(Bloomberg) — Wall Street and real estate titans are pouring cash into a group that’s backing former Citigroup Inc. banker Ray McGuire’s bid to become the next mayor of New York City.
New York for Ray, a political action committee, has raised $3.2 million from a who’s who of the city’s financial elite, according to state Board of Elections Records as of March 15.
That includes $250,000 from former American Express Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Chenault and his wife, Kathryn, $200,000 from real estate tycoon Aby Rosen, and $100,000 from his partner at RFR Holdings, Michael Fuchs. John Hess, the CEO of energy giant Hess Corp., gave $600,000.
McGuire’s campaign has so far focused on a promise that the former banker’s wealth and lack of political experience makes him able to resist the compromises and favors other politicians make to special interests. But McGuire’s recent haul from private donors suggests otherwise.
McGuire, 64, said “he is unbeholden to anyone,” in a one-hour interview with Bloomberg News last week. “I ain’t making no deals.”
Instead, the former head of Citigroup’s mergers-and-acquisitions practice said in the interview that he is telling voters, particularly those in Black and brown communities about his plans to revive the city’s economy, reduce red tape for small businesses, and restore ties with the business community that frayed under Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Unlike other mayoral hopefuls such as city Comptroller Scott Stringer, McGuire has refused to participate in the city’s public campaign financing program. The program limits direct donations to candidates in return for allowing local residents’ contributions to be matched at eight times any donation of $250 or less. The public finance law was created to encourage candidacies from individuals without access to wealthy donors.
By contrast, the political action committee working on McGuire’s behalf can spend unlimited amounts on the race as long as it’s not coordinating with his campaign, giving him a potential sizable advantage over rivals who agree to donation limits in exchange for public funds. McGuire has separately raised $7.4 million, according to campaign finance records.
The cash haul will allow McGuire and his backers to spend millions of dollars on advertising to catch up in the crowded mayoral race before the June 22 Democratic primary, where he’s vying against others with more name recognition or political bases. McGuire, a first-time candidate, is lagging in the polls behind Andrew Yang, the former U.S. presidential candidate, and Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams.
McGuire enlisted the help of famed filmmaker and Brooklyn resident Spike Lee to make his campaign announcement video and has garnered the support of New York Knicks greats Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley.
Chenault, who ran American Express for nearly two decades and is now a venture capitalist, said his family contributed to the campaign because of McGuire’s economic plans for the city, not because he expects any benefit to the financial sector.
“Our contribution has nothing to do with the financial services industry. We want a Mayor who will work for all New Yorkers,” said Chenault, who said he’s been close friends of McGuire for 30 years. “He has a strong economic plan to rebuild New York City better and fairer than it has ever been.”
Real estate interests have contributed more than $1.1 million to the super-pac that’s supporting McGuire. That includes Broadway producer Daryl Roth, the wife of Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steven Roth, who donated half a million dollars, and entities controlled by Queens developer Richard LeFrak.
Other boldface names who’ve donated to McGuire include billionaire investor Ken Langone, former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, hedge fund managers Louis Bacon and Mark Kingdon, and philanthropist Laurie Tisch.
McGuire has campaigned as an advocate for business, whether it’s a bodega owner or a real estate developer. He’s proposed using city taxpayer funds to pay half the salaries of workers in small businesses for a year to spur job creation as the city recovers from the pandemic’s lockdown.
“We want to raise as much as we can to help tell the story of Mr. McGuire,” said Quentin Fulks, a political consultant who is working as the executive director for New York for Ray.
“Mr. McGuire started at the bottom and was able to rise to become very successful,” said Fulks. “I don’t think that Mr. McGuire should be ashamed or run away of his successes. In fact that’s one of the reasons why we believe that he is the best person to help New York City recover and rebuild back better than it was before Covid.”
McGuire was raised by his single mother in Dayton, Ohio. A good student, he was accepted into Connecticut’s Hotchkiss School, an elite prep school. He went to Harvard College for his undergraduate degree and stayed for his MBA and law degree.
Fulks said the super-pac’s staff is prohibited by law from speaking to McGuire or employees of his campaign.
If a candidate violates the law, “everything that the outside group spends money on becomes an in-kind contribution to the campaign and subject to the contribution and expenditure limits,” said Matthew Sollars, a spokesman for the city’s Campaign Finance Board. The board may assess penalties of as much as $10,000 for each violation, he said.