BY JOE ANUTA, SALLY GOLDENBERG | 01/21/2022
A political action committee tied to Mayor Eric Adams — and run by a friend of his with business interests before the city — raised over $1 million from pro-Trump real estate players, a New Jersey nightclub owner eyeing expansion into New York, and a tech giant who got a meeting with the mayor a day after giving $50,000 to the group.
The PAC, Striving for a Better New York, was created last September by New York City-based Rev. Alfred Cockfield II with the hopes of boosting moderate candidates in upcoming state elections. In its first public disclosure, the organization showed strong support from business owners — as well as Republican boosters — according to a filing published by the state Board of Elections on Tuesday. The donations were collected over the past 3.5 months.
Cockfield made no secret of the PAC’s mission to boost centrists from both political parties.
“We are looking for moderate candidates who are concerned about public safety, concerned about education reform and who are pro-business,” the Queens- and Brooklyn-based reverend said in an interview with POLITICO Thursday.
To that end, the organization’s advisory board includes attorney Richard St. Paul — a GOP donor who supported former President Donald Trump — and Scherie Murray, a Republican who ran against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019. Adams won the Democratic primary last year without the support of the high-profile Congress member, who endorsed third-place finisher Maya Wiley instead. And since being elected, he and the left wing have publicly aired their mutual discontent.
Cockfield’s PAC — which he said is unconnected to the new mayor, despite featuring Adams’ photo on an invitation last fall — will soon be distributing questionnaires to candidates in upcoming special elections and plans to endorse and donate to Assembly and state Senate candidates later this year, he said.
Eric Hadar, head of real estate firm Allied Partners Inc., topped the list of nearly 600 donors with two contributions totaling $100,000. Hadar has owned pieces of several major commercial and residential properties in New York and Miami, including the Brill Building and the Citigroup Center in Manhattan. The PAC also received more than $20,000 from Jon Oringer, founder of Shutterstock; Edwin Gomez, a New Jersey nightclub owner who had plans to expand into the city; and Zef Perlleshi, a White Plains restaurateur.
Since his election last year, Adams has become a prominent member of the city’s swanky night-life scene, frequenting private hot spots like Zero Bond and Casa Cipriani.
The PAC also received thousands of dollars in donations from top New York real estate moguls Steve Witkoff and several corporations tied to Richard LeFrak, both of whom supported Trump’s reelection.
Several of the contributions demonstrate the PAC’s connections to the mayor.
A day after Sam Darwish, head of London-based global telecom firm IHS Towers, gave $50,000 he met with Adams. According to a tweet, the retired cop who grew up poor in Queens reminded Darwish “of the beauty of the American Dream.” And Evan Greenberg, who is head of Switzerland-based insurance firm Chubb Limited and gave $25,000, is a member of the mayor’s transition team.
The ties between Adams and the PAC have been clear since the outset. Adams spoke at a keynote fundraiser in October. And one of his former staffers in the Brooklyn Borough President’s office, Brianna Suggs, was paid by Striving for a Better New York in October. After Adams’ clinched the primary in June and subsequently raised the maximum amount of money for the general election, some donors still eager to support the mayor were steered toward Cockfield’s PAC, according to multiple sources.
Cockfield insisted that beyond sporadic speeches the mayor is not involved in the organization’s operations.
“Is it Eric’s PAC?” Cockfield asked. “No. It is Rev. Al Cockfield’s PAC.”
An advisory board member, attorney and lobbyist, Brad Gerstman, said the organization’s main function is to push back against the left wing of the Democratic party, which he argued is too hostile to businesses. Taxes paid by companies and their owners, he noted, pay for much of the social services run by the city and state.
“If those people flee to Florida, we will no longer have that golden goose,” he said. “I think that’s what many elected officials, in the Democratic Socialists of America for example, either don’t comprehend or don’t care about.”
Cockfield himself has business with the Adams administration, including contracts for pre-K centers he owns. He dismissed the idea that raising money for a PAC connected to the mayor now in charge of the city’s nearly $100 billion budget was a conflict of interest, arguing his contracts were awarded under the prior administration.
“The work I’m doing is God’s work,” he said. “It’s not a conflict.”