Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that Washington is not working to bolster the middle class. Reuters

A rezoning of Manhattan’s Midtown East district that has been in the works since 2013 is nearing the final stage of approval. The rezoning will pave the way for taller skyscrapers — and therefore increased revenue for real estate developers and managers. Donors to Mayor Bill de Blasio are among the biggest beneficiaries of the rezoning.

Several of the real estate firms that benefit from the rezoning have acted as fundraisers or “intermediaries” for de Blasio’s 2017 re-election bid. Political insiders say his nomination and therefore victory are all but assured, but that hasn’t stopped major donors from lining up behind the incumbent mayor. In many cases, company executives, acting as fundraisers, collected donations in the names of their family members, particularly wives — and in one case, an executive’s ex-wife.

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New York City has one of the most robust systems of campaign finance regulation in the country, with more restrictions placed on contributions than in federal elections and more transparent contributions and expenditures overall. One of the many city regulations is to lower the maximum contribution for people doing business with the city from $4,950 to $400. However, an apparent loophole in the city planning process is that a real estate developer’s land being the subject of a rezoning effort is not considered a business relationship: Therefore the development company’s executives and employees are able to give to candidates at the higher level.

Kenneth Fisher, a partner at Fisher Brothers, has raised $27,250 towards Mayor de Blasio’s 2017 campaign. In addition to his own maximum $4,950 contribution, he collected maximum contributions from Nancy Edelman, the wife of Martin Edelman, a partner at Fisher Brothers, and Jessica Fisher, ex-wife of Winston Fisher, another partner at Fisher Brothers and Kenneth’s cousin. Jessica Fisher, who made a $4,950 contribution, is listed as unemployed on campaign finance disclosures. Her ex-husband also gave a maximum contribution. Nancy Edelman is listed as a self-employed social worker. Fisher Brothers owns three buildings within the rezoning area.

Kenneth Fisher did not reply to International Business Times requests for comment.

Scott Alper, a partner at the Witkoff Group, has raised $14,850 for the mayor’s reelection bid with three maximum contributions, including one from a “self-employed homemaker” Kristin Bell, whose relationship to Witkoff Group is not immediately clear. Another contribution was from Lois Witkoff, mother of Witkoff founder Steven Witkoff, who did not himself contribute. Those contributions were collected in late 2015, prior to Mayor de Blasio releasing his rezoning plan in August 2016. Witkoff Group owns at least three buildings within the rezoning area. Representatives of Witkoff group could not be reached for comment.

Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management, has raised $25,150 for the mayor. Two maximum contributions totaling $9,900 are from unemployed homemakers Ophelia Rudin, wife of Bill, and Susan Rudin, wife of former Rudin chairman Jack Rudin. Neither Bill Rudin nor Rudin president Eric Rudin contributed. Rudin Management owns seven buildings in the rezoning area. Rudin Management representatives did not reply to requests for comment.

Developers are able to profit off the midtown east rezoning through the increased floor area ratio, or FAR. A lot’s FAR sets the maximum allowable square footage of a building, relative to its lot size. The greater the FAR, the more floors of a building can be built. More floors equals more revenue for developers and managers. The Midtown East Rezoning will increase the FAR of a 78-block area around Grand Central Station from a FAR range of 12-15 to 18-27, depending on the precise location. Many of the lots owned by Fisher, Witkoff, and Rudin sit on the borders of different FAR sections, often falling just on the side of the line with the higher FAR. Other lots fall just within the boundaries of the entire rezoning area.

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Beyond the recent contributions to Mayor de Blasio, the timeline of political contributions from real estate developers syncs up with the timeline for the midtown east rezoning.

A view of midtown Manhattan from the observation deck of the Empire State Building Reuters

In 2013, Scott Stringer was locked in a close race for comptroller with former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was attempting to revive has political career with a run for city office. Stringer won just over 52 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. While Spitzer’s campaign was financed primarily by his own real estate wealth, Stringer turned to outside donors.

At the time, the Midtown East Rezoning was going through its first iteration, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The plan was eventually scrapped in the midst of local opposition. However, before it was canceled, Stringer, who then served as borough president of Manhattan, came out in support of the plan in August 2013. Approval from the borough president is a required step for any rezoning process in New York City.

Kenneth Fisher raised $45,350 for Stringer, including contributions from two of Martin Edelman’s relatives as well as Jessica Fisher, while she was still married to Winston and employed as a broker at her husband’s firm. Other relatives, including homemaker Tammy Fisher and “self-employed consultant/teacher/writer” Sandra Fisher also gave the maximum $4,950. Martin Edelman and Winston Fisher did not contribute in their own names. Kenneth Fisher gave $400, the maximum allowable for an individual doing business with the city. Those contributions were collected in mid-2011.

Rudin Management collected $13,790 for Stringer beginning with two maximum contributions totaling $9,900 just four days after Stringer announced his support for the rezoning.

Kenneth Fisher and Fisher Brothers is not fundraising for Stringer in the 2017 election cycle. As comptroller, Stringer no longer plays a direct role in approving rezonings. Rudin Management is still fundraising for Stringer’s 2017 campaign, though not as aggressively as in 2013.

New York City Council’s Committee on Land Use votes Thursday to decide whether or not to approve the rezoning. The council is the second to last stop on the approval process, before the mayor’s final sign off.