Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In 35th District, Jobs for New York spending provokes "No 2 Cumbo"; video shows candidate saying "blow the whistle" on PAC spending (though she didn't until pushed)

From The Real Deal; click to enlarge
The impact of the Jobs for New York political action committee (PAC) on City Council primary races, including the race to succeed Letitia James in Brooklyn's 35th District, is profound.

For 11 Council candidates, independent spending by the PAC--represents from 88% to 404% of the money the candidates have been able to spend themselves, as The Real Deal reported.

For example, the seven fliers touting 35th District candidate Laurie Cumbo, as reproduced at bottom, represent spending of nearly $80,000, as of Aug. 9. That's 95% of Cumbo's own spending.

Jobs for New York has become the central issue in the 35th District Democratic primary Sept. 10, which is tantamount to election. Each of Cumbo's four rivals last week issued tough criticism at a debate, as described below and in Daily News coverage.

The PAC is funded exclusively by members of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), which, among other things, seeks a development-friendly council. Tenants PAC treasurer Michael McKee calls Jobs for New York a REBNY front: "reprehensible people who would eliminate tenant rights.”

Jobs for New York offers much bang for the buck. Typically, candidates don't spend money on direct mail until they write checks for office spaces, fundraising, staff, petition-gathering and more.

Jobs for New York, however, has put most of its money into mailings, which don't disclose the role of REBNY. And it has not even spent a quarter of the money it's raised, which is why it's been sending door-to-door canvassers on behalf of Cumbo (photo at right).

PAC role key

Tenants PAC, which said it wouldn't endorse any candidate receiving Jobs for New York funds unless they repudiated it, recently endorsed 35th District candidate Ede Fox.

Cumbo, already the leading fundraiser, has the most endorsements, including the United Federation of Teachers, the Working Families Party, and 1199 SEIU. Fox, second in fundraising, recently picked up the Citizens Union and StreetsPAC. Olanike Alabi has the support of DC37, the city's largest public employee union, as well as some prominent ministers.

While Cumbo belatedly issued requests for Jobs for New York to stop supporting her campaign, Jobs for New York has since paid not only for canvassers but also polling on behalf of Cumbo, according to rivals.

Cumbo has moved from "respectfully" asking the PAC to stop to denouncing it. "This is horrible," Cumbo told DNAinfo yesterday. "Their so-called support of my campaign has done more harm than good in the community."

From her rivals' perspective, however, Cumbo can't lose: she now can profess opposition to the PAC, while gaining incalculable advantage from the spending on her behalf.

Negative advertising and misleading record

From Jobs for NY mailing
Perhaps, as in the neighboring 36th District, Jobs for New York will soon start negative advertising, sending mailers slamming its preferred opponent's rivals.

Jobs for New York also has misleadingly described Cumbo as a "small business owner"--a term she herself has used (in the present tense) at forums, and on her website under the confusing term "small business owner working in the not-for-profit sector."

That's untrue on two counts. First, though Cumbo had to meet a budget and manage employees at  the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), it's a non-profit organization, reliant far less on customer revenues than on fund-raising from government, business, and foundations.

Second, she left MoCADA at the end of last year. (Oddly, there's no mention on the MoCADA web site that James Bartlett was hired nearly a year ago as executive director.)

From Cumbo's web site
Cumbo's record as founder of MoCADA--a significant addition to the district and borough--is impressive enough to have generated considerable support from the arts and nonprofit communities, among others. So it's curious that's she and Jobs for New York have to distort it.

A video surfaces

An anonymous Cumbo critic recently circulated a video of her urging people to "blow the whistle" on Jobs for New York support--an implicit contrast with her belated, initially friendly response.

Someone using the email account "Partners 4 Progress" and the subject line "No 2 Cumbo" circulated the video below (which I posted on YouTube) of the candidate clearly denouncing Jobs for New York when asked at a June 5 forum if her campaign would accept support.

(It's a sneaky tactic to send the video in that way--surely, one or more of Cumbo's opponents are involved--but the tape speaks for itself.)

"I would say the strength of my campaign that we have raised funds from over 700 contributors," Cumbo said. "I would ask you as a community... to make sure that you blow the whistle when you see candidates that are receiving that type of money, that you don't support candidates that are engaging in that type of activity. Because when you stop it, then that's when that type of activity ends, and we end the theory that money dictates the entire race."

"I'm glad you said that, sis," followed up skeptical sounding rival Jelani Mashariki.

At a debate

Cumbo's rivals have been piling on.

Jobs for NY mailer for Cumbo; full document at bottom
"To have a PAC infuse over $80,000 into this race is disgusting, and it shouldn't be tolerated," stated Occupy veteran Mashariki at an Aug. 21 debate held at the St. John Fire Baptized Holiness Church in Clinton Hill. "My main issue... is that the people who built Brooklyn should be able to stay in Brooklyn. REBNY would never be backing me, of course.... It's a quid pro quo system that they're engaging in."

