With just a week until primary Election Day, incumbent Brooklyn State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan faces a serious challenge from upstart democratic socialist opponent Julia Salazar. The seat, which Dilan has held for 17 years, has become another flashpoint for a nationwide power struggle between entrenched Democratic incumbents and younger, less-experienced candidates embraced by the Party’s ascendant left-wing.

In a district spanning the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint, access to housing has become a central issue in the race. To preempt the challenge from his left, Dilan, a former protégé of disgraced Brooklyn kingmaker Vito Lopez, has positioned himself as a fighter for tenants and an opponent of rapacious landlords. “I’ve always been a champion for working-class, low-income, and senior tenants in the district,” Dilan told Gothamist, touting his support for the Loft Law, rent freezes, and increasing penalties for abusive landlords.

An analysis of Dilan’s campaign war chest, however, tells a different story about the incumbent.

It’s no secret that Martin Dilan takes money from the real estate industry. But the scale and intensity of Dilan’s romance with landlords and their lobbyists is greater than previously reported. Since 1999, Dilan has accepted $325,400 from real estate entities, more than any senate Democrat besides Jeff Klein, the former Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) leader known for facilitating Republican control of the upper chamber. In total, 15 percent of Dilan’s campaign donations have come from developers and landlords. That’s nearly twice as much as any other state senator. (David Valesky, another member of the now-defunct IDC, took 8 percent of his contributions from real estate.)

Dilan’s campaign has painted his opponent as a gentrifier with no roots in the neighborhoods she seeks to represent. “[Salazar] just parachuted into the district last year and has no record of involvement in the community, let alone accomplishments,” said Dilan spokesman Bob Liff. “She claims to be running to protect residents against gentrification when she herself is a gentrifier, living in a market rate apartment in a development with no affordable units whatsoever.” (Salazar indeed lives in a market-rate apartment in Bushwick; she has three roommates. She moved to the district three years ago.)

“Compare that to Dilan’s long history of progressive fights in a district he was born in, raised his family in and still lives in,” Liff told Gothamist, “You can go block by block in the district and see the fruits of Dilan’s advocacy for affordable housing, multiple developments, hundreds of millions for NYCHA upgrades, new schools, health programs, etc.”

Our reporting also suggests that Dilan’s donors have seen the fruits of their sizable investments in his campaigns. Over the years, Dilan has voted for tax breaks for his campaign contributors, repeatedly neglected to co-sponsor pro-tenant legislation, and presided over a precipitous decline in rent-regulated housing stock in his district. Meanwhile, he opposed laws which seek to limit the influence of private industries on elected officials.

In 2008, Dilan joined corrupt former Republican city councilman Tom Ognibene in suing the Campaign Finance Board in an unsuccessful effort to overturn New York City’s pay-to-play laws, which restrict campaign contributions from developers and others doing business with the city. The lawsuit was financed by the real estate industry, and Dilan’s lawyer in the case was James Bopp, who also litigated Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court case that opened up a limitless flood of corporate money into political campaigns. Dilan remained a plaintiff in the NYC case through 2016, when it was finally dismissed by the Second Circuit.

The plaintiffs’ local counsel was Charles Capetanakis, a real estate lawyer at powerhouse NYC firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron. Between 2004 and 2014, Dilan’s campaign received $1,550 from the firm and its partners.

In an affidavit signed in April 2008, Dilan asserted that limits on donations from lobbyists and others doing city business would cause him “irreparable harm” if he were to run for city council.

“I would like to solicit and accept contributions in excess of $250 from those having business dealings with the city,” Dilan said in the affidavit. “I expect that I will receive a substantial portion of my financial support from those having business dealings with the city. I also expect that I would receive substantial support from limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, and partnerships, if they were allowed to contribute.”

In a friend-of-the-court brief, then-city council candidate Brad Lander defended the pay-to-play rules, arguing that the limits “enhance the independence and integrity of the City Council,” and help non-incumbents “who lack access to the City’s purse strings.”

The Dilan campaign declined to comment on the lawsuit. Councilman Lander’s office also declined to comment.

