Billionaire tycoon Stephen Ross, who chairs the company behind the mega Hudson Yards project in Manhattan, has used his vast wealth to pump a half million dollars into a newly formed super political action committee aimed at encouraging more voter participation in the June primary. His contribution comes months after doling out $1 million to another super PAC, which helped defeat a progressive Democrat in a New York City Council race earlier this year.
State records (first reported by The City) show that Ross contributed $500,000 to Vote for NYC's Future Inc., a super PAC whose treasurer is Charles John O'Byrne, an executive at the Related Companies, the developer behind the Hudson Yards project in which Ross serves as chairperson. O'Byrne has been a Democratic operative for years, serving as a speechwriter to the Democratic leader of the state Senate and secretary to Governor David Paterson.
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So far, Ross has been the only contributor to the super PAC. A review on the city Campaign Finance Board shows the PAC has not spent anything $1,000 or above, the trigger for posting a PAC's expenditures during an election cycle. Super PACs are designed to indirectly support a candidate or an issue without any coordination with any campaign.
It's unclear yet who the PAC is endorsing, though in an interview with Bloomberg News last month, Ross said he leans toward mayoral candidates who are “moderate thinking, pro-growth, and pro-job Democrats." Some Democratic mayoral candidates seen as moderates include former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan and Wall Street financier Ray McGuire, who see the business community as a partner towards the city's economic recovery post-COVID. The business community has contributed heavily for both.
The super PAC's mission to encourage greater voter turnout bears similarities with another super PAC tied to the Related Companies called Be Counted NYC, which sought to lure more New Yorkers, including Republicans, to register Democrat so they can cast a vote in the primary. The super PAC had been formed by Lisa Blau, the wife of Jeff Blau, CEO of The Related Companies.
A spokesperson for the Related Companies declined to comment.
The latest cash infusion comes months after Ross promised to use his wealth to influence New York City Council races. In late December, he contributed $1 million to another super PAC dubbed Common Sense NYC, which spent $221,140 in Queens' 24th Council District special election in February—$95,317 of of that went towards nasty campaign ads on Moumita Ahmed, a candidate in the race who ultimately lost to James Gennaro, a moderate Democrat.
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In a statement previously sent to Gothamist/WNYC, John Gallagher, a spokesperson for Common Sense NYC, said the contributions for the super PAC were largely driven by their perception that "NYC is in crisis and the future of NYC literally hangs in the balance."
Wealthy New Yorkers have expectedly made plenty of noise over the direction of the city in recent months, with organizations such as the Partnership for New York City warning that an exodus of wealthy residents will occur if the business community's pleas for improved public safety and lower taxes are not heard.
The $1.5 million is a drop in the bucket to Ross's vast wealth, which Forbes magazine estimates to be at over $7 billion. A former tax attorney, Ross founded the Related Companies in 1972, expanding its real estate footprint across New York City since. The company's $25 billion project, Hudson Yards, opened to the public in March 2019 and is billed as the largest private development in the country's history. The project, however, experienced significant losses, including its anchor tenant, Neiman Marcus, filing for bankruptcy, and unsold condominiums in the complex. Along with the Related Companies, Ross is also the owner of the the Miami Dolphins and has interests in the Equinox Fitness gym and SoulCycle chains.
Ross isn't the only member of the 1% to have thrown money into the primary races so far. Among them include Alice Walton, the heir to the Walmart empire and one of the richest women in the world, who contributed $800,000 to a super PAC that supported John Sanchez in the 15th Council District special election race. James Dolan, the billionaire owner of the Madison Square Garden, has given directly to McGuire and Donovan. A super PAC tied to Dolan dubbed The Coalition to Restore New York has so far raised $2.9 million.