REBNY likely wouldn't back Mashariki, who directs a men's shelter in Bed-Stuy, but that didn't stop Jobs for New York using nearly the same rhetoric in a mailing for Cumbo, right.

(Cumbo's housing platform surely sounds progressive, though rivals charge she'd owe developers too much. Though housing represents a fraction of her platform, it was the sole subject of two of her seven Jobs for New York mailers, as well as a key component of a third mailer, at bottom. Based on their websites, Mashariki and Fox pay the most attention to housing and development. Here are links to the platforms of Alabi, and F. Richard Hurley.)

Ede Fox
"Jobs for New York represents an organized, concerted effort to take away the diversity of New York City, and push working and poor people out," declared former Council aide Fox at the debate, suggesting that Crown Heights complexes like Tivoli Towers and Ebbets Field Houses "are very vulnerable."

"I think housing is the issue that is pressing in the 35th Council District," continued Fox, a member of Community Board 8. "If we're unable to talk about housing, and real plans for creating and preserving affordable housing, then we are out of touch."

With a dig at Cumbo, who stresses the community impact of MoCADA, Fox added, "If you don't have a place to live, nothing else matters, no after-school programs, no arts, nothing."

Richard Hurley
"I said from the very beginning, If you build in Brooklyn, you must hire from Brooklyn," added attorney Hurley, who stresses his Crown Heights civic work, including finding jobs for wayward youth.

Hurley, noting that Jobs for New York never asked Cumbo's permission, observed, "To some extent, it's unfair to Laurie. But at the same time... you have to publicly come out and say, Listen, I don't want any of your money, I don't want anything to do with you."

Alabi, a former District Leader and Assembly candidate with a long political history in the 35th, also criticized Jobs for New York, but came late to the debate.

Jobs for New York has union components, but is funded entirely by the real estate industry, though that's hardly clear from its mailers for Cumbo, which mention other endorsers of the candidate.

At one point in the debate, Mashariki pressed Fox on her endorsement by the United Food and Commercial Workers, a component of Jobs for New York. Fox countered the union hadn't funded the PAC. (As noted by Council Member Brad Lander, all Jobs for New York board members are connected to REBNY.)

Olanike Alabi
Alabi and Fox may be Cumbo's strongest rivals, though, with no public polls, it's tough to predict. Also influential, of course, are door-to-door campaigning and get-out-the-vote efforts.

An absent target

Cumbo didn't attend the debate--she told the Daily News she had another obligation, though debate organizer Schellie Hagan, who once contributed to Cumbo, suggested on Patch that Cumbo was evasive:
On July 25th we invited the five candidates on the same email to the FIRST & ONLY debate of the campaign. By the next day four candidates had confirmed for August 21st, one of three nights we suggested. Laurie didn't answer. We wrote her again to say if she had a conflict for the 21st, we would go for another night when all five could be aboard. She didn't respond.
The week before the debate, we contacted her campaign manager, reissuing the invitation. He wrote back saying she wouldn't be able to come due to "a prior commitment made a month ago."
We wrote to Laurie herself: Why didn't you tell us you were already booked a month ago for the 21st when we wrote you a month ago? (Whoops!)
The debate was well attended and achieved what we were looking for in liveliness, audience interaction and impressive argument and oratory from candidates Richard Hurley, Ede Fox, Jelani Mashariki and Olanicke [sic] Alabi -- but the most powerful statement of all was Laurie Cumbo's: An empty chair.
It's plain Laurie Cumbo intended to blow off the debate. In a little church full of little people. She didn't need them.
Cumbo may recognize she gains little from being a target. Instead, she's been stressing recent endorsements from Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, and Assemblyman Walter Mosley.

Disproportionate role

However disproportionate Jobs for New York's role, it likely will have even more impact.

As of the most recent filing deadline, Aug. 9, the PAC had raised $6.3 million from large real estate companies but spent only $1.35 million. It may spend up to $10 million. The key is the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the door to unlimited PAC spending on behalf of--though not directly to--a candidate.

Though there's no city ceiling on independent expenditures, Jobs for New York has said it would follow by state contribution limits, $150,000 from individuals. In New York, LLCs are considered individuals, and multiple contributions from different LLCs controlled by the same company can be a force multiplier.

But there's a $2,750 limit for individuals, companies, and unions to a Council race, and that limit is cut to $250 if the company does business with the city.

