Far-left NYC councilmember’s exit from race preempted attack ads

The SAFE NYC group was preparing to release its “opening salvo” this weekend in what was to be a $400,000 independent expenditure including mailers, digital ads and a website

Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

New York City Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan, and some concerned residents of central Harlem attend âHarlem not for saleâ protest against the development project proposed for the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and West 145th Street in New York, United States on January 03, 2023.

Before Kristin Richardson Jordan abruptly announced on Tuesday that she was ending her campaign for a second term in the City Council, rumors had been circulating that the outspoken democratic socialist from Harlem was poised to be hit with a barrage of spending from outside groups. “What I had heard from a bunch of different places and people is that she was about to get destroyed,” said one Democratic insider in Harlem.

In fact, Jordan — a hard-left councilmember who had drawn scrutiny for her positions on policing, affordable housing and the war in Ukraine — was just days away from being pummeled by a newly created super PAC that had raised a major cash haul to thwart her candidacy, Jewish Insider has learned.

The group, called SAFE NYC, was preparing to release its “opening salvo” this weekend in what was to be a $400,000 independent expenditure including mailers, digital ads and a website, according to Jake Dilemani, a Democratic strategist who helped lead the effort, which has not previously been reported.

The first scheduled mailer, which Dilemani shared with JI, highlighted reporting that showed Jordan had missed half of her City Council meetings since last year. “Have you seen this person?” asked the mailer, plastering her face onto a milk carton. The super PAC was also planning to debut a new website, reviewed by JI, that denounced Jordan as an “extremist” with “out-of-touch” positions. The page, which remains private, cites her support for defunding the police and her opposition to a proposed housing development in Harlem that recently became a truck depot. 

In the coming days, SAFE NYC was set to unveil “several more mailers and a barrage of digital ads,” Dilemani told JI.

The new group, which intends to spend in other council races this summer, is a hyperlocal example of a broader national trend where moderate super PACs have played an increasingly prominent role in opposing left-leaning candidates running for federal office. In recent cycles, super PACs created by Democratic Majority for Israel and United Democracy Project, which is affiliated with AIPAC, have been among the leading spenders in several key House races where divisions between moderate and progressive Democrats have fueled tension.

For its part, SAFE NYC was among a few other independent expenditures that were expected to target Jordan in the coming weeks, including a $150,000 ad buy from a new super PAC called Future NYC, according to a political insider involved in the race. 

The treasurer of Future NYC, Jeff Leb, has previously been involved in a number of efforts funded largely by real estate executives to oppose left-leaning candidates running for state and federal office.

Inadvertently or not, however, Jordan preempted the incoming attacks when she withdrew from the June 27 primary, where she was facing three relatively moderate Democrats in one of a small number of competitive City Council races this election cycle. Dilemani, a partner in the New York City office of Mercury Public Affairs, suggested to JI that Jordan “got wind of” the ad barrage “prior to dropping out,” effectively hastening her departure.

The freshman lawmaker said in her announcement that there were “many reasons” for her decision. “The behavior of the Harlem Machine is self-centered rather than focused on community,” she said in a sharply worded statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday. “Dealing with these bad-faith actors — as well as the irresponsible journalism that amplifies them —  distracts our energy from the real work.”

A spokesperson for Jordan did not respond to a request for comment from JI on Thursday.

SAFE NYC, an acronym for Safe, Affordable for Everyone NYC, says it is “dedicated to supporting candidates who advocate for policies enhancing the safety, affordability and livability of the City of New York,” according to another private website that Dilemani shared with JI. The group’s “partners and funders,” he said, include members of the organized labor and business communities as well as a pro-Israel group called the New York Solidarity Network, or NYSN, an advocacy group formed last year to promote pro-Israel positions in state and local races.

Sara Forman, NYSN’s executive director, said the organization chose to get involved in the Harlem race because Jordan had made statements that were interpreted as hostile to Israel. Forman shared one screenshot of a now-deleted tweet, for example, in which Jordan had used a phrase — “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free” — that is widely understood to be a call for Israel’s elimination as a Jewish state. 

Jordan has also said she is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. “She was a very strong supporter of the tenets of the BDS movement,” Forman claimed. “We don’t want to see that. It’s targeting the Jews, and that’s just unnecessary.”

In an interview on Thursday, Forman said the range of activists engaged with SAFE NYC had separate motivations for opposing Jordan, even as they “all felt that Harlem would be better served having anyone else.” Because they “didn’t want to have multiple efforts all at once,” it made sense to unite behind the super PAC, she told JI. “It was really nice to see a coalition of the middle and even to the center-left.”

While the super PAC’s contributors haven’t been publicly disclosed, one notable figure involved in fundraising was Bruce Teitelbaum, a New York City developer and top aide to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, according to two people familiar with his engagement who asked to remain anonymous to discuss a confidential matter. Teitelbaum had sparred with Jordan over his proposal to build residential towers on West 145th Street in Harlem, which she rejected, claiming the project would spur gentrification. Instead, Tietelbaum opened a truck depot on the site in January.  

Teitelbaum’s involvement with SAFE NYC, suggested one of the people with knowledge of the developer’s activity, was payback for Jordan’s effort to scuttle his mixed-income apartment complex. “This was absolute retaliation,” the person told JI.

Tietelbaum did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s challengers have suggested that they are more receptive to negotiations around the development proposal, which Teitelbaum resubmitted to the City Council earlier this year. The remaining candidates include Inez Dickens and Al Taylor, both of whom serve in the state Assembly, and Yusef Salaam, a criminal justice activist and a member of the exonerated Central Park Five.

On its website, which remains private, SAFE NYC gave each of Jordan’s three rivals a stamp of approval, encouraging voters to rank “only” those candidates on their ballots. “These candidates,” the website says, “have earned our support for their commitment to enhancing public safety, expanding housing affordability, creating jobs and economic opportunity, and improving the quality of life for New Yorkers.”

Two years ago, Jordan narrowly won a crowded primary in a surprise upset over the Democratic incumbent, Bill Perkins, who died on Tuesday. But while The Nation heralded Jordan as “one of the first two out Black lesbians in the council’s history,” she soon drew mounting criticism for her views on abolishing the police as well as a series of controversial social media comments expressing sympathy for Russia as it invaded Ukraine last winter. 

The one-term councilmember was facing a tough reelection by the time she bowed out of the primary earlier this week, forestalling the onslaught of spending that was soon coming her way. 

Even now that SAFE NYC’s ads won’t need to run, Dilemani, the Democratic strategist who helped launch the group with a colleague at Mercury, said their work isn’t finished. “The plan,” he told JI, “is for SAFE NYC to be involved in other council races this year and state legislative contests next year.”

In an Instagram post announcing her departure from office, Jordan, for her part, vowed that she would continue to fight for “economic justice, abolition, liberation and radical societal change.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.