Follow the money in the likely special election for Queens BP

The winner of a likely special election for Queens borough president will occupy Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.  Eagle  file photo by David Brand.

The winner of a likely special election for Queens borough president will occupy Borough Hall in Kew Gardens. Eagle file photo by David Brand.

By Victoria Merlino and David Brand

Melinda Katz hasn’t been elected Queens district attorney yet, but already hundreds of thousands of dollars have poured into the campaign committees of the six likely candidates to replace her as Queens borough president.

A victory by Katz over her likely Republican challenger Joe Murray in the November general election for Queens DA would vacate the borough presidency effective Jan. 1, 2020 — two years ahead of schedule — and Deputy Borough President Sharon Lee would fill in until a February 2020 special election. If this year’s special election for public advocate is any indication, the truncated race to replace Katz will be a wide-open, frenetic affair. 

So far, only one candidate, Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, has filed to run with the state Board of Elections. Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer was the first, and so far only person to announce his candidacy — he is also the candidate who has raised the most money. 

Councilmembers Costa Constantinides, Donovan Richards and Paul Vallone, and former Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley are also expected to run, though they have not yet made it official.

Van Bramer has $326,767.65 on hand in an unspecified 2021 election account, according to his most recent campaign finance report filed in July. Since January, he has received $44,104.00 from 253 individual campaign contributions, including 11 contributions of more than $1,000.

Van Bramer received money from the New York Hotel Trades Council, as well as managers of the city’s cultural institutions, including the CEO of the Queens Botanical Garden, the director of the Museum of the City of New York and an executive at the Queens Public Library.

Last week, a report by Emma Whitford for the Daily News revealed that Van Bramer had not kept a pledge to return campaign donations from real estate developers, a move meant to court progressive voters. After the report, Van Bramer issued a mea culpa on Twitter and said he was returning the funds. The refunds have not yet registered on either the state or city campaign finance tracking websites. 

Since Hyndman only declared her candidacy earlier this month, she has not yet had to report her campaign finance information. The next filing deadline is in October. 

Hyndman is at a significant fundraising disadvantage because she holds a state office. Campaign finance law makes it difficult, sometimes impossible, for candidates to transfer money from a state account to an account for city office. She has $26,603.12 on hand in her Assembly campaign fund, according to July periodic report published on the New York State Board of Elections website. Since her last filing in January, she received $1,500 from five contributors. 

Three of the other likely, but as of yet undeclared candidates, have raised more than $100,000, led by Crowley who had $290,603.98 in her account according to her July campaign finance report. 

Crowley lost her District 30 seat to Robert Holden in 2017, and has been fundraising for months ahead of a likely run for borough president. Since losing her council seat, Crowley has led 21 in ‘21, an initiative she co-founded to draft women candidates for City Council.

Crowley told the Eagle last week that she has no intention of running for her old council seat again, however. 

“I had nine years in the city council and I was able to accomplish a lot,” she said. “I was disappointed that I didn’t get reelected, but now I know things happen for a reason . . . I’m really working on things that transcend the boundaries of my district.”

Nevertheless, she said it was “premature for candidates to be out there saying they’re running” for borough president before the seat has even been vacated.

Her campaign contributors don’t seem to see it that way. 

Crowley received 632 individual contributions totaling $112,531 during the last reported filing period. At least 30 individuals contributed more than $1,000 to her campaign during that time, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

She received $5,250 from six unions or interest groups, including the Assistant Deputy Wardens Association. Crowley previously served as the Council’s chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee.

Constantinides had $112,665.35 on hand, according to his July campaign finance report. Since January, he has received $54,348 from 329 individual contributors. He received eight contributions of more than $1,000, including $1,500 each from developers George Konnaris, Thomas Anagnostopoulos and Anna Bakalis.

Constantinides also received $2,000 from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, a union representing painters, glaziers, flooring installers and similar positions. He received additional contributions of $500 or less from five other unions, including CWA Local 1180 and Teamsters Joint Council 16. 

Councilmember Donovan Richards has $107,000 on hand, according to the July finance report filed with the state. 

During the last filing period, Richards received $56,383 from 245 contributors, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Thirteen individuals contributed $1,000 or more. 

Members of the Ciampa family, which owns Queens developer Ciampa Organization, chipped in $1,500 five times during the last filing period. 

Richards received $8,550 from 12 unions or special interest groups, including $1,000 from the Corrections Officer Benevolent Association and $750 from the New York Hotel Trades Council. He also received $1,000 from the Partnership for NYC PAC, a business lobbying group.

Councilmember Paul Vallone has $55,227.78 on hand according to his state filing. Vallone received $31,270.00 from 123 contributors during the last filing period, including eight sums of $1,000 or more. 

He received $4,750 from six unions or special interest groups, including $1,000 from COBA, $500 from the Detectives’ Endowment Association and $250 from RPAC, the Realtors Political Action Committee.