Less than a month after Democrats across the country boycotted gyms and other companies owned by billionaire Trump fundraiser Stephen Ross, 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls will take the stage at one of Ross’ flagship developments for a forum on the climate crisis.
Ross raised $12 million for President Donald Trump, a climate crisis denier, at his $100,000-a-plate Hamptons event earlier this month. News of the elite conservative gathering prompted Democratic leaders, celebrities and everyday voters to announce they were boycotting Ross’ Equinox gym — but not, it seems, the new multibillion-dollar Hudson Yards skyscraper complex owned by Ross’ development firm, The Related Companies.
On Sept. 4, leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination will attend the primetime “town hall” at CNN’s office at 30 Hudson Yards, part of Related’s massive Westside Manhattan project, according to CNN staff members and a spokesperson for candidate Andrew Yang, who confirmed the location.
The choice of venue has angered activists and lawmakers.
“It’s totally hypocritical,” said Food and Water Action New York organizer Laura Shindell. “You call people out when it’s trendy and then cozy up to those same big moneyed interests when nobody’s watching.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Yang will each appear for individual segments.
“To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they’re not aware of the connection,” Shindell said.
Even before rumors circulated about the Hudson Yards location, environmental advocates began planning large demonstrations to “push candidates to have stronger and bolder policy platforms,” including a prohibition on fracking, Shindell said.
“I think it’s safe to expect that all of the candidates will be ready and willing to acknowledge the climate crisis, but there will be a spectrum of what they are willing to do about it,” she said.
Queens Councilmember Costa Constantinides wrote a letter to CNN earlier this month asking the network to move the venue to an outer borough, where Superstorm Sandy revealed the devastating impact of the climate crisis. The letter was signed by more than a dozen Queens and Brooklyn lawmakers.
“If 30 Hudson Yards is the venue, it’s a property developed by Stephen Ross: an ardent supporter of Donald Trump, who believes climate change is a hoax, and a leading figure in Big Real Estate, which fought tooth and nail to stop the landmark passage of the Climate Mobilization Act in April,” Constantinides said in a statement to the Eagle.
“The candidates should see the communities already living with the effects of climate change on a daily basis, which there are plenty of in Queens and Brooklyn,” he continued. “If the town hall is indeed at Hudson Yards, where a three-bedroom condo goes for $9.5 million, it is a slap in the face to every Rockaway resident still waiting to get his or her home back nearly seven years after Sandy.”
Throughout the day Wednesday, several staff members from CNN and Hudson Yards, as well as security and custodial personnel, said they were not aware of the town hall location. Various staff members looked through their schedules, calendars and emails and said there was no indication that the event would take place at Hudson Yards.
The man who answered the phone at 10 Hudson Yards said he had heard that the CNN Town Hall would take place at the development.
“I believe so, sir, next week,” he said, before directing further questions to staff at 30 Hudson Yards. Front desk and concierge staff at 30 Hudson Yards said they did not know about the forum, however.
A staff member at the Shed, the performance space and arts venue at Hudson Yards, told the Eagle that they would be surprised if the town hall took place at the complex.
“It would be weird because of the Stephen Ross thing,” the person said.
Staff members were informed that the Shed would not be involved in “anything political” after the Ross boycott, the person added.
CNN and its parent company Turner Broadcasting, The Related Companies and the Hudson Yards Development Corporation did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.