Socialists of America-backed candidate running to Crowley’s left. “The communities of District 59 deserve better, especially as we suffer through extreme development and absurd rent hikes.”
Gonzalez also pointed out that despite its pledge, Crowley’s campaign itself has accepted money from some big developers, as THE CITY previously reported.
“Elizabeth Crowley may claim to be a ‘tenant advocate’ who refuses money from big real estate developers, but they’re buying her off anyway,” she continued.
“Sadly, it seems like some would rather paint New York City as a hellscape in an effort to get one of my opponents elected,” said Mike Corbett, another pro-labor centrist vying for the seat.
“Meanwhile, I have been offering actual solutions since day one of this campaign. I call on Elizabeth Crowley to condemn these ads and commit to always protecting tenants — not serving special interests that care about profits more than people,” Corbett, a third-generation Teamster, continued.
In response to questions about the real estate money, Nomiki Konst, another left-leaning candidate who hopped into the race after Gonzalez, issued a general statement that did not criticize Crowley.
“I’m proud of the tremendous community support our campaign has received throughout the district because of our extensive track record of fighting for working people, protecting tenants and creating affordable housing,” said Konst. “We need to get rid of tax breaks that only benefit developers — and that do not actually create affordable housing for our community.”
Despite her past as a surrogate for socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, Konst has publicly praised Crowley during the campaign and received a message of solidarity from the centrist Democrat on Twitter after she accused Gonzalez supporters of intimidation.
On Monday, NYC Forward also received $50,000 from DOLP Holdings LLC, another entity with ties to real estate.
Previously, two labor groups affiliated with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades each gave $50,000 to the independent expenditure committee. Crowley was previously a union painter herself.
Neither group responded to requests for comment, but Joseph Azzopardi, the treasurer for DC9, the local union that Crowley was a member of, told Spectrum News last week that he was proud of its work in initially starting and financing NYC Forward.
“Elizabeth Crowley began her career as a DC 9 painter and has long advocated for our members, working families and common-sense policies to benefit New Yorkers,” Azzopardi said. “State government is more important than ever, and we are proud to lead the effort to elect a serious democrat like Elizabeth Crowley to the New York State Senate.”
Of all the candidates in the race, Crowley’s campaign has raised the most money this year, more than $500,000, with some of it coming from real estate and Republican donors as well as numerous labor backers.
Gonzalez, the DSA-backed candidate, is the closest to her in terms of 2022 fundraising and stands at just under $160,000. The Elmhurst native has won more small donors than any other candidate in the race.
Gonzalez has also benefited from some committee expenditures, albeit at a far smaller scale.
“DSA For The Many,” a committee linked to the Democratic Socialists of America, has spent $7,500 this year, some of which has funded mailers for the candidate, who is backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens/The Bronx).
Ocasio-Cortez has sent text blasts and made social media posts for Gonzalez, whose race features a sort of re-match between socialist forces in Queens and the old-school Crowley machine.
In 2018, Ocasio-Cortez shocked the New York political world by defeating former longtime U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, Elizabeth Crowley’s cousin, in the Democratic primary.
Joe Crowley had until that point enjoyed significant political influence as the head of the Queens Democratic Party and one of the highest-ranking Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Early voting for New York’s state Senate races begins on Aug. 13, followed by primary day voting on Aug. 23.