As noted by Crain's, Jobs for New York can't work with campaigns, but, based on research, supports "candidates who we think are most likely to support the issues that are important to us," according to a consultant working with the group. The largest contributors to Jobs for New York so far:

This week, Council Member Brad Lander suggested a reform, as reported by Crain's and the Daily News, including closing "the LLC loophole," requiring that such independent expenditures, as in Connecticut, require the identity of the top five donors to be listed, and requiring a disclosure statement on each communication. This would apply not only to Jobs for New York but any other such PAC.

Cumbo's shifting responses

While some candidates receiving support from Jobs for New York have embraced it, others have had more complicated reactions. The Real Deal reported that Cumbo "asked the group on July 29 to stop spending on her behalf, the campaign said."

The Daily News was somewhat tougher, saying she "swore off the group last month, but only after it had poured $80,000 into campaign literature for her bid."

As I reported in my Brooklyn Bureau article about the 35th District race, Cumbo only responded after public criticism was raised by Patch blogger Gib Veconi (a Fox supporter), and her initial response was quite welcoming to Jobs for New York and its component groups.

July 30
Cumbo's first public statement, on July 30, appeared on Facebook and in a message to her mailing list titled "Setting the Record Straight."

"Yesterday, the Jobs for New York PAC announced their official round of endorsements," she said, adding that  she had "officially and respectfully asked JOBS NY to immediately discontinue spending any independent funds in support of my campaign."

Cumbo also expressed enthusiasm for the support: "I thank JOBS NY for its excitement and belief in this campaign and I look forward to working with its various constituencies as your next City Council Member."

(As noted by Politicker, though Jobs for New York was founded as a counterweight to the Working Families Party, in its quest to support expected winners, it wound up endorsing some candidates, including Cumbo, who have the WFP nod.)

Fox was the first rival to lob criticism:
After receiving tens of thousands of dollars from Jobs for New York for glossy slick brochures claiming her as their candidate, Ms. Cumbo now wants to disavow any association with them. It's just too little too late.
(Actually, Cumbo did not receive any contribution, since the PAC makes independent expenditures.)

Alabi commented that "denouncing Jobs for New York after 5 mailings is disingenuous."(In comments on her blog, check out some spirited accusations from some pseudonymous supporters of various candidates.)

Cumbo later that day issued a statement titled "Cumbo Calls on Jobs for New York PAC to Discontinue Support of Campaign, omitting the statement of thanks and how she was looking forward to working with its various constituencies.

Aug. 5
After further criticism surfaced, Cumbo, on Aug. 5, issued a more strongly headlined statement (right), "demanding" that REBNY stop spending in support of her campaign.

Last week Our Time Press quoted Cumbo:
“They are an independent body doing what they want to do and their support has no bearing on how I will function as a City Council member in January, but also at the same time I look forward to working with REBNY members for organic development that’s in the best interest of the community.”
I'm not sure REBNY is known for "organic development."

On Aug. 26, DNAinfo described Cumbo--presumably based on an interview--as "an unwelcome recipient of Jobs for NY’s support. which she said is 'undermining the democratic process.'"

Cumbo said she supported Lander's bill. “Our campaign was moving full-speed ahead,” Cumbo told DNAinfo. “Now I have to answer questions every time I walk out my house, did I receive $80,000 from the Real Estate Board... And the answer is no. I have no control over what they do.”

A response from Fox

Fox wrote Aug. 26:
JOBS FOR NY has come to Brooklyn and endorsed my opponent Laurie Cumbo. They support her because her platform is an artsy version of the Bloomberg legacy – building a mix of luxury, market rate and affordable housing and promoting tourism. The real estate industry also talks about a “mix of luxury and affordable housing.” In reality, this has meant our tax dollars going to luxury housing at the expense of affordable housing.
I speak forcefully about this because it is the central issue in the district I am running in.
Or, perhaps, Jobs for New York endorsed the candidate who had a good chance to win and whose platform, if not congruent, was less unacceptable than some others.

Forest City/Atlantic Yards role?

It should be noted that Forest City Ratner is not a contributor to Jobs for New York. All the candidates, including Cumbo, have criticized Atlantic Yards, though she's indicated more of a willingness to negotiate for benefits.

While no one from Forest City has given to her campaign, Cumbo did get $500 in contributions from construction executive Joe Coello, who also heads an essentially inactive Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement signatory, Brooklyn Voices for Children.

Criticism of Jobs for New York, via Cumbo's consultant

The criticism from Cumbo's rivals regarding Jobs for New York pales in comparison to criticism aired by some other Brooklyn Council candidates, who, curiously enough, are represented by the Advance Group, the same political consulting firm that represents Cumbo.

For example, 48th District candidate Igor Oberman called rival Ari Kagan "a hypocrite, having promoted an affordable housing agenda, he is now taking money from an organization dedicated to destroying rent stabilization laws."

