By Jill Colvin and Sandra E. Garcia
NEW YORK CITY — Assemblyman Guillermo Linares has collected tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from powerful developers and landlords in his bid to unseat State Sen. Adriano Espaillat — despite running on a platform that promises more affordable housing uptown.
Linares took in more than $50,000 in contributions from developers, landlords and other real estate interests, according to campaign finance records — a full quarter of the total he’s raised ahead of this week’s competitive Democratic primary race.
At least $20,000 of that money came from subsidiaries of billionaire landlord Leonard Litwin, according to the records, court documents and business filings. Litwin is secretary of the pro-landlord Real Estate Board of New York and vice chair of the Rent Stabilization Association of New York, which has fought to release rent-controlled apartments to market rate.
Espaillat has seized on the contributions as his newest attack line as he makes his final push to save his seat from his long-time rival, after narrowly losing a bid to unseat Rep. Charlie Rangel in the congressional primary in June.
“I believe very strongly that this primary is being launched by the landlord interests and that my opponent has received over $40,000 from the landlord lobby to try to push me out because I’ve been a… maverick for tenants’ rights,” Espaillat charged at debate last week hosted by the Manhattan Neighborhood Network.
Espaillat, who sits on the senate's housing committee, alleged the move was an attempt to weaken pro-tenant regulations.
“They’re trying to push the tenant movement in Northern Manhattan under the rug,” he said.
Linares immediately fired back, insisting the campaign has earned support “from across the board” and that his record proves his dedication to tenants’ rights.
“In terms of my constituency, and if you want to look on where my position has been when it comes to housing or any other issue, just go to the record and you will find where I’ve stood every step of the way,” he said.
He noted that as a member of the City Council he defied then-Speaker Gifford Miller by opposing a measure that allows rent-controlled apartments to return to market rate once they’ve been vacated — one of the most significant threats to the city's affordable housing stock, advocates say.
“I firmly support tenants and affordable housing. I’ve been a champion of it all throughout. And I will continue to,” he said.
Linares' campaign spokesman Mark Guma also noted that Litwin is a prolific donor who has helped boost the coffers of nearly every Democrat in the state.
And he stressed that Espaillat has been accepting contributions from real estate groups as well — through records show he has received far less than Linares, with about $10,000 in real estate contributions, amounting to about 6 percent of his total cash.
Linares “has one of the strongest, most solid records on tenants issues around,” Guma said.
“He’s been a champion for tenants’ rights his whole political career and will continue to be as a state senator,” he said.
In attempting to undermine Linares' commitment of affordable housing, Espaillat is going after one of the core issues of both men's campaigns.
Throughout the campaign season, Espaillat has argued that affordable housing is the most pressing issue affecting residents of the newly redrawn district, which now stretches along the West Side of Manhattan and into Midtown.
His contributions also include cash from pro-tenant donors, including $1,000 from the Tenants Political Action Committee, which has endorsed him in the race.
"Senator Adriano Espaillat's record of fighting for tenants is a great contrast to his opponent's addiction to campaign contributions from shady landlords,” the group's treasurer, Michael McKee, said in a statement announcing their support.
Linares, meanwhile, has also made developing new affordable housing a centerpoint of his agenda, arguing that finding ways to encourage the private sector to develop new affordable housing is the best way to spur local jobs.
“I want to bring the private sector to invest...the way they did it for private sector and high-luxury apartments,” he said at the debate.
In addition to the real estate contributions, Linares has also earned the financial support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, as well as many livery base and car service owners.
Espaillat, meanwhile, has raised cash from unions, as well as from pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly and Pfizer.
With reporting by Carla Zanoni