Dilan has also received $84,000 from the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a landlord group which consistently opposes pro-tenant legislation and spent more than $1 million on lobbying last year. Aaron Sirulnick, president of RSA and a fourth generation landlord, and his wife donated $6,750 to Dilan. His firm, Ditmas Management, tacked on another $7,250. Ditmas owns 2,132 rent-stabilized units in New York.

And Dilan has received $51,350 from the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), a trade association representing more than a thousand real estate firms that also bankrolls both the IDC and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Though Dilan’s real estate donations have dogged him in the past, tenant advocates hope this is the year they finally bite him. “The ground has shifted beneath his feet,” said Michael McKee, the head of Tenants PAC, a coalition of tenant groups which has endorsed Julia Salazar. “The idea that you can be a champion of tenants and take that much real estate money, it just doesn’t make sense to Democrats anymore. It won’t work.”

In recent weeks, Salazar has been accused of fabricating a working-class immigrant upbringing (she was in fact born in Florida to a Colombian immigrant father and American-born mother; her brother insists they were comfortably middle-class ) to gain political advantage. Others have called into question her Jewish identity. But Dilan’s self-image as an intrepid champion of tenants appears just as dubious.

While Dilan rakes in cash from landlords, the number of affordable units in his district has plummeted. Since 2007, Dilan’s district has lost at least 7,111 rent stabilized units, 21 percent of its total rent stabilized housing stock, according to tax records. The average number of units lost during the same 10-year period in the rest of the city was 10 percent.

The sharp decline has been enabled by a policy known as “vacancy decontrol,” which allows landlords to escape rent regulations when tenants move out of an apartment costing at least $2,700. Landlords are also permitted to pass on a percentage of renovation costs to tenants, allowing them to boost rents when regulated tenants leave. “That is the number one tool for gentrification and the number one tool for fraud,” Aaron Carr, head of the nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative, told ProPublica.

The law gives landlords an incentive to force tenants out; tenants’ groups call it the “eviction bonus.” As a city councilman in 1994, Dilan voted in favor of decontrol. The measure passed by just two votes. Dilan has since expressed remorse for his decision, telling The Intercept he never expected rents in his district to rise high enough to trigger destabilization. But Dilan also declined to co-sponsor every vacancy de-control repeal effort until 2015—when he faced another competitive primary from a tenant organizer.

María Rubio, a longtime District 18 resident from Honduras, isn’t buying Dilan’s image as a champion of tenants. “Dilan never even shows his face here in the district,” she said, “I’ve had to go to Albany to talk to him, but even after waiting hours and hours, he wouldn’t take the trouble to talk to us. Dilan has done nothing to stem the tide of displacement of Latinos and poor working people.”

Dilan has also supported legislation to raise penalties for landlords who harass tenants or sabotage their rent-regulated units. “It's a situation that's ongoing within my district, where we have landlords that are basically destroying their properties so they can get rent-regulated tenants out of their apartments so they can get increased rents,” Dilan said in 2014.

But Dilan has continued taking large sums of money from the city’s most abusive landlords.

Since 1999, Dilan has received $15,850 from the Wartski Family. Jay Wartski, who has drawn multiple civil and criminal charges for abusing tenants and neglecting their apartments, made the news again in 2017 for allegedly spraying pesticides to force rent-controlled tenants out of their apartments. When Rafael Espinal, a former aide to Dilan’s son Erik, ran for City Council in 2011, Espinal’s $5,000 campaign donation from Wartski was criticized by tenant groups and the tabloids. Espinal hasn’t taken a dollar from the Wartskis since. Dilan, however, has taken $10,000 from five different LLCs owned by the Wartskis since 2016.

The Dilan campaign declined to comment on the Wartski donations, but repeated that his record on housing and tenants speaks for itself. Councilman Espinal, who has endorsed Dilan, declined to comment for this piece.

Real estate entities often use this “LLC loophole” to donate unlimited amounts of money with little or no public scrutiny. Those LLCs are often the same used to obscure ownership of their properties, a frequent source of consternation for tenants and advocates.

Governor Cuomo’s biggest overall donor, mega-landlord Glenwood, has also been a major contributor to Dilan’s campaigns. In 2015, a federal indictment alleged that Glenwood bribed Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos for favorable votes on legislation, a series of tax breaks, that were “crucial to Glenwood’s profitability.” Dilan voted for some of the same legislation, but he may have escaped public scrutiny at the time because his donations from Glenwood were masked behind LLCs. Glenwood has given $44,750 to Martin Dilan through various executives, LLC’s and subsidiaries.

