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Dolan Family, Knicks Owners, Dole Big Bucks to Hochul While Enjoying Madison Square Garden Tax Break

A new ad blitz and endorsement contrast with past political spending that highlighted crime and disorder, presaging Lee Zeldin’s playbook.

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Governor Kathy Hochul at the Jacob Javits Center in March 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

With Gov. Kathy Hochul facing an unexpectedly competitive challenge from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, the incumbent is getting a jolt of support from the family that owns Madison Square Garden — and that benefits from a unique tax break estimated to be worth $43 million a year.

State campaign finance records show the Coalition to Restore New York, a political committee founded by James Dolan of Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp., spent $560,000 last week on television, digital and radio ads that support Hochul. Another Dolan entity, MSG Sports, owns the Knicks and the Rangers,

Members of the Dolan family have also supported Hochul, especially during these final days of the governor’s race. Campaign finance records show that last week, James Dolan’s sons Ryan and Quentin each contributed $47,100 to Friends of Kathy Hochul. James’s father, Charles F. Dolan, gave $44,700, and his sister Marian Dolan Weber contributed $25,000.

Previously, James Dolan gave $69,700 to Friends of Kathy Hochul in March, and Charles contributed $25,000 in November last year. 

In all, the Dolan clan has spent $258,600 in the last year to promote Hochul’s reelection.

The move comes as Hochul has seen her comfortable double-digit lead over Zeldin shrink to as little as four percentage points

The Coalition website “endorses” Hochul and declares: “Since taking office, Governor Hochul has brought a fresh and collaborative approach to governing and is working hard to keep our communities safe and prosperous.

“Governor Hochul has put New Yorkers first and gotten results for us all. While her opponent will bring 4 years of fighting and gridlock, Kathy will spend the next 4 years fighting for New York.”

The James Dolan-funded Coalition to Restore New York backed Governor Kathy Hochul.

Screengrab/The Coalition to Support New York

Previous ads sponsored by the Coalition to Restore New York have more closely resembled Zeldin’s relentlessly negative message of a city and state besieged by rising crime.

Zeldin’s campaign is singularly focused on public safety, painting New York City as a place of lawlessness and increasing crime under the current governor. He has railed against bail reform measures backed by many Democratic state leaders and said he would remove Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg from office if elected. 

When James Dolan founded the Coalition to Restore New York in January 2021, at the onset of last year’s mayoral race, its website warned of a return to the “unseemly era of the 1970s and 1980s.” The committee’s election mailers at the time — without naming candidates — highlighted crime and disorder, including images of police at a crime scene, an NYPD car ablaze and what appeared to be thieves breaking into a storefront.

They have also poured campaign dollars into backing conservative Republicans. James and Charles combined gave $13,500 to help elect Donald Trump. The family gave $20,000 this year to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn), who is in a rematch with former Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat.

In 2020, MSG Sports gave $50,000 to the Governing Majority Fund, a political action committee that centered on Republicans winning the U.S. House of Representatives, according to federal campaign filings. Dolan told the New York Post that year that he would take a more active role in politics, pushing for a more “pro-two party democracy” in New York.

Billion-Dollar Tax Break

The Dolans have more than an interest in balanced government at stake. 

Under a state law on the books since 1982, Madison Square Garden has received a full tax break, worth $43 million a year, the Independent Budget Office estimates — a total of more than $875 million over 40 years, when adjusted for inflation. 

A bill to repeal the break, advanced in 2013 by then-Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan), who is now a state senator, has repeatedly stalled in Albany, but could always be revived.

What’s more, the Garden’s local special permit is set to expire next year and will need to be renewed by the City Council. And even as Hochul pushes a $7 billion redevelopment of Penn Station that taps funds from real estate development in the area, some opponents are calling for the arena to be moved. 

Earlier this year, Dolan’s committee was a dominant player in primary races for state Senate, contributing at least 40% of $1.7 million injected into the August election — sending mailers against bail reform laws and pointing voters to their website where it lists a slate of centrist Democrat candidates it supports.  

There’s precedent for the Dolans’ Democratic Party largesse. Their now-defunct Cablevision television company had given Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, more than $550,000 in campaign contributions over the years. Cuomo had jumpstarted the redevelopment of Penn Station, which Hochul has since inherited.  

A spokesperson from the Coalition to Restore New York told THE CITY, “We need to keep New York safe and restore our economy. Governor Hochul works closely with city leaders making her the right candidate to achieve those goals and the last thing we need is gridlock in Albany.”

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