New York City’s ultra-rich are lining up behind a candidate for Manhattan District Attorney, dumping piles of cash into the crowded race for one of the nation’s top law enforcement jobs. With the Democratic primary less than three months away, Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, has amassed a $2.2 million war chest—more than twice that of her nearest rival, according to campaign donation filings through January.
A review of donations by Gothamist/WNYC shows that leading finance and real estate players have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Farhadian Weinstein's campaign. Some of the donors have close ties to her husband, Boaz Weinstein, founder of the $3 billion hedge fund Saba Capital Management. Others travel in similar social circles, or even live in her Fifth Avenue coop building.
The money coming in has raised concerns among good government groups and rival candidates in the race about Farhadian Weinstein’s ability to act as a watchdog over Wall Street when she has such close monetary and social bonds to some of the financial sector’s key players.
While city law caps most donations in New York City elections at $5,100, the DA race is governed by far more lax state laws. Donors can contribute up to $37,829—twelve times what individuals can donate to a U.S. presidential campaign—giving Farhadian Weinstein’s deep-pocketed donors more sway in this election than arguably any other New York election this year.
Among her biggest supporters are Frederick J. Iseman, Chairman & CEO of CI Capital Partners LLC, who gave $35,400. Iseman and Farhadian Weinstein live in the same Fifth Avenue building, records show. Five top executives at Saba Capital Management, her husband’s hedge fund, and their spouses have donated more than $100,000 combined.
Other top donors include hedge fund managers David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital and Zachary Schreiber of PointState Capital, who each gave near the maximum allowed contribution. Schreiber’s wife Lori did as well, for a combined $70,800 between the couple. Einhorn didn’t return a request for comment; the Schreibers couldn’t be reached.
Jason Mudrick of Mudrick Capital Management also donated $35,400, near the maximum allotted donation.
“I know her personally, initially through her husband Boaz, but when I heard she was running I called her up and said, ‘How can I help?’’ he said. “If we had more people like Tali working in our government we’d be in a different place.”
Lee Ainslie, the managing partner at Maverick Capital; Fiona Rudin, wife of Eric Rudin, of the real estate conglomerate Rudin Management Company; and the chairman of the Durst Organization, Douglas Durst, have also put funds behind Farhadian Weinstein’s campaign. So did Lisa Blau, investor and the wife of Related Companies CEO Jeff Blau, who recently led a $1.5 million campaign to ask Republicans to register as Democrats in an effort to shift the upcoming primary electorate to the right—she contributed $25,000. None of them returned requests for comment.
Born in Iran, Farhadian Weinstein immigrated to the U.S. as a child when her family fled religious persecution for their Jewish faith. She grew up in New Jersey and went to Yale Law School, and worked as an assistant district attorney in the Eastern District of New York after holding prominent positions in DC, including as clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and counsel to Attorney General Eric Holder in the Obama administration.
When asked about her reliance on multi-millionaire donors in an interview with Gothamist/WNYC, Farhadian Weinstein pointed to the more than 2,000 donations received from people who gave less than $2,000 each.
“I think every candidate goes to the people she knows to start building out support,” she said. “I’m really proud that I have support from people I know personally and people I don’t know personally for whom my message resonated.”
In a race where many candidates have positioned themselves as reformers, far to the left of current District Attorney Cy Vance, Farhadian Weinstein describes herself as a progressive and talks about reforming Vance’s office. But according Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for NYC, a business lobbying group, Farhadian Weinstein is seen as friendlier to the business community, and as someone who would carry more or less along a similar course as Vance.
“Tali is a favorite among financial services and other members of the business community who know her both socially and professionally and think very highly of her,” Wylde said. “The business community has generally thought that Cy Vance has done a good job at reconciling quality of life and criminal justice issues and that they would like to see continuity and a thoughtful approach and, if I may say, a moderate approach.”
