Finance, Real Estate Bosses Push NYC Voters to Mayoral Primary

New York’s finance and real estate leaders, eager to elect a business-friendly mayor to guide the pandemic recovery, have a message for the heavily Democratic city: The vote that matters is in June.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Neuberger Berman, RXR Realty and Related Cos. are among the scores of companies making a push to get voters registered for New York’s typically low-turnout June primaries.

The effort is officially nonpartisan, couched in language about participating in democracy. But the subtext is clear: The next mayor is all but certain to come from the crowded Democratic primary field. And for Republicans or unaffiliated voters who want a say, that means switching parties to vote in the pivotal primary.

Finance, Real Estate Bosses Push NYC Voters to Mayoral Primary

“Citywide elections are really decided in the Democratic primary,” said Scott Rechler, chief executive officer of RXR. “To the extent that there are people who can register to vote in New York City, they should be in the Democratic party so that their vote counts.”

High Stakes

Only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary. For the roughly 1.6 million active Republicans, third-party members and independents in New York City, the state deadline to switch parties is Feb. 14.

The stakes are high for New York’s business community, with many feeling they were shunned by Bill de Blasio. In 2013, he won a contested Democratic primary in which just 3% of registered voters turned out, then went on to two terms as mayor.

The business community is concerned about support among some Democrats for raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting the police budget. That’s after the pandemic battered the city, emptying out office buildings and restaurants and sending residents fleeing for the suburbs.

Last month, the Partnership for New York City, a civic organization whose members include BlackRock Inc., Cantor Fitzgerald LP and Durst Organization, kicked off a “Get Out the Vote” campaign. The nonpartisan push spanned about 150 companies, representing roughly 500,000 city residents, that agreed to participate, said president Kathy Wylde.

Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer David Solomon, in a recent email to employees, emphasized the importance of “ensuring your voice is heard as part of the democratic process.”

Finance, Real Estate Bosses Push NYC Voters to Mayoral Primary

Neuberger Berman CEO George Walker, a Republican who is on the board of the Partnership for New York City, said he won’t change his party affiliation. He’s been actively trying to mobilize voters, but said it’s important to keep his firm out of the political thicket.

“We are being very, very clear with our folks that our efforts are totally nonpartisan,” he said.

Switch Parties

At least one New York executive recently took a more explicit approach, pushing Republicans to switch parties in order to participate in the Democratic primary.

“The majority of New Yorkers really want a more moderate leader, but the majority of New Yorkers are not voting, so you often get these extreme views in our electorate,” Related Cos. CEO Jeff Blau said in an interview with Bloomberg TV last month.

Finance, Real Estate Bosses Push NYC Voters to Mayoral Primary

Blau’s wife, Lisa Blau, has raised money for a group called “Be Counted NYC,” which is encouraging voters to register as Democrats.

Crowded Field

New York’s mayoral race is crowded, with at least two dozen candidates across the various parties. It’s widely assumed that the Republicans in the race don’t have a viable chance to win in a city where they’re heavily outnumbered.

Early Democratic frontrunners include former U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang and city Comptroller Scott Stringer, a former state assemblyman and Manhattan borough president. Former Citigroup Inc. banker Ray McGuire, a political neophyte who spent decades on Wall Street, has lined up support among the city’s business elite.

While some argue the explicit push to get Republicans and independents to the polls for the Democratic primary is a pragmatic way to elect a more moderate mayor, the effort has drawn criticism in political circles.

“If Republican voters have genuinely changed their philosophy to become Democrats, fine,” said Jerry H. Goldfeder, a veteran election lawyer. “If they’re doing it, on the other hand, simply to impact a particular election, then the Democratic Party has a right to challenge that.”

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