The Return on Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s Slush Fund Investments Could Be Low

Félix Ortiz concedes to socialist in Sunset Park. Walter Mosley, Joe Lentol and Aravella Simotas could soon be ousted too, despite more than $365,000 in aid from Albany power-brokers.

Theodore Hamm Jul 16, 2020

As The Indypendent reported last month, the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee (DACC), a slush fund controlled by Speaker Carl Heastie, has been steering funds to incumbents challenged from the left. DACC’s latest filings show that in the stretch run to the June 23rd primary, Heastie and DACC made sure that none of his preferred candidates suffered from a lack of cash.

Whether the investments will pay off is not yet clear, as all four incumbents are in danger of losing their seats during the current counting of absentee ballots.

Astoria incumbent Aravella Simotas, for example, received no less than $125,000. Meanwhile, additions to previous funding brought DACC’s total contributions to the Brooklyn coffers of Walter Mosley to the low six-figures, Félix Ortiz to just over $80,000 and Joe Lentol to $65,000.

DACC’s open-door policy regarding contributions continued to produce a steady stream of transactional donations, with state automobile dealers kicking in $31,500, medical interest groups ponying up $17,500, and large landlords opposed to property tax hikes delivering $10,000. Heastie also steered $70,000 to DACC from his own PAC, which is also wide open for business.

Whether the investments will pay off is not yet clear, as all four incumbents are in danger of losing their seats during the current counting of absentee ballots. There are also questions surrounding whether DACC is paying the law firm that represents Assembly incumbents Simotas, Lentol, Mosley and Ortiz.

All four have retained Bronx fixer Stanley Schlein and the firm Greenberg Traurig to oversee the absentee and affidavit ballot counting and any subsequent court challenges. Greenberg Traurig is a leading Albany lobbying group and Schlein similarly enjoys close ties to Heastie.

By contrast, the Assembly campaigns of Marcela Mitaynes and Phara Souffrant Forrest have retained Leo Glickman, a fellow DSA member. Both Emily Gallagher, the progressive challenger to Lentol and the DSA’s Zohran Mamdani have Queens attorney Ali Najmi in their corner.

Although several campaign insiders assume that DACC is paying Greenberg Traurig and Schlein for their services, the latest filing from DACC does not list any such expenditures. Simotas’ filing lists a nominal $5,000 payment to the firm, but no legal fees are included in either Lentol’s or Mosley’s report.

As seen in last summer’s contested Queens DA primary, lawyers can offer their services pro-bono. But a key difference in the current campaigns is that Greenberg Traurig is a lobbying firm and any “gifts” they provide may run afoul of New York ethics laws.

Like DACC, Greenberg Traurig has an open door for any and all interest groups. In the last few years, its lobbying clients have included the powerhouse hedge fund BlackRock, the major developer Brookfield Properties and a wide range of private healthcare purveyors. During its failed bid to set up a second headquarters in Long Island City, Amazon retained Greenberg Traurig’s services.

The firm’s lead lawyer for the election cases is Robert Harding, who was Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s primary lobbyist in Albany during the 1990s. Now he is going to battle on behalf of Heastie against the DSA and progressive insurgency.

On Wednesday, Harding presided over the absentee ballot count for Félix Ortiz, who is assistant speaker under Heastie. Ortiz’s lead steadily evaporated and this afternoon he conceded the race after Mitaynes took a 240 vote lead with only a small number of affidavit ballots left to count. It’s another sign that the days of business-as-usual are coming to an end.

Theodore Hamm’s Bernie’s Brooklyn: How Growing Up in the New Deal City Shaped Bernie Sanders’ Politics is now available.

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