More left-leaning groups, on the other hand, have not been supportive of Vance’s record on a number issues, and are pushing for a dramatic break from the status quo. Vance has faced criticism for going easy on powerful New Yorkers facing charges of sexual assault crimes or white-collar crimes, while continuing prosecutions of low-level offenses that disproportionately affect Black and brown New Yorkers. He has held the coveted post since 2009 and is not seeking re-election.
“You have folks that live in a bubble making decisions for the rest of us on the ground,” said Tahanie Aboushi, a civil rights attorney, another candidate in the race, who’s received backing from the Working Families Party and other progressive groups.
Overall, Farhadian Weinstein received 75 donations of $10,000 or more, three times that of the second biggest fundraiser in the race, Alvin Bragg, another former federal prosecutor who also worked for State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
"Independence is the cornerstone of this position," said Bragg. "Independence and the perception of independence. So I do think that having so many contributions from a sector that this job is traditionally overseeing and regulating... is a very legitimate issues in this race."
About half of the funds donated to Bragg’s campaign were in chunks of $2,000 or more since the start of his campaign, compared to 86% of the funds Farhadian Weinstein took in during the most recent sixth-month filing period. Farhadian Weinstein received 21 donations of $30,000 or more, compared to Bragg, who got two donations at that level.
The candidate has said she will only take $1 dollar donations from criminal defense attorneys. (At this time she has received 154 donations of just $1, many from attorneys.) That was a point of contention for Vance, who came under fire in 2017 for taking campaign donations from well-heeled criminal defense lawyers who represented clients like the Trump family and Harvey Weinstein.
But Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, said substituting donations from elite members of the financial services sector over criminal defense lawyers is trading one problem for another.
“This is the Manhattan DA,” she said. “Part of that portfolio is oversight of Wall Street and the financial industry and so to point to substantial contributions from the financial industry presents a problem.”
Common Cause and other government watchdog groups have lobbied for public matching of campaign donations and lower donation thresholds on the state level, similar to New York City’s campaign finance system. In 2019, state lawmakers passed legislation to create a matching funds program for state races, while also reducing the maximum campaign contributions individuals can give to statewide candidates per election cycle from $69,700 to $18,000. But the new law doesn’t go into effect until after the race for governor next year, and it won’t cover district attorney races.
“We can all imagine a better system then the one that we find ourselves in,” said Farhadian Weinstein, who said she would have welcomed public financing in the race, adding the donations wouldn’t affect her ability to go after white-collar criminals. “My entire career has been guided by the principle that we treat like cases alike, that nobody is above the law.”
Her husband rose through the ranks at Deutsche Bank, and launched his own firm, Saba Capital Management, in 2009. The couple live with their three young daughters in a $25.5 million Fifth Avenue penthouse they bought in 2012 from the estate of the reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark, property records show. A floor plan of the apartment showed 10-rooms including a gallery, a library, and a “master sitting room.”
Farhadian Weinstein has dismissed comments about her husband’s wealth as “misogyny.”
During the past year as many New Yorkers were struggling to pay rent, Weinstein’s hedge fund drew in $1 billion in new investments and his existing investments nearly doubled, Bloomberg reported. The family rode out the early months of the pandemic at their sprawling beach-adjacent home in the Hamptons, complete with a pool and tennis court, recently valued by local tax assessors at $13 million.
Farhadian Weinstein’s ability to tap into a massive donor pool with relative ease presents challenges for the other seven candidates in the race. In addition to Aboushi and Bragg, they include former Manhattan prosecutors Lucy Lang and Diana Florence, public defender Eliza Orlins, State Assemblymember Dan Quart, and criminal defense attorney Elizabeth Crotty.
But Aboushi, who received one donation above $30,000 (it was from Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving), said she wasn’t deterred. She raised money from roughly the same number of donors as Farhadian Weinstein but with an average donation of $146 compared to Farhadian Weinstein’s $958 average contribution.
“Is it a concern that she can very well buy the race? And that she’ll have that access to whatever resources she needs? Of course, that’s always there,” Aboushi said. “But we know we can outwork the money.”