A deep-pocketed real-estate executive is laying the groundwork to mount a challenge to Bill de Blasio in next year’s mayoral election.
Paul Massey, a Republican who recently sold the real-estate brokerage firm he founded for $100 million, has been meeting with business and GOP leaders throughout the city in an effort to gauge support for a campaign.
“Paul has been very successful in real estate. I encouraged him to get in the race,” said Joe Lhota, the 2013 Republican candidate for mayor. Lhota said he met with Massey earlier this year to walk him through the mechanics of a citywide run and confirms that the businessman has been making the rounds at various GOP functions over the last year.
Massey, 56, co-founded Massey Knakal Real Estate Services in 1988. It grew into a $2 billion a year business and was bought in 2014 by Cushman Wakefield.
Earlier this year, Massey announced the launch of a political-action committee called 1NY Together devoted to countering de Blasio’s agenda. "This isn’t a tale of two cities,” Massey told Crain’s at the time of the pac’s launch, using one of de Blasio’s signature phrases from the 2013 campaign. “It’s one city and it can be great for everybody.”
A source familiar with Massey’s thinking said that he was willing to spend heavily to fund a race, but was also preparing to seek donations from real-estate and financial-industry types who have been looking for a successor to Michael Bloomberg to carry a pro-business mantle to City Hall.
A campaign would be focused around restoring trust between City Hall and the police, more support for charter schools, and leveraging Massey’s connections in the real-estate world and experience with development to spur the creation of more affordable housing, said one person who has spoken with Massey about plotting a possible bid.
“The guy is not an ideologue. He is a real-estate guy who looks at issues from a management point of view,” said David Catalfamo, a longtime Republican consultant. “Those are the types of folks who have been successful mayors of New York and have had success getting elected.”
Catalfamo conceded that de Blasio would be difficult to beat. “But if there is a continuous feeling that the city is moving backward on crime and quality of life — and the jury is still out on that — I think it would reflect on the mayor and his management of the city,” he said. “Over the last 25 years people have come to expect continuous improvement on those two fronts.”
In the few weeks since its founding, 1NY Together has released a series of surveys that purport to show that New Yorkers are increasingly concerned about rising crime and declining quality of life, as well as a series of statements lambasting the mayor for letting up on the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention and for violence in the city’s homeless shelters.
Any Republican would face long odds in a city in which Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one, and in which a growing number of New Yorkers approve of the job their mayor is doing. A NY1/Baruch College poll from last month found that 58 percent of city residents approve of the job that the mayor is doing, up 14 points from last fall.
“There will have to be a very strong de Blasio backlash” for Massey to win, said Bob Turner, the head of the Queens County Republican Party. “Some polls have a very reasonable level of dissatisfaction, and of course, de Blasio can exacerbate that, which he seems intent on doing.”
Turner has met with Massey twice, and said he is a “smart, articulate, handsome guy who has been doing his homework. He has a little bit of the John Lindsay quality to him.”
But Democrats scoffed at the notion that a millionaire real-estate executive who divides his time between New York City and Westchester could gain much traction in a city that has grown more diverse and more liberal since the Bloomberg era.
“It’s easy — you run against the landlords,” said George Arzt, a longtime Democratic consultant. “The real-estate industry is generally not where you get a person to run for office. There are just too many negatives.”
Ofer Yardeni, the CEO of Stonehenge Partners, a Manhattan-based real-estate company, counts Massey as a personal friend, and said he is supportive of a potential run, but said many in the real-estate community have been pleasantly surprised about Mayor de Blasio’s tenure. “When he started as a mayor, a lot of people were very, very concerned, especially when you hear the message that there are two cities here,” he said. “But after he took office, he realized we needed to work together.”
Before de Blasio emerged out of a crowded Democratic field to beat Lhota by nearly 50 points in 2013, Republicans had a two-decade lock on City Hall, and GOP leaders say that the city’s business community has been casting about, looking for a candidate.
So far, no credible challenger has emerged to complicate the mayor’s reelection bid. People close to de Blasio doubt that some of the prominent Democrats who have been critical of the mayor, like City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn congressman Hakeem Jeffries, will risk a divisive primary challenge, and only Michael Faulkner, a Harlem pastor, and Eric Ulrich, a 30-year-old city councilman from Queens, have expressed an interest on the Republican side. Efforts to recruit a holdover from the Bloomberg era, like former police commissioner Ray Kelly or former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff have so far not come to fruition.
A spokesperson for de Blasio declined to comment. A spokesperson for Massey said he was unavailable to comment.