Volume 75, Number 14 | August 24 - 30, 2005

Quinn says concretely that her vote can’t be bought

By Lincoln Anderson

City Councilmember Christine Quinn has been a leader of the effort to push through the rezoning and landmarking plans for the Far West Village at a speed not usually seen from City Hall. And she arranged in June for Amanda Burden, commissioner of City Planning, and Robert Tierney, commissioner of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, to attend a Community Board 2 Zoning Committee meeting to preview the tandem proposals — again, a rare occurrence.

Ironically, Quinn, who is running to be the next speaker of the Council after Gifford Miller is term-limited out of office at the end of this year, has taken campaign contributions from some developers and lobbyists involved in some of the very same contentious sites Villagers wish had been downzoned in City Planning’s proposal but were not.

Quinn doesn’t face a Democratic primary opponent in her reelection bid this year. But to become speaker takes money: Candidates for speaker are allowed to spread around their own campaign funds to other councilmembers in hopes of winning their support.

Last November and December, Quinn received $2,750 each — the maximum amount allowable for councilmembers — from Witkoff Organization principals Steve Witkoff and Scott Alper, Sarah Parnes, another Witkoff executive, and Witkoff’s wife Amy. In addition, Quinn received $1,500 from James Capalino, who is doing public relations for the developers; $1,000 from Anthony Collerton of Lehman Brothers; and $750 from Richard Cook, the architect of their planned now 15-story building on Charles and 10th Sts. All told, Quinn has received $14,250 in funds related to Witkoff/Lehman’s project.

In addition, Jesse Masyr, the attorney representing Related Companies on its planned tower at Bethune and West Sts. at the Superior Ink site, hosted a Quinn fundraising party at Wachtel & Masyr’s office around the end of last year that yielded the councilmember $9,250. Masyr gave Quinn a $1,500 individual contribution.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, former Manhattan City Planning commissioner, gave Quinn $250 after he returned to his former architecture firm, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, though he has since joined Related Companies. (City regulations prohibit Chakrabarti from lobbying Quinn or other elected officials on development projects for a year from the time he left City Planning.)

Greenberg Traurig, another powerhouse law firm that represents development projects, has also helped fill Quinn’s coffers. Greenberg Traurig lawyers have given a total of $3,350 to Quinn’s campaign. In addition, Greenberg Traurig raised $3,150 for Quinn from individuals outside the firm. The firm is representing the Meilman family in their variance application to shift air rights from their building on W. 14th St. — in the landmarked Gansevoort Historic District — to another property they own on 15th St. currently zoned for manufacturing where they hope to build a residential tower; Greenberg Traurig is also representing the new owners of Diane von Furstenberg’s home and studio on W. 12th St. who plan a new residential building at the location.
As for the Meilmans, seven family members have given Quinn contributions totaling $7,000.

Quinn also received some contributions from individuals involved with Village Care’s planned new facility between W. Houston and Downing Sts., between Sixth Ave. and Varick St. Bob Rinaolo, the property’s owner, has given her $600, and Arthur Webb, Village Care C.E.O., has given her $1,000.

Neither the Meilman or Village Care properties are in the Far West Village and so were not part of the rezoning plan.

While admitting she has taken funds from Witkoff — “Absolutely, I have taken a contribution from Witoff,” she said — Quinn pointed out she hasn’t taken contributions from anyone with Related Companies.

“I did take a contribution from Jesse Masyr, that’s true,” Quinn said. “He has numerous clients. I work with Jesse Masyr on numerous issues. Jesse Masyr had a fundraiser for me at his office at which no one who worked for Related gave money.”

Quinn also noted that Masyr represented Related Companies it its variance application for residential zoning on a manufacturing-zoned site for its Morton Square building on Morton St. — a project that she vociferously opposed.

“People give me contributions because I am an elected official. That does not mean I am in agreement with them on every issue,” Quinn said. She noted she voted against a B.J.’s — like a Costco — in the Bronx for which Masyr was the attorney. “If you go down the list, there are more times I’ve disagreed with my contributors than agreed,” she said. At the same time, she added, “I’m not independently wealthy. One needs to raise money unfortunately to be part of the political system, to be a viable candidate. That’s reality. I wish it wasn’t.”

Quinn noted that Wachtel & Masyr has given her $7,250 in 2005, just a fraction of the total amount of money, slightly under $274,000, she’s raised. “It has absolutely no relationship to what I will or will not decide to do on Superior Ink. It is not a particularly significant amount of money in the context of the amount of money I have raised.” She noted Masyr wasn’t happy about how things worked out on the High Line rezoning and that she is “in a big argument and fight” with Related over what they want to put in a 42nd St. property under the theater bonus zoning, noting that there is concern that a planned “theater” might really be a nightclub. Witkoff Organization’s contributions to her are less than 3 percent of her total, she said.

As for the donations by Cook and Capalino, Quinn said she believes when they made them to her, neither of them were working with Witkoff. However, Cook made his contribution in June of this year, and The Villager the month before had reported Steven Witkoff saying Cook was the architect on the project.

“The fact that Steve Witkoff has made donations to me has no relationship to what position I’ve taken on his property in the Village or anywhere else,” Quinn said.

Quinn also noted that Witkoff was chosen as the developer of Pier 57 — in the Hudson River Park — which “every single elected official in the neighborhood and the community board supported.

“Arthur Webb made a donation to me, I think it is not a particularly large amount of money,” Quinn said, adding Village Care runs terrific programs for senior care. She noted her staff participated in 15 community meetings on the project, and that Webb “did not get what he wanted,” because the building ultimately had to be redesigned fairly substantially.

Quinn noted that because of the fight against the Jets stadium she didn’t take funds from Madison Square Garden to avoid a conflict of interest. And she said she won’t take money from known slumlords.

“A developer by definition is not a bad thing, is not the devil or a disreputable profession,” Quinn said. “The reason not to take money from people is if you feel beholden to that, and my record speaks for itself — I’m not beholden to the people that give me money.”

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