Yet Dilan has repeatedly asserted that political donations have no effect on his decisions. “I’m going to accept funds, and if you look at my track record, I have not done anything that goes against my constituents,” Dilan recently told City Limits. “But if you want to send me a check, I’ll take it also.” Liff, Dilan’s spokesman, told Gothamist, “Dilan votes the interests of his constituents no matter who his contributors are.”

Dilan’s campaign website calls him an “outspoken critic of granting developers long-term tax breaks to develop affordable housing”—a reference to the controversial 421-a program, which gives developers a break on taxes in exchange for agreeing to build affordable units. “Having supported these tax programs more than a decade ago,” says his website, “Senator Dilan has taken issue with the lack of enforcement holding developers to these agreements.”

In reality, Dilan voted to extend tax abatements to two of his donors—Extell and Thor Equities—just five years ago. Extell, whose tax breaks were extended for an additional 10 years, made news for building a “poor door” at one of its 421-a subsidized developments. The market rate units at the luxury Riverside Boulevard tower on West 62nd Street in Manhattan feature stunning views of the river and have access to two gyms, a pool, a movie theater, a bowling alley, 24/7 doormen, a courtyard and a chandeliered lobby. Tenants in the affordable units, which face east, use a separate entrance and are prohibited from using the building’s generous amenities.

Dilan spokesman Liff said he didn’t believe Extell or Thor had any business in the district.

Liff’s own website lists Extell as a client of his public relations firm. He told Gothamist, “Seven or eight years ago I showed up at one meeting for them, but Extell is a totally separate kind of client. We advise them through some of the city hall process.”

In fairness, the main reason no significant pro-tenant legislation has passed during Dilan’s tenure is that Republicans have controlled the state senate. For the past 8 years, Dilan has been able to speak the language of tenant advocacy to his constituents—without having to cast a vote that would significantly undermine his donors’ bottom line.

That may change in November.

“In 2019 the State Senate may be controlled by Democrats for the first time in years,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, which has endorsed Salazar, “We’ll have a real chance to strengthen and expand rent stabilization, pass legislation that protects tenants, and house the 89,000 New Yorkers experiencing homelessness. To do that, we’ll need a state senator who’s willing to stand up to the landlords. I know Marty Dilan isn’t up for it.”

The New York State primary is Thursday, September 13th. Find out where to vote, and here's more coverage of the upcoming primary and midterm elections.

Georgia Kromrei is currently pursuing a dual graduate degree in computer science and journalism at Columbia University, where she is also a member of the Graduate Workers Union.

Sam Adler-Bell is a writer in New York. His work can be found at The Intercept, The Nation, the New Republic, and elsewhere.


Es Martin Dilan el Democráta Favorito del Grupo de Presión de la Inmobiliaria?

Faltando solo una semana hasta las primarias, el titular Senador de Estado de Brooklyn Martin Dilan, enfrenta un desafío serio de su oponente socialista democrática Julia Salazar. La posición, la cual Dilan ha tenido hace 17 años, ha sido otro punto crítico en la lucha de poder nacional entre titulares democráticos y candidatos más jóvenes, con menos experiencia y aceptados por la ala izquierda ascendiente del partido.

En un distrito abarcando los vecindarios rápidamente aburguesando de Williamsburg, Bushwick, y Greenpoint, la vivienda ha sido una cuestión central en la competencia política. Para evitar el desafío de su izquierda, Dilan, el antiguo pupilo del poder en la sombra del deshonrado Vito López, se ha posicionado como el luchador de los inquilinos y el oponente de los propietarios. “Siempre he sido el campeón de los inquilinos de clase obrera, bajo ingreso, y de la tercera edad,” Dilan le dijo a Gothamist, publicitando su apoyo por la Ley de ‘Loft,’ el congelo de arriendo, y aumentos penales para propietarios abusivos.
Un análisis de los fondos de campaña de Dilan, sin embargo, cuentan una historia diferente del titular.

