As the March 23 special election race heats up for the city council seat once held by Andrew Cohen, environmental activist Jessica Haller is an early winner among the five candidates in the race — at least when it comes to fundraising.
The Fieldston resident hauled in $28,000 since July, bringing her overall contribution total to more than $77,000 — enough to slip ahead of the $65,000 North Riverdale special education teacher Eric Dinowitz has raised. He accepted just $8,000 in contributions over the last six months.
In all, four of the five candidates pulled in $63,700 since last summer, with 80 percent of that money collected by Haller and newcomer Mino Lora, who has raised $22,700 herself since jumping into the race last fall.
Yet, not only is a large portion of the money funding these special election races coming from outside the district — even less has been spent on local organizations and businesses.
Lora — a Manhattan theatre educator who lives in Spuyten Duyvil — is the worst offender when it comes to local spending. Of the nearly $25,000 she's spent since entering the race, just $245 — less than 1 percent — has stayed within the district.
Even counting that expenditure would be generous. That check was written to Meghan Wasserman — wife of Grammy-winning Broadway musician Scott Wasserman — for what Lora's campaign stated was a repayment of a cash advance.
Other candidates in the race didn't do much better. Dinowitz — son of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz — only spent 2 percent of the $17,600 rolling out of his campaign since summer to locals. That was $360 — all fees to the former Country Bank.
Haller claimed a little more local spending than Dinowitz — $1,074. But that was just a small fraction of the nearly $42,000 her campaign has paid out since July. That includes $231 spent at a local post office.
Dan Padernacht, a real estate lawyer from Kingsbridge, spent the least amount of money among the candidates who filed with the city's campaign finance board, but he spent more locally than the other three candidates combined.
Padernacht paid out $1,800 for advertising in The Riverdale Press — which accounts for more than 32 percent of his total spending of $5,600 since July. Campaign finance documents were not yet available for Carlton Berkley, the fifth candidate in the race, as of early Saturday morning.
In all, candidates spent just under $3,500 locally — out of $90,000 total, or 4 percent.
Instead, Haller spent $10,750 on Raven Strategies, a political consultant group out of Brooklyn. She also paid nearly $7,500 to her now-former campaign manager, Jeremiah Cedeno, who lists a White Plains address.
Haller wrote checks totaling $7,000 to the Law Office of Ali Najmi, a criminal defense firm in Midtown, for "petition work" in December, although petitioning did not begin until early January. And then Haller outsourced her design work to Minneapolis, paying a company called Replace Inc., $1,500 for those services.
Dinowitz sent $7,600 of his campaign funds to Brooklyn where his political consultant, Red Horse Strategies, is based. He also paid another $4,400 to Laurence Laufer, the former general counsel to the campaign finance board who lists his address as Mount Tremper upstate. Laufer also is known for his work on campaigns run by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Dinowitz paid a little more than $4,000 to the state Democratic Party for voter lists — an expense Lora also made — but also settled a $600 bill with NYPrints in Long Island City for "petition printing" on Jan. 1 — three days before de Blasio set the special election date, which is required information for petitions.
Lora has actually spent more money than she's raised, fueled by a pair of $5,000 loans issued to the campaign — one from her husband, Robert Braswell.
No one paid out more money to political consultants than Lora — more than $16,000, including $7,000 to her campaign manager, Ben Nanna. She also paid Brooklyn law firm Stoll Glickman & Bellina $1,500.
While a larger portion of Padernacht's spending stayed local compared to his competitors, he did have money go outside the council district. That included $1,500 to Meridian Strategies in Manhattan, and another $1,000 for website design from a Suffolk County company called Island Guide.
Padernacht did keep $500 in campaign literature printing in the Bronx, using Eveready Graphics in Westchester Square.
In terms of fundraising, however, Padernacht is ahead of only Lora and Berkley at this point. He has now raised $35,000 in contributions after bringing in another $4,750 since last summer. That money includes $2,000 in donations from Sam and Tzirel Klein. Sam Klein is the chief operating officer for Leopold Friedman's nursing home chain, according to Padernacht's campaign filing, which owns a number of facilities including The Citadel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, just blocks from where Padernacht lives.
The company's portfolio also includes Riverdale Nursing Home, which it acquired last September for $18.4 million.
More than 60 percent of Dinowitz's contributions since last July came from within the district — the best percentage among all the candidates in the race. Yet half of his $8,000 haul came directly from the Moerdler family, led by local attorney Jeffrey Moerdler, and seven other members of the family, giving $500 each.
The family's patriarch, Charles Moerdler, is not listed as a campaign contributor, but the Community Board 8 land use chair — and attorney — is representing Dinowitz's father in a libel suit filed against him by former public school administrator Manny Verdi.
The younger Dinowitz also picked up $500 from one of his father's colleagues, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin from the eastern side of Westchester County. He also picked up a check from Crystal McCrary, the former wife of former NBA player Greg Anthony, and mother to Orlando Magic point guard Cole Anthony. McCrary is an occasional producer behind documentaries like "Little Ballers" in 2013, who has also appeared in the past on Fox News programs hosted by Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, according to an online profile.
Lora collected $2,500 in major donations to her campaign so far, but only one — from Sesame Workshop education director David Cohen — came from people residing within the council district. Big donors for her include famed political scientist and Columbia University professor Ira Katznelson.
Haller had $500 donations from local psychologist David Zahm and Riverdale Main Streets Alliance lawyer Christopher Rizzo, among others. She also picked up a big check from Andrew Lachman, the husband of former Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger, who has endorsed Haller.
Also giving $500 was Oliver Koppell, the former state attorney general who once sat in the very council seat Haller is running for. She also grabbed another $500 from Fred Wilson, the founder of venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, which made billions in early investments of technology companies like Twitter.
Voters will have a chance to decide who will fill out Cohen's final year on the city council in a ranked-choice special election set for March 23. The candidates are scheduled to participate in their first of two scheduled televised debates for the special election in a forum hosted by The Riverdale Press and BronxNet, set to air Feb. 2 at 7 p.m.
CORRECTION: Assemblywoman Amy Paulin represents eastern portions of Westchester County. This story previously indicated a different geographic area for the 88th Assembly District. Also, donor David Cohen lives within the council district. This story previously stated otherwise.