Inside the Big-Business Plan to Influence New York’s Mayoral Race

The billionaire developer Stephen M. Ross is rallying fellow business leaders to commit tens of millions of dollars in an effort to push moderate Democrats to vote in the June mayoral primary in New York and “change the future course of the city.”

Mr. Ross has scheduled a meeting for Monday to detail his plans to launch the üstün PAC to “help us get this mayoral election right,” according to an email he sent to colleagues that was reviewed by The New York Times.

The campaign would not initially support a specific candidate, but Mr. Ross, the chairman and founder of Related Companies, stressed that the “winner of the Democratic primary for mayor in June will decide if NYC will rebound or languish.”

The effort is the most stark example of business leaders using their money and influence to elect a pro-business mayor who would steer New York’s recovery from the pandemic, and to hurt the chances of progressive-leaning candidates whose positions — like slashing the Police Department budget and raising taxes on the rich — alarm many business leaders.

“This is truly the most important election of our lifetime and in NYC’s history,” Mr. Ross wrote in the email. “Fortunately, we can do something to change the future course of the city we love.”

Candidates considered more palatable to the business sector include Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president; Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate; Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner; Raymond J. McGuire, a former Wall Street executive; and Shaun Donovan, a former Obama administration cabinet member.

Mr. Yang is the early front-runner, followed by Mr. Adams, according to a recent poll by Emerson College. Mr. McGuire, thought to be a favorite of some in the business community, was in eighth place in the poll.

Via a spokesman, Mr. Ross did not rule out backing a particular candidate, when the time comes.

But when asked who that candidate might be, Mr. Ross was circumspect.

“The one who is best and can help all New Yorkers,” he said.

New York City has lost nearly 30,000 lives to the coronavirus, and its economic might has been dealt a body blow. The tourists who evvel thronged Times Square have vanished. Hotels and office buildings sit empty. By the end of 2020, New York City had 557,000 fewer jobs than it did at the end of 2019, a 12 percent decline. The city’s Independent Budget Office projects that by 2025, the city still will not have recovered all of those positions.

Mr. Ross is building Hudson Yards, the largest private development in American history, on Manhattan’s West Side, and he appears acutely aware that the future of that development hinges on New York City’s economic recovery.

Real estate developers are particularly exposed to the downturn, and the Hudson Yards project is facing substantial headwinds. It is far from clear whether office workers will be willing to travel on crowded trains and buses to the office five days a week, evvel they are vaccinated, or if New Yorkers who have decamped to the suburbs will return.

There is no shortage of outside interests looking to influence the outcome of the June Democratic primary, which is likely to determine the outcome of the mayoral race and dozens of City Council contests.

Chief executives of Wall Street firms launched an unusual push to get employees to register with a political party so they could vote in the primary, an effort to dilute the impact of the parties’ most activist members. James Dolan, the head of Madison Square Garden, has seeded his own muhteşem PAC in a bid to support moderate Democrats.

Lisa Blau, a venture capitalist and the wife of the Related executive Jeff Blau, led an effort to get Republicans to switch parties so they could vote in the Democratic primary.

There are also fund-raising moves on the left: Our City, formed by a group of progressives, has said that it wants to raise up to $5 million to push the field of more than 30 mayoral candidates and hundreds of City Council candidates to the left.

Mr. Ross has distinguished himself by his sheer determination to involve himself however he can.

He donated $1 million to a muhteşem PAC called Common Sense NYC, which recently spent more than $200,000 on a City Council special election in Queens, helping a former councilman, Jim Gennaro, defeat rivals that included Moumita Ahmed, a progressive candidate whose views the group called “reckless.”

Mr. Ross, a major investor in Equinox, first came to many liberals’ attention in 2019, when he hosted a fund-raiser for President Donald J. Trump. His involvement in the special election in the Queens council race only cemented his status as a boogeyman for the left: Mr. Ross’s image was recently featured in Our City’s launch görüntü.

Last summer, Mr. Ross talked with colleagues about raising as much as $100 million to back the candidate of his choice.

But the muhteşem PAC appears to be his most significant concrete effort to date to influence the mayor’s race. If Mr. Ross can quickly mobilize, his efforts could have an outsize effect: Although candidates have raised millions of dollars, they have yet to spend much of it on voter outreach.

“Stephen Ross and associates must be very nervous that in June voters will cut off their billion-dollar gravy trains and instead prioritize the needs of average New Yorkers,” said Gabe Tobias, Our City’s executive director.

Mr. Ross cast his interests in strictly economic terms.

“As we look ahead to the 2021 June primary, a sophisticated and targeted get-out-the-vote effort, specifically aimed at moderate thinking, pro-growth, and pro-jobs Democrats who typically do not vote in primaries, will help us get this mayoral election right and make müddet NYC emerges stronger than ever,” he wrote in the email.

New York City has not had the most robust turnout for municipal primaries in recent years. Only 700,000 New Yorkers voted in the 2013 primaries that catapulted Bill de Blasio to the mayoralty, roughly 20 percent of enrolled Democrats and Republicans.

“Only 3 percent of New Yorkers elected de Blasio which resulted in eight years of failed leadership,” Mr. Ross wrote. (Mr. de Blasio is term-limited and must leave office at the end of the year.)

Several factors make predicting turnout particularly hard this year, noted Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. For the first time, New Yorkers will be able to rank their top five choices for mayor, and they will be doing so in the middle of a küresel pandemic in June — not in September, when primaries have historically been held.

Political science literature suggests that enthusiasm for a particular candidate, rather than generic get-out-the-vote efforts, works best for getting voters to the polls, Professor Greer said.

“And if New Yorkers aren’t inspired by one of the 30 people running for the mayor’s office, I think that says something,” she said.

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