No es un secreto que Martin Dilan acepta dinero de la industria inmobiliaria. Pero la escala y intensidad del romance de Dilan con los propietarios y sus cabilderos es más grande que previamente declarado. Desde 1991, Dilan ha aceptado $325,400 de las entidades de inmobiliaria, más que cualquier demócata del senado aparte de Jeff Klein, el antiguo líder del Caucus Democrático Independiente (IDC) que es conocido por facilitar el control republicano de la cámara superior. En total, el 15 por ciento de las donaciones de campaña de Dilan ha venido de constructores y propietarios. Eso es el doble de cualquier otro senador de estado. (David Valesky, otro miembro del ya difunto IDC, tomo 8 por ciento de sus contribuciones de la inmobiliaria.)

La campaña de Dilan ha pintado a su oponente como una aburguesada sin raíces en los vecindarios ella quiere a representar. “[Salazar] acaba de llegar de paracaída en el distrito el año pasado y no tiene historia de implicación en la comunidad, ni de que logros hablar,” dijo el portavoz de Dilan, Bob Liff. “Ella asegura ser candidata para proteger a los residentes contra el aburguesamiento a pesar de que ella sea aburguesada, viviendo en un apartamento a precio de mercado en una urbanización sin unidades asequibles de ningún modo.” (Salazar de hecho vive en un apartamento a precio de mercado en Bushwick; ella tiene tres compañeras de habitación.)

“Compare eso a la larga historia de luchas progresistas de Dilan en un distrito en el cual él nació, crío su familia, y donde todavía vive,” Liff le dijo a Gothamist. “Usted puede ir manzana por manzana en el distrito y ver los frutos del apoyo de Dilan para vivienda asequible, múltiples urbanizaciones, centenas de millones para actualizaciones de NYCHA, escuelas nuevas, programas sanitarios, etcétera.”

Nuestro reportaje también sugiere que los donantes de Dilan han visto los frutos de sus inversiones considerables en sus campañas. A través de los años, Dilan ha votado por exenciones tributarias para sus donantes de campaña, de seguido no cumpliendo con copatrocinar legislación pro-inquilino, y presidió el disminuido escarpado de vivienda con arriendo regulado en su distrito. Mientras tanto se ha opuesto a leyes que querían limitar la influencia de industrias privadas en los oficiales elegidos.

En 2008, Dilan se unió al antiguo concejal republicano corrupto Tom Ognibene en demandar a la Junta de Finanza de Campaña. La demanda fue financiada por la industria inmobiliaria, el abogado de Dilan en el caso fue James Bop, quien también mitigó Citizens United, el caso del Tribunal Supremo trascendental que facilitó a una inundación de dinero corporativo en las campañas políticas.

El abogado local de los demandantes fue Charles Capetanakis, un abogado de inmobiliaria del despacho de fuerza motriz de NYC Davidoff Hutcher & Citron. Entre 2004 y 2014, la campaña de Dilan recibió $1,550 del despacho y sus socios.

En una declaración jurada firmada en abril del 2008, Dilan aseguró que los límites en las donaciones de los cabilderos y otros haciendo negocio de la ciudad le causarían “daño irreparable” si él fuera candidato de concejal.

“Me gustaría solicitar y aceptar contribuciones en exceso de $250 de los que tienen tratos comerciales con la ciudad,” Dilan dijo en la declaración jurada. “Espero que recibiré una porción considerable de mi apoyo financiero de los que tienen tratos comerciales con la ciudad. También me imagino que yo recibiría apoyo considerable de compañías de responsabilidad limitada, sociedades de responsabilidad limitada, y asociaciones, si pudieran contribuir.”

En un escrito amicus curiae, candidato del Consejo Municipal Brad Lander defendió las reglas de “pagar para jugar,” argumentando que los límites “aumentan la independencia e integridad del Consejo Municipal,” y ayudan a los no titulares “que faltan acceso a los cofres de la Ciudad.” La campaña Dilan se negó a comentar sobre el litigio. La oficina de Concejal Lander también se negó a comentar.

