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Wall Street Bets Heavily on Grace Lee. But Is She out of Step with Her District’s Working-Class Voters?

In the race for an open seat in Assembly District 65, “the Lower East Side and Chinatown are not for sale,” says Lee’s opponent Illapa Sairitupac, who is relying on a large base of volunteers to overcome his financial disadvantage.

John Tarleton Jun 21

Frank Bisignano is the President and CEO of Fiserv, a tech-finance company. His estimated net worth is at least $512 million. In 2021, he made $20.4 million, up from $12.2 million. 

Charles Cascarilla is the CEO and co-founder of Paxos, a New York-based financial institution and technology company whose offerings include a cryptocurrency brokerage service and asset-tokenization services. His estimated net worth is $30 million

Emma Bloomberg is the eldest daughter of billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She is the founder and CEO of Murmuration, a data analytics non-profit that aids the charter school movement’s drive in privatizing public education. 

In addition to being fabulously wealthy individuals with deep ties to the financial industry, Bisignano, Cascarilla and Bloomberg are each pouring money into Grace Lee’s campaign. Lee is running in the June 28 Democratic primary to fill an open seat in Lower Manhattan’s Assembly District 65. 

Grace Lee

Lee is currently locked in a hotly-contested Democratic primary race with democratic socialist Illapa Sairitupac. They are both looking to fill the seat vacated by progressive incumbent Yuh-Line Niou, who is now running for Congress. 

According to the last round of New York State Board of Election filings released on Friday, Lee has raised $311,000 for an Assembly seat she failed to win two years ago when she ran to Niou’s right and lost 64-36.

Assembly District 65 maps the stark inequalities of contemporary New York. It is Wall Street’s home turf. It also encompasses the Lower East Side — a longtime bastion of leftwing protest — and Chinatown, two of Manhattan’s last predominantly working-class communities.

If Lee fails to win the seat again, it won’t be for the lack of support from her wealthy backers. Cascarilla and his wife Marissa have both given the maximum of $4,700 for a total of $9,400. Emma Bloomberg has also made a max-out donation of $4,700 while Bisignano has given $1,000. 

Their support for Lee has been matched by 93 other donors who have given $1,000 or more to Lee’s campaign. These include: 

$4,700 – James D. Price, senior managing director at Price & Marshall, a corporate equipment and real-estate financing boutique. Former Managing Director: Bear, Stearns.

Jonathan Lewinsohn

$4,700 – Jonathan Lewinsohn, managing partner at Diameter Capital Partners LP, a New York-based “alternative asset manager focused on global credit markets” 

$4,700- Jonathan Lewinsohn’s wife Elizabeth Lewinsoh.

$4,700 – Soohyung Kim, founder and CEO of Standard General LP, a NYC-based hedge fund with investments in casinos, sports betting and telecommunications including ownership of 52 local television stations. 

$3,000 – Taryn Laeben Jones, operating partner at Victress Capital.

Oscar Tang and his wife Agnes Hsu-Tang. Photo: AsiaSocietyHK/YouTube.

$2,500 – Oscar Tang, Retired New York financier whose father was a Hong Kong textile tycoon. (He also made a max contribution of $69,700 to Gov. Kathy Hochul.)

2,500 – Kelly Myers, manager of operations at Broyd Partners LLC, a financial services consulting firm that assists financial institutions expanding into the crypto-currency industry.

$2,500 – Hakeem Jeffries, U.S. representative for NY’s 8th congressional district & prolific Wall Street fundraiser.  

$1,500 – Gregory Brennan, managing director at TH Data Capital, a financial advisory firm that uses big data analytics to predict the business environment in China. 

$1,500 – Kristen Dickey, board member/director of several companies: Somerset Reinsurance Holdings, BNY Mellon Investment ETF Trust, Aperture Investors and Marstone, Inc. Previously worked at BlackRock.

Charles Cascarilla

$1,000 – Jeffrey Oakes, senior counsel at Davis Polk and Wardwell LLP, a white-shoe, international law firm specializing in banking and financial services and capital markets. 

 $1,000 – Joseph Patt, head trader at 683 Capital, former managing director of Citigroup. 

$1,000 – Kevin Ryan, founder and CEO of AlleyCorp, an incubator and venture capital fund. 

$1,000 – Margaret Hess Chi – granddaughter of Leon Hess, who was the founder of oil and gas comoany Amerada Hess Corporation and an owner of the New York Jets.

$1,000 – Melvin A Brosterman, partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, specializing in commodities, securities and commercial litigation, working with trading firms, banks, hedge funds, etc. 

Election Day is on June 28. Early voting is already underway. 

$1,000 – Tai Park, trial lawyer with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, focusing on white collar criminal and regulatory defense, securities litigation and commercial disputes. 

$1,000 – Warren Huang: General Counsel at Amerasia Bank. 

Lee’s financial industry backers have good reason to feel comfortable with her. She previously worked as a researcher for JP Morgan and UBS Bank and served as Vice President of Financial Sservices Institute (FSI), a private contractor that does maintenance and repairs on U.S. military bases, before launching her beauty products company. Her husband, Kim Lee, is the Chief Financial Officer of Global Atlantic. Prior to his current position, Lee was a Managing Director at the Goldman Sachs Reinsurance Group. 

Illapa Sairitupac

Sairitupac, a social worker and climate-change activist running for office for the first time, told The Indypendent that Lee’s Wall Street largesse underscore how she and her wealthy supporters live in a different material reality than the district’s working-class majority. 

“This race is about the working class versus Wall Street,” said Sairitupac. “As a working-class person who has struggled to make ends meet, I’m disgusted by the massive amount of Wall Street money pouring into this race. The rich shouldn’t be able to buy a seat in the State Assembly. The Lower East Side and Chinatown are not for sale.” 

Sairitupac and his supporters have knocked Lee for her ties to Bisignano in particular, who donated $6,000 to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — the senator that engineered the right-wing Supreme Court majority that is set to overturn Roe v. Wade. In 2019, Bisignano donated $125,000 to the Trump Victory PAC. He has given $3,000 in total to Lee in her career, repeating a now familiar pattern of wealthy GOP supporters intervening in Democratic primaries to back the most corporate-friendly candidate. 

“Grace Lee should return all of her dirty money immediately,” Sairitupac tweeted last night. 

This morning, a Lee campaign spokesperson told The Indypendent that Lee would make a charitable contribution of $3,000 but did not specify which group or groups would receive the money. 

To date, Sairitupac’s campaign reports receiving $150,000 from 3,520 donations for an average of $43 per donation while Grace Lee’s $311,000 haul has come from 669 donors for an average donation of $465. 

A third candidate, Denny Salas, has raised just under $72,000 from 149 donations with a boost from several pro-charter school billionaires. Criminal justice reformer Alana Sivin, the fourth candidate on the ballot, dropped out of the race on May 31.  

The Sairitupac campaign has pinned its hopes for overcoming Lee’s financial advantage on its ability to mobilize scores of DSA volunteers to do door-to-door canvassing and engage in one-on-one conversations with voters. With election day one week away, Sairitupac’s campaign reports having knocked on 46,000 doors. 

Molly Morrow contributed to this report. 

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