New York City

Elizabeth Crowley attracts GOP, real estate donors in democratic primary

Four years after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunned Joe Crowley, an AOC-pick is running against cousin Elizabeth Crowley in another primary contest pitting a socialist against a moderate.

July 25, 2022 George Joseph and Shantel Destra, THE CITY
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Four years ago, a socialist bartender named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked the political world by unseating Congressman Joe Crowley, Queens’ longtime Democratic party boss.

Now, the Crowley clan has a chance to get revenge.

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Former City Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, Joe’s cousin, is running for State Senate, and one of her primary opponents is Kristin Gonzalez, a Democratic Socialist backed by Ocasio-Cortez.

Campaign finance records show an ideologically heterodox coalition lining up to support Crowley, who has a big fundraising lead in the race, including at least $80,000 from registered Republicans, lobbyists, and people in the real estate industry.

Bradley Tusk, a former campaign manager for Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg turned venture capitalist and political “fixer,” gave Crowley $7,500 (Tusk is a donor to THE CITY). Alfonse D’Amato, a pro-Trump Republican and the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a lobbying firm gave $2,500 to Crowley.

“I’ve known her personally and professionally for a long time,” D’Amato said in a statement. “We worked together on a television program. She is a good person.”

‘I’m not playing that game’

Crowley, a self-described “tenant advocate” who has pledged not to take money from “big real estate developers,” has, in fact, received a handful of contributions from big developers in addition to tens of thousands in donations from landlords and other real estate industry professionals.

James Pi, founder of Pi Capital Partners, one of New York City’s largest private real estate companies with over two billion dollars in assets it manages, controls or owns, contributed $5,000 to Crowley. H. Dale Hemmerdinger, chairman of Atco Properties & Management, which owns and manages more than 20 buildings and has previously been accused of “slumlord” tactics, gave $1,000 to Crowley.

Crowley did not respond to questions about whether she would return the money she received from the big real estate developers.

One Brooklyn landlord, who gave $2,000 to Crowley, said he hopes she “takes into account everybody, and not just [the] populist movement.”

“I think [there’s] an unfair picture being painted of bleeding, blood-sucking capitalists when 99 percent are just trying to do the right thing and give back to their communities,” he said, referring to real estate owners.

In a statement, Crowley, who has raised more than $500,000, said she is proud to have built a “strong coalition” of donors, volunteers, and labor unions, many of which have both contributed to and endorsed her campaign.

“As a single mom who has battled the hardships so many of our families are currently facing, I have the experience and will fight for a more affordable New York with better access to housing, transit and childcare,” said Crowley, a former union painter and the daughter of a big Irish family.

Asked for her response to other campaigns accusing her of breaking her pledge not to take big real estate money, Crowley continued: “It is clear that my opponent wants to only focus on the inside political track. Despite that—I’m not playing that game. The stakes are too high and voters at every door I visit are deeply concerned how we will improve their quality of life. That’s why I am running.”

Who’s ‘walking the walk’?

Though the money Crowley has received from Republicans, lobbyists, and the real estate industry accounts for less than a fifth of her overall haul, Gonzalez, the candidate endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic Socialists of America, said the contributions show that special interests “are already buying her out.”

“That’s an indicator of who she’ll be accountable to, of what interests will influence her when in Albany,” said Gonzalez. “It’s contrary to what the communities of Senate District 59, which are working class, deserve.”

Gonzalez, who has a background in finance and previously interned for Sen. Chuck Schumer, has raised more than $148,000, putting her closer to Crowley than any of the other three Democratic candidates in the pack.

Queens State Senate candidate Kristen Gonzalez speaks at a City Hall rally for striking United Metro Energy workers, April 21, 2022.
State Senate candidate Kristen Gonzalez. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

As of July 11, Gonzalez had pulled in 3,000 donations under $100 which accounted for 52% of her overall haul, according to campaign finance records. By comparison, Crowley had fewer than 400 donations under $100, with those accounting for 5.6% of her total.

Some of Crowley’s opponents are also taking issue with her decision to pay $57,000 in campaign consulting fees to GSG, a national public relations shop that faced backlash after news broke that it had worked with Amazon on campaign literature to counter union organizing efforts in Staten Island.

Mike Corbett, another centrist Democrat in the race who is also trying to position himself as the candidate of labor, said he would never have given campaign money to a company like that.

“That would betray everything I’ve been brought up on as a third-generation Teamster,” said Corbett, vice chair of the New York State Democratic Party and a former union mover. “We’re walking the walk, and we’re talking the talk, that’s what you’re going to get from me.”

A crowded field

While Corbett tries to make inroads with centrist voters who might otherwise back Crowley, Gonzalez is contending with the campaign of Nomiki Konst, a media personality and former Bernie Sanders surrogate.

In recent weeks, Konst supporters on Twitter have accused Gonzalez’s team of harassment and physical threats, even attempting to link the Gonzalez campaign to an incident in which a disturbed man stormed into a Konst event shouting insults.

While Gonzalez’s team told The New York Post that the man, whom they claimed was known in the neighborhood for mental health issues, had no ties to the campaign, Crowley quickly stood in solidarity with Konst after the podcaster insinuated on Twitter that the Gonzalez team was whipping up violence against her.

“I stand with you @NomikiKonst and pledge to a clean campaign,” Crowley tweeted. “No campaign or candidate should encourage this behavior. No candidate should be threatened or feel intimidated. Certainly not in this climate and not ever.”

Early voting for New York’s Senate primary contests will open on August 13 and run through August 21, with election day on August 23.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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