After real estate industry–backed candidates lose Democratic primaries, REBNY president John Banks vows to win over incoming senators

After real estate industry–backed candidates lose Democratic primaries, REBNY president John Banks vows to charm incoming senators

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The president of the city’s most powerful real estate lobbying group said he felt confident the industry can persuade a new crop of elected officials to look favorably upon its interests after a tough night of primary elections. Most concerning is the defeat of six members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction in the state Senate that kept the legislative body under Republican control and was a bulwark for real estate interests.

A Democratic Senate could change the level of influence the industry holds on key issues, including the rules that allow landlords to remove affordable apartments from rent-stabilization programs.

“We have always felt that the reason we have been able to be successful in Albany is because our message resonates with people and is based on sound economics and math and facts,” said John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of New York. He was speaking today at a press conference to announce the recipients of several awards it will present at its annual banquet in January. “We think—regardless of who’s in there—that our message is based on those three things. An agenda that is supportive of the production of more affordable housing will resonate regardless of the position they took in the past before they had the opportunity to listen to more sides of the argument.”

The Democratic primary results, which in a solidly blue state like New York are often seen as more important than the general election in determining who will be elected, offered a few bright spots as well for the real estate community. While the industry’s favored candidate, Sean Patrick Maloney, was defeated in the primary race for attorney general by Public Advocate Leticia James, Zephyr Teachout, who had publicly pledged to reject money from the industry, was also soundly beaten by James, who had received support from real estate donors.

“Each candidate gets to make a decision about how they want to conduct their campaigns and who they want to accept money from,” Banks said. “That doesn’t bother us at all.”

Helena Durst, a partner at the Durst Organization, said she had been bothered by Teachout’s criticism of real estate campaign contributions and the way she had singled out the Durst family during the debate. The Dursts, one of the city’s most powerful real estate dynasties, was one of Maloney’s biggest backers, contributing $150,000 to his campaign.

“Zephyr relayed where we had put our money,” Durst said. “I think that persecution of a particular donor is not the proper way to have a dialogue. At this point it’s important to ensure that we’re having a dialogue. The way I look at is, you can’t hate the player; you have to look at the system as a whole.”

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