New Real Estate PAC Taps Obama Campaign Vets

New biz PAC taps Obama vet for blitz

Andrew J. Hawkins

Crain’s New York Business

May 31, 2013

A coalition of business and real estate interests planning to spend $10 million to influence this year’s City Council races has recruited a veteran of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns to help lead its field effort.

Ken Strasma, a national expert on voter targeting efforts who has worked for Mr. Obama, John Kerry and Michael Bloomberg’s successful 2009 campaign, has joined the effort to help manage the group’s field organization. The plan is to spend $2 million on voter identification and field targeting, or about $80,000 to $100,000 per council race, in a total of 25 races. The bulk of the $10 million expenditure will be on direct mail and radio and television advertising.

Mr. Strasma was formerly the president of a consultancy called Strategic Telemetry, but now heads a group called HaystaqDNA. Its website is still under construction, but features the tag line “data + analytics = actionable and accurate predictive business intelligence.”

Organizers involved with the independent expenditure say the goal is to elect pro-development, pro-growth candidates to the council, in the hopes of replicating the crop of candidates that won in 2001, another year of high turnover in the council. In 2009, a number of progressive, Working Families Party-backed candidates won the bulk of the open seats, leading to a slew of bills opposed by business interests.

The organizers looked at open seats and campaign finance information in determining the 25 races they believe will be competitive this year.

“We’re going to run an aggressive field effort to communicate with voters and promote candidates who will advance policies that create jobs, affordable housing as well as grow the middle class,” said Phil Singer, a lead strategist for the group. The news about its formation was first reported in the New York Times.

With petitioning for ballot spots set to begin the first week of June, the group does not intend to recruit new candidates, and as an independent expenditure organization, it is prohibited from coordinating with any of the campaigns.

But with strategists with long histories of running campaigns in New York already on board, the intent will be to run “25 distinct campaigns” tailored to the dynamics of the individual districts, sources close to the effort said.

“The perception that some people have, historically when some of these endeavors are attempted, it’s like, ‘Oh, the business group is going to run the chamber of commerce guy,’ ” said one source. “Well, the chamber of commerce guy is probably not going to win. There are three to four legitimate candidates. Let’s see who’s closest to the issues the organization cares about.”

The group, named the Jobs for New York PAC, is being spearheaded by the Real Estate Board of New York, and includes unions like Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York, UFCW Local 1500, which represents supermarket workers, and the New York City District Council of Carpenters.

UFCW and the Mason Tenders have endorsed Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s race for mayor, but the group’s organizers insist that council races will be their sole focus. Still, their ultimate goal may be to elect Democratic candidates like Ms. Quinn who will straddle the line between labor and business and enact polices that are friendly to developers.

“It’s very important to make sure there’s a really good balance,” said Pat Purcell, political director at UFCW. “You want to be sitting down with people who understand the importance” of these issues.

Veteran campaign operatives have also signed on: Harry Giannoulis of the Parkside Group, which is a popular shop among Democrats; Mr. Singer of Marathon Strategies, who has worked on Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton’s past campaigns; and Maggie Moran, a communications consultant with deep ties in New Jersey.

REBNY attempted a similar effort to influence council races in 2009 by pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Independence Party, but failed to pick up many new friends among the candidates that were elected.

Bill O’Reilly, a Republican strategist who is not involved in the PAC, said he was impressed with the group on the outset, and hoped it has learned lessons from past efforts to sway elections.

“The concept’s not new,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “I’m sure they’re just enhancing the structure this time.”

He added, “They’ve come back in a much more buttoned-up way. And it’s smart what they’re doing, because there’s a very good chance we could have a mayor who is to the very, very far left … I think the industry needs to protect itself. And the one place they could do that would be to have some voices in the City Council.”

Dan Cantor, executive director of the left-leaning Working Families Party, was less than impressed. “I’m not sure how much Democratic primary voters care what a bunch of billionaire landlords think.”

However, PAC organizers acknowledge that because the city’s demographics overwhelmingly favor Democratic candidates, there may be some overlap between candidates they support and the WFP’s slate.

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