Dilan también ha recibido $84,000 de la Asociación de Estabilización del Alquiler (RSA), un grupo de propietarios que sistemáticamente se opone a legislación pro-inquilinos y gastó más de $1 millón en cabildeo el año pasado. Aaron Sirulnick, presidente de la RSA y un propietario de cuarto generación, y su esposa donaron $6,750 a Dilan. Su empresa, Ditmas Management, añadió otro $7,250. Ditmas es propietario de 2,132 alquileres estabilizadas en Nueva York.

Y Dilan ha recibido $51,350 de la Junta de Bienes Raíces de Nueva York (REBNY), una asociación de comercio representando más de mil empresas de bienes raíces que también financia al IDC y Gobernador Andrew Cuomo.

Aunque las donaciones del sector inmobiliario a Dilan lo han perseguido en el pasado, defensores de inquilinos esperan que éste será el año en que finalmente lo hunden. “El suelo se ha cambiado debajo de sus pies,” dijo Michael McKee, jefe de Tenants PAC, una coalición de grupos de inquilinos que ha dado su apoyo a Julia Salazar. “La idea que puedes ser campeón de inquilinos y aceptar tanta dinero del sector inmobiliario, ya no tiene sentido para las Demócratas. No funcionará.”

Sin embargo, Dilan ha afirmado repetidamente que las donaciones políticas no tienen efecto en sus decisiones. “Voy a aceptar fondos, y si miras a mi trayectoria, no he hecho nada que vaya contra a mis constituyentes,” Dilan recientemente dijo a City Limits. “Pero si quieres mandarme un cheque, yo también lo aceptará.” Liff, el portavoz de Dilan, dijo a Gothamist, “Dilan vota en los intereses de sus constituyentes, independientemente de quienes son sus contribuidores.”

El sitio de web de la campaña Dilan le llama un “crítico abierto de conceder recortes de impuestos a largo plazo a desarrolladores para desarrollar viviendas asequibles” - una referencia al controvertido programa 421-a, que otorga un recorte de impuestos a desarrolladores a cambio de consentir a construir unidades asequibles. “Haber apoyado a estos programas de impuestos hace más que una década,” dice su sitio de web, “Senador Dilan ha tenido problemas con la falta de ejecución manteniendo a los desarrolladores con estos acuerdos.”

En realidad, Dilan votó a extender recortes de impuestos para dos de sus donantes - Extell y Thor Equities - hace solamente cinco años. Extell, cuyos recortes de impuestos fueron extendieron para unos 10 años adicional, se hizo noticia por construir una “puerta pobre” en uno de sus desarrollos subsidiados por 421-a. Las unidades de tasa de mercado en el torre lujo Riverside Boulevard en la calle West 62 en Manhattan ofrecen vistas maravillosas del río y tienen acceso a dos gimnasios, una piscina, un cine, una bolera, porteros 24/7, un patio y un vestíbulo de candelabro. Inquilinos en las unidades asequibles, que miran hacia el este, con una entrada separada y son prohibidos de usar las generosas comodidades.

El portavoz de Dilan, Liff, dijo que no creyó que Extell ni Thor tenían negocio en el distrito. El propio sitio de web de Liff lista Extell como cliente de su empresa de relaciones públicas. Dijo a Gothamist, “Hace siete u ocho años aparecí en una reunión para ellos, pero Extell es un tipo de cliente completamente separada. Les aconsejamos a través de algunos de los procesos de City Hall.”

En justicia, la razón principal que no ha pasado ninguna legislación pro-inquilino durante la tenencia de Dilan es que los Republicanos han controlado el Senado del Estado. Por las últimas 8 años, Dilan ha sido capaz de hablar la lengua de defensa de inquilinos a sus constituyentes - sin tener que emitir un voto que habría socavado significativamente el resultado final de sus donantes.

Eso puede cambiar en Noviembre.

“En 2019 el Senado Estatal puede ser controlado por Demócratas por la primera vez en años,” dijo Jonathan Westin, director ejecutivo de Comunidades por Cambio Nueva York, que ha endorsado a Salazar. “Tendremos una oportunidad real para fortalecer y expandir la estabilización de alquiler, pasar legislación que protege inquilinos, y alojar a los 89,000 Nuevayorquinos sufriendo la falta de vivienda. Para hacer eso, necesitaremos un Senador Estatal dispuesto a resistir a los propietario. Yo sé que Marty Dilan no está preparado para eso.”