Political pundits and other followers of the race for Queens Borough President have argued for a while now that the contest is essentially a face-off between former Councilwoman Melinda Katz and Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. (D-Astoria), but a recent look at campaign finances paints a much more vivid picture.
The most recent information from the city’s campaign finance board shows that the race, as far as fundraising goes, is now a David versus two Goliaths scenario. Even with public matching funds, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Whitestone), with $325,918 cash-on-hand is far behind both Katz and Vallone.
Vallone is the fundraising leader with $1,224,797 cash-on-hand followed by Katz with $882,458.
An analysis of the three candidates funding sources shows very definite patterns with both Vallone and Katz pulling substantial contributions from large and well-connected real estate and construction firms while Avella’s base could most easily be described as grass-roots with mostly smaller contributions from individuals and local businesses.
Contribution levels for both Vallone and Katz frequently topped $4,000 whereas by contrast, Avella had few, if any, contributions above $1,000.
Among Katz’ major contributors included Cordmeyer Development, Vornado Realty and Tully Construction. Vallone Jr. counted Ahern Construction, Tully Construction as well as numerous unions including firefighters and sanitation workers among his major backers.
Avella’s major funders included numerous retirees, civil servants and local businesses. He has little support from corporate real estate and/or law firms.
The fundraising picture for the three candidates came as no surprise to Queens College Political Science Professor Michael Krasner.
“Both Katz and Vallone Jr. are very experienced and they come from the establishment and have worked in city and state government where they worked with people in positions to give large sums of money,” Krasner said, noting that by contrast, Avella has positioned himself more as the champion of the little guy, utilizing a more grass roots approach.
“Sen. Avella is basically the spokesperson for people with fewer resources,” he said.
And, while Avella has been critical in the past of both Katz’s and Vallone’s campaigns for taking money from real estate and construction firms, Krasner said that there may not be anything sinister going on there other than companies following housing and development trends in the borough.
“The issue may not just be whether some of these[construction, real estate] companies have clean hands in business, but rather they’re simply following the market direction of development in the borough, which seems to favor higher-end, more upscale condos and homes rather than more affordable housing,” Krasner explained. He added that critics say these trends contribute to the overall difficulty that lower and middle class people have in trying to secure housing in the city. “Finding affordable housing is tough,” Krasner noted.
Moreover, he called Avella more of an “insurgent” in the race whereas both Vallone and Katz represent varying degrees of the political establishment.
Avella’s campaign did not respond to requests for comments.
Asked about the Katz campaign’s fundraising sources, spokesperson Nathan Smith said that the campaign’s base includes “thousands of New Yorkers who share her [Melinda Katz’] vision of queens that includes affordable communities, job creation and schools that prepare our children for the jobs of the future as well as a healthcare system that has the infrastructure to take care of families.”
“Melinda’s record of protecting the middle class and finding real solutions to hard questions is unmatchable,” Smith said.
In addition, Smith said that with the current fundraising and the campaign finance board match “we are a breath away from having the maximum amount we are allowed to spend in this race,” Smith said, adding “We are at parity with Peter [Vallone Jr.] and we are both far ahead of Tony [Avella].”
A spokesperson for Vallone did not respond by press time to requests for comment.
By Alan Krawitz