Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg Give to NYC Mayor’s Race

The race to run the biggest city in the U.S. is already the most expensive for taxpayers. It also has divided Hollywood donors including Steven Spielberg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Douglas.

Spielberg and his wife have donated to civil-rights activist Maya Wiley, while Paltrow is backing former Citigroup banker Ray McGuire. Johannsson has thrown her support behind city Comptroller Scott Stringer, while Douglas has given to former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

Public-matching funds awarded to many of the candidates make this year’s mayoral race one of the most expensive in city history, though it pales in comparison to when Michael Bloomberg, the owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, spent more than $100 million on his 2009 re-election campaign.  Through May 21 — and with more than five months until this year’s general election — about $65 million has been doled out on the race, with about half from private donors, according to city campaign-finance data.

A third of the more than $28 million in individual campaign donations has come from out-of-city residents, a decline of several percentage points from the prior two races. Hollywood’s elite is among those personally invested in the future of the financial, business and entertainment center. 

Prior to the pandemic, stumbling upon a film or television production set was common in Manhattan, with the industry generating $90 billion for the local economy and 200,000 jobs, according to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Then came the coronavirus shutdown that canceled film shoots and closed theaters. With Broadway slated to open in September and the mayor relaxing mask and social- distancing rules, there's a renewed hope that the city's entertainment business will roar back, too.

“The city is a mess, it needs leadership, it needs a person who can bring it together,” said Michael Ovitz, the former president of Walt Disney Co., who lives in West Los Angeles and contributed $5,100 to McGuire’s campaign. 

Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg Give to NYC Mayor’s Race

Ovitz, who is a board trustee for the famed Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhattan, said New York is closely connected to Los Angeles and that he's "very interested in what happens there." He said he donated to McGuire because he thinks a businessman should run New York.

With weeks until the June 22 Democratic primary, which is likely to decide the winner in the largely Democratic city, contenders are racing to win votes -- and dollars -- to keep momentum.

"We just want New York to get back on track and be a thriving city again,'' said Hannah Linkenhoker, senior political strategists at ICM Partners, a Los Angeles-based talent agency whose clients includes Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Regina King and Michael Keaton.  "A lot of entertainment work does get done there. A lot of people have personal ties, there are a lot of New Yorkers working in Hollywood and there's a lot of prestige to the city."

Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg Give to NYC Mayor’s Race

Excluding independent political action committees, mayoral candidates have raised $28.6 million so far this year, more than the $25.2 million raised during the same period of the 2013 race, when Mayor Bill de Blasio was first elected. About $1 million came from California, the largest source of out-of-state funds. The eight leading candidates for the Democratic primary took in a quarter million dollars from actors, producers, directors, writers and others in the television and film industry, according to data from the city Campaign Finance Board.

Film and television production took a dive last year in New York, but is slowly making its way back: There were 285 projects on the ground in the first three months of the year, down 26% from a year earlier, according to the media and entertainment office. 

Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg Give to NYC Mayor’s Race

De Blasio has pledged to help revitalize the industry, but he is term limited. Recovery will largely fall to his successor, who takes office in January.

“They want to continue to build the infrastructure for the industry here and make sure that there is a place for work to be done," Douglas Steiner, chairman of the 760,000-square-foot Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, said in an interview. “That’s part of how New York gets a leg up on other parts of the world and in other parts of the country in terms of making better content by having a more diversified workforce.”

Campaign Haul

Among donors who identified themselves as producers, actors or members of the film and television industry, more than half donated to McGuire, who has pledged to boost film tax credits. McGuire is married to television and film producer Crystal McCrary McGuire, a former entertainment lawyer, and has raised the most private funds among the eight candidates — $11.7 million through May 21, according to the Campaign Finance Board. McGuire is the only one of the top candidates not accepting public matching funds. 

Chris Meledandri, producer of  hit animated film “Despicable Me," said he donated to McGuire because the former banker's "interest in devoting himself to public service is an enormous opportunity for New York." Other bi-coastal backers of McGuire include actor and comedian Steve Martin, who lives in the same Upper West Side apartment building when he visits New York; and filmmaker Spike Lee, who created and narrated McGuire's campaign announcement video. Paltrow and Lee declined to comment.

Still, McGuire has lagged in the polls. Only 4% of likely voters ranked McGuire as their first choice in a poll of 800 likely voters from May 15-19 conducted by Core Decision Analytics and Fontas Advisors. That compares to 18% for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, 13% for Yang, 11% for former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia and 7% for Stringer. Roughly a quarter of those polled said they were “truly undecided.”

Shaun Donovan, the former federal and city housing chief, received the second-highest money haul from Hollywood, including $5,100 from  “Fight Club” star and filmmaker Edward Norton. Douglas, who starred in “An American President,” donated $2,000 to Yang, while Spielberg and his actress wife Kate Capshaw each donated $2,000 to Wiley. Douglas, Spielberg and Capshaw didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg Give to NYC Mayor’s Race

Johansson, who lives in Los Angeles and is married to New York’s “Saturday Night Live” comedian Colin Jost, gave $2,000 to Stringer, who has pledged to diversify the jobs pipeline and invest in production assistant jobs within the industry. Johansson didn’t respond to a request for comment on her recent donation, but the native New Yorker has been a longtime supporter of Stringer's, stemming from a friendship the candidate had with Johansson’s politically-involved grandmother.

Rebecca Damon, who leads the New York chapter of the the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents around 160,000 industry workers, said her members "take their votes very seriously when it comes to supporting the elected officials and policies that will protect and grow jobs." The union doesn’t endorse in political campaigns, said spokesperson Pamela Greenwalt.

"We have seen firsthand what policies that support the arts, entertainment and media industries can do for good union jobs and the economy,” Damon said in an emailed statement. "We hope that the next mayor commits to ensuring that these industries lead the way in building back a better and stronger New York City."

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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