John Lisyanskiy, a candidate in the 47th District, said that, now that candidate Mark Treyger "is bought and paid for, he will surely become a yes-man puppet for ruthless real estate interests."

Presumably if the Advance Group were representing a Cumbo rival, she might be dubbed a "puppet for ruthless real estate interests."

The No 2 Cumbo effort

The pseudonymous Partners 4 Progress email seeks a candidate "who believes in responsible development, who will stand up to the real estate industry and who will serve as our voice, not the voice of rich people who see our neighborhoods as dollar signs."

As strategy, the message seems preliminary. With four candidates besides Cumbo, simply voting "No 2 Cumbo," as two emails have stated, runs the risk of having the "No" votes canceling each other out.

So we'll see if there are any attempts to narrow the field. In the Queens Borough President race, two candidates dropped out.

Cumbo on the High Road?

Cumbo recently issued a statement about avoiding negative attacks:
Taking the High Road has its challenges… It means staying positive and focused on the issues even when other candidates are tearing down your posters, making false accusations about your character, training young people to go door to door to talk about you negatively, sending negative emails about your campaign and pitching negative stories about you to newspapers... The challenge with negative campaigns is that it distracts the voters from the real issues that matter.
Cumbo has a point, but the statement's also disingenuous.

Surely Jobs for New York is one of "the real issues" in the campaign, especially if--to quote a statement circulated by the Advance Group--it's "dedicated to destroying rent stabilization laws." And Jobs for New York, which is responsible for negative mailings in the 36th and, as Alabi has suggested, for a negative push poll in the 35th, sure isn't taking the high road.

Also, as more than one rival charged at the Aug. 21 debate, Cumbo's own supporters have been tearing down rivals' posters.

Cumbo's on stronger ground when criticizing a couple of articles in the New York Post apparently planted by a rival, Key aide to top contender in B'klyn council race asked to resign over 'ghetto' Facebook rant, claimed in vulgar post 'The south shall rise again!!!!!!!!' and then Pol’s bleeping aide rises again.

I'm not sure private Facebook posts by a temporary campaign worker, no matter how dumb and damning, touch on the "real issues."

Cumbo wrote on Facebook about how her campaign first asked for the aide's resignation, then "decided that doing so would continue to leave a gapping [sic] hole in educating our community. Alternatively, I accept this as a challenge and a teachable moment for my campaign team and our community."

Or, perhaps, she needed his expertise and/or didn't want him to go work for someone else.

What about Fox's complaint, hyped in the Daily News as "Art scandal rocks" Council race, that Cumbo's campaign under-reported the value of art donated for a fundraiser?

The Daily News quoted one expert as saying the Campaign Finance Board already ruled that such tactics are OK, while another speculated that the board might revisit its ruling. So it seems to adhere to the letter of the current law, even if it stretches the law's spirit.

Cumbo's Jobs for New York mailers

Will there be any more mailers by Jobs for New York on behalf of Cumbo?

We can't be sure, because Jobs for New York hasn't answered questions, but given the ongoing canvassing, it's likely. Even if they're not sent by the next filing deadline, Aug. 30, it's quite possible there will be a flurry in the final moments of the campaign.

The 120 or so mailers sent out by Jobs for New York for its suite of 19 Council candidates seem generic. They mix and match platitudes about progressive policy. Everyone sounds good. At the point, for most people, it's all about name recognition.

Cumbo mailer middle class, sent July 22, cost $14,061.40

Cumbo mailer housing, sent July 24, $14,061.40

Cumbo mailer health, sent July 26, cost $5454.96


  1. Anonymous11:51 AM

    As a voter in the district I find it horrible that rather than talk about why they are better with ideas, Ms. Fox and Mr. Mashariki are trying to beat up Laurie for support from a PAC that she doesn't control or support.

  2. Anonymous3:43 AM

    Money plays a big roll in any race so being indorsed by the PAC gives her better out reach to the ppl, but if the ppl dont understand what the PAC means for poor and low income families they will think she is someone special. She isnt and will only be a puppet for the sale of NYCHA, and the displacement of tenants who will not be protected by Ms. Gumbo if elected. She will own the Pac a favor and she even said it herself that ppl should blow the whistle. So all the others are doing is making it clear to the ppl who they need to raise the red flag to. Jelani did not except any money from them because he is set on his goals to unite old and new members of the community. We need to realize ho divided this district is and how out of touch some of us are with each other. Jelani is about unity and creating a better district for ALL PPL living here.

  3. Anonymous1:23 PM

    I'm just tired of all the "GENTRIFIERS" who came to Brooklyn and robbed people of their homes talking about they don't want these RE developers to come in and build expensive housing. WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU DO? HYPOCRITES!!