The Judge Who Wanted the Buffalo Mayor on the Ballot Has Real Estate Ties

difficult Consider a greater threat to Buffalo, New York’s real estate developers, than socialist affordable housing advocate India Walton, who won the Democratic mayoral election 51 to 46 percent in June against incumbent Byron Brown.

An organizer and nurse, Walton served as the co-founder and executive director of a company. community land trust Creating affordable housing in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood in 2017 and tackling gentrification, which is largely fueled by traditional real estate development. As mayor, he would have the power to expand this land trust and grow the tax base in Buffalo’s noble neighborhoods. For the city’s biggest developers, the mayorship could represent a complete paradigm shift.

So it’s somewhat surprising that so many developers, mostly Republicans, support Brown’s last-ditch ventures. go to the polls For the general election of November 2, or to run a campaign if he fails to do so.

Conservative developers’ involvement is no accident: Close to a third of the signatures on Brown’s August 17 petition to appear as an independent candidate in the November election came from members of right-wing parties, local NBC affiliate WGRZ. reported. Along with other major GOP donors, they contributed to the campaign of Washington, D.C. real estate mogul Brown, who was convicted of electronic fraud in 2006 and accused of bribing an official for government contracts. And unlike the New York mayoral race, where President Joe Biden and former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo congratulated first winner Eric Adams early, Walton did not receive such a national declaration of Democratic support.

However, it is not yet clear whether Brown will appear at the ballot box. After losing the primary election to Walton, Brown quickly launched a participation campaign for the general election. This effort came at the request of some in Buffalo who did not want Walton to take office. conservative developer Carl Paladino also floating The idea of ​​running against him after Brown’s primary loss. (Brown distant now from the developer who told voters they had to stay at home.) At the same time, Brown submitted petitions to appear in the November election (under a newly formed “Buffalo Party”). But his petition came long after the May 25 deadline for filing such a request had passed, and the matter has now been taken up in the courts – again where developer influence raises red flags. Brown’s campaign is now waging several legal battles simultaneously in state and federal court, in hopes that a final decision will find New York state election law – just before the ballots are printed – unconstitutional and allow it to appear on the ballot.

On September 3, federal Judge John Sinatra Jr. ruled in Brown’s favor in a case brought by his supporters to be allowed to go to the polls. Sinatra’s brother, Nick Sinatra, is the founder and CEO of Sinatra and Company Real Estate, often referred to by the company as Sinatra & Co. He is abbreviated as Brown and is a big supporter of Brown. Brown’s mayoral campaigns, including contributions from the company, have given at least $10,400 since 2013 and $2,000 since his last election in 2017. development industry Contributor important corresponds to Brown mayoral campaigns Since the early 2000s and Buffalo developers have been among the wealthy donors. last minute cash He entered Brown’s primary campaign in June.

Judge Sinatra was also previously a partner at a firm that donated generously to Brown’s mayoral campaigns. routinely represented. Brown and the city, on legal matters millions dollars – including the 2010 case of retaliation against an informant in the police department.

On the day of Sinatra’s decision, a state Supreme Court judge also managed in Brown’s favor in a separate lawsuit brought by his campaign. A judge with the appeals division of the State Supreme Court granted an adjournment regarding the earlier decision. found New York state electoral law was unconstitutional and sought to overturn the previous decision of the Erie County Election Board, the electoral board for the county in which Buffalo is located, and allow Brown to appear on the ballot.

“It looks like the entire political establishment is clenching their fist to prevent a candidate from the left in Buffalo from winning an election.”

“It looks like the entire political establishment is closing its fist in Buffalo to prevent a candidate from the left from winning an election,” said Rob Galbraith, senior research analyst with the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit that does public interest research. (Galbraith contributed and did telephone banking for the Walton campaign.) “The conflict of interest is so obvious that it’s a very useful example of a larger dynamic going on,” he added. “The entire power elite in Buffalo and western New York is somewhat determined to try and stop Walton after he somehow outstripped Walton in the primary.”

The Brown campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

brown long supported by allegations of corruption and criticism of its dealings with developers. A Cleveland developer sued Brown in 2011. corruption and blackmail on allegations that the mayor was undermining housing project because the developer wouldn’t have hired one of their backers. The former deputy mayor, Steve Casey, collaborated with a corruption investigation linked to a consulting firm he founded. Company admitted his guilt To commit fraud in July.

