Arnold Gumowitz has owned a 16-story building across from Penn Station for 44 years. And it’s clear the nearly 94-year-old real estate magnate has some sentimental attachment to it.
“This is where we used to dance with all the stars on Broadway,” Gumowitz said, walking through a mirrored room on the 16th floor.
Gumowitz, though, is quick to criticize the development surrounding his property.
“As far as I am concerned, it’s a blight,” he said to NY1 on his rooftop, staring down at the construction below. “Vornado is doing that.”
What You Need To Know
- The governor has amassed a huge campaign fortune for her race
- NY1 reviewed millions of dollars in campaign contributions, finding cash is flowing from industries looking to get business or approvals from the state
- The governor accepted more than $770,000 from officials or businesses who are reportedly looking into getting a casino license from the state
His building has been drawn into the massive redevelopment of Penn Station and the surrounding area pushed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“I am betting on the comeback,” said Hochul in July. “As are the developers. No one is going into this to lose money or have this be a failure.”
At one point, Gumowitz thought his building was under threat. So he took his complaints to the top.
“I am not looking to get something,” he said to NY1. “All I want is to be left alone and stay with my property. Others have some agenda. I don’t. I just want to be left alone.”
He had breakfast with the governor and to make his voice heard, he said, he contributed the maximum to the governor’s campaign — $69,700. His son also donated.
It’s just one example of campaign cash coming from interested parties connected to this project.
Executives from Vornado Realty Trust, a massive real estate company which owns most of the land within the project’s footprint, have donated $137,400 to the governor’s campaign.
Hochul contends the donations don’t influence her decisions.
“But the reality is no contribution has ever had an effect on any decision we make,” she said last month. “Always have been, always will be. We follow the rules. Always have, always will.”
Hochul has amassed a campaign fortune since assuming the governorship last August, fundraising at a stunning pace. All told, she has raised more than $46 million.
NY1 reviewed millions of dollars in campaign contributions the governor has received since taking office in August 2021. Of people who have given her more than $50,000, more than a quarter of them are tied to the real estate industry.
As part of that, there appears to be little caution when accepting donations from executives or groups who have business before the state.
The governor got into hot water this fall for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from a business executive and his family. The state paid that business, known as Digital Gadgets, $637 million dollars for COVID-19 tests at a rate much higher than other states were paying.
“I was giving daily reports to all of you on my efforts to secure test kits and I would do that all over again,” Hochul said last month in response to the controversy. “I need to get people protected. We achieved the results. Can safeguards be put in place? Yes. Always can be. I am always looking to improve because perception is important to me as well.”
There are other examples.
Last year, the governor accepted more than $209,000 in donations from executives of the Long Island engineering firm, the Haugland Group. This year, according to the governor’s office, the state selected them to do work connected to the creation of an offshore wind farm on Long Island.
And while the state starts the process of considering casino licenses for three downstate locations, that industry and some real estate executives reportedly considering submitting an application have contributed at least $772,000 to the governor’s campaign. Those contributions come from executives at companies like Related, SL Green, Hard Rock and Bally’s.
A spokesperson for one of those companies, SL Green, sent NY1 this statement:
“Its executives, and others at the company, often support candidates of their choosing at every level of government. Governor Hochul has been an important advocate for New York City and SL Green has a long history of supporting the city.”
NY1 asked the governor about these contributions as well.
“There has been no connection ever have been ever will be between a contribution and a policy and a decision made,” she said this week. “We are in a very competitive environment. I don’t have the benefit of billionaires dumping millions of millions of dollars into dark money Super PACs. That’s what the situation is. I am playing by the rules.”
Unlike the city, state officials and candidates are not limited in taking donations from businesses or executives who have a specific interests before the state.
Advocates and Albany observers not surprisingly question the practice.
“It really appears major, major decisions are being made based on campaign contributions and not public benefit and there’s example after example,” said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany.
“This is not unique to any one candidate,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York. “It’s a systemic problem.”
As for Gumowitz, a state official tells NY1 it’s not currently envisioning eminent domain for his building.
So he and his property may get what they want — for now.