During the mayoral primary, Brown’s developer relations and real estate interests were again often the subject of criticism.

Brown appointed two attorneys, Shannon M. Heneghan and Peter J. Savage IIIwho previously represented Sinatra & Co. at Buffalo City Court in 2019. A 2018 analysis The Public Accountability Initiative showed that Sinatra & Co. owed more than $800,000 in property taxes, and continued Receive close to $1.5 million in public subsidies for numerous projects and through subsidy programs. Such a program is statewide. 485-a programis passing millions of dollars in taxes to the city, giving tax breaks to developers who reuse old properties for mixed use. The program has been criticized by housing advocates and officials, who say contractors exploit it to earn above-market rents, avoid fair tax shares, and build brand new properties instead of reusing old properties. Immediately after the report was published, Brown appeared on a public relations program. video Sinatra & Co. for

“There are some clues almost everywhere that bring Brown and Sinatra together,” said Galbraith, an analyst at the Public Accountability Initiative.

According to public filings with the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Sinatra & Co. He has spent more than $310,000 on lobbying real estate issues since 2013. Sinatra & Co. hired lobbying firm Masiello, Martucci and Associates to do most of this work. The lobby firm also represented the city of Buffalo. Anthony Masiello, president of the firm, was the mayor of Buffalo from 1994 to 2005. supportive Brown’s writing campaign and appeared On stage with Brown at the launch. (Also, Carl Calabrese, a former partner, Republican political strategist, and former Erie County executive, had previously lobbied for Sinatra & Co.)

Brown announced the start of a landmark writing campaign on June 28. real estate It belongs to multimillionaire developer Douglas Jemal, who was convicted of electronic fraud, which Trump donated last year and contributed $5,000 to Brown’s campaign on June 22nd on primary election day.

before he was Sinatra, a federal district judge, was a partner of Hodgson Russ LLP, one of Buffalo’s largest and largest companies. effective law companies. The 400-person firm has been a strong supporter of Brown’s campaigns since the early 2000s. The firm has contributed more than $64,000 to Brown’s mayoral campaigns since 2006, including $21,000 since his last election in 2017. pushed and has invested millions in Nick Sinatra’s real estate company, including a $1 million loan. (Nick has given more than $17,000 to Collins’ campaigns.)

In 2019 Collins resigned and pleaded guilty to insider trading. (He was pardoned by Trump last year.)

New York’s Democratic senators split over their support for Sinatra during the 2019 approval vote. Senator Chuck Schumer support Sinatra Senator Kirsten Gillibrand voted against and his membership in the Federalist League pointed to views “far outside the legal mainstream”, adding that he had “expressed pro-corporate views in the past”.

During a September 3 hearing in the federal case, Sinatra said He was asked why he didn’t drop the Brown case, and he said he saw no reason to do so. Sinatra did not respond to requests for comment through a clerk.

“We have a bunch of personal connections here that I would say definitely have a conflict of interest regarding the outcome of this election.”

“The standard for a judge is to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Galbraith said. “We have a bunch of personal connections here that I would say definitely have a conflict of interest regarding the outcome of this election.”

federal court a hearing For objections from both sides for Thursday. Brown’s team argues that an amendment to the state Legislature that pushed up campaign filing deadlines earlier this year is unconstitutional.

Walton’s campaign argues that the law is valid and said that while the mayor’s case is unappealing, based on the appearance of a conflict of interest with some of his fellow developer friends, the issue still stands.

“Byron Brown’s legal actions sum up the reasons why voters rejected him in June’s Democratic primary: his disdain for ordinary Buffalonians, his bullying anyone who is rich and not well-connected, and his blatant disregard for the law,” Walton said. An explanation to the Intercept. If elected mayor, Walton said the city would “finally stop filling the unexpected profits of the billionaire real estate developers for whom Byron Brown is responsible.”

Walton’s campaign says the legal battle has pulled a significant amount of money from its coffers. His campaign estimates the cost of legal action to be between $50,000 and $100,000.

“Our campaign is funded by grassroots contributions from ordinary people; Byron Brown is determined to drain our funds through expensive legal challenges,” said Walton.

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