Opinion: A tale of two billionaires

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Billionaires James Dolan and Ronald Lauder.
(Left) REUTERS/Carlo Allegri; (Right) REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Two billionaires have recently involved themselves in the two most important political campaigns this year in southern Brooklyn. Let’s track who they are and what political outcomes the ultra-rich are trying to foist on the rest of us.

One of these billionaires is Ronald Lauder. Among other pursuits, Lauder is the largest benefactor of the Upper East Side’s Neue Galerie, an exquisite museum dedicated to German and Austrian art of a century ago. You’ve likely heard of his mother — her name was Estée Lauder.

The other billionaire is Jimmy Dolan. Dolan is perhaps the most unpopular billionaire in New York, as he owns the Knicks, the Rangers, Madison Square Garden, the MSG and AMC cable networks, and he used to own the cable company Cablevision which is now called Altice or Optimum. 

Dolan has had a strikingly bad relationship with New York’s press corps for at least a decade. There are also a lot of customer service complaints related to his brands! Ask any Knicks fan how they feel about team ownership.

Dolan is supporting Republican congressional candidate Nicole Malliotakis over Democratic incumbent Max Rose, because J.D. — as he is sometimes known — found himself disparaged by the bald congressman. Dolan has put at least $50,000 into a PAC supporting Malliotakis, and is trying to raise more.

This is after congressman Rose, “a Knicks fan to the day I die,” called on Dolan to sell the basketball team because he is “driving the team into the ground.” I’m not a huge basketball fan, but the congressman is right — the results over the last 21 years speak for themselves.

Lauder, meanwhile, has involved himself in politics this year to a larger degree than Dolan. He was the original and main financier behind New York City government’s term limits — a policy I actually support. Lauder has also backed Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu since 2012, and donated over a million dollars to Trump and his causes in the last four years, though he apparently stopped this year.

Suddenly, Lauder is spending $1.7 million against eight Democrats running for state senate, including Brooklyn’s own Andrew Gounardes. Lauder’s PAC says Gounardes is soft on crime because he supported cash bail reform as well as the right of defendants to confront witnesses against them, a right implied by our constitution.

Let me state that the candidates these billionaires are supporting are unimpressive: Malliotakis has accomplished little and claimed a lot, while Andrew’s Republican opponent Vito Bruno has allegedly committed a few crimes of his own.

These two billionaires, one highbrow and one low, are able to drop so much money on their personal vendettas and potentially alter our politics only because one’s mother built a fragrance empire and the other’s father founded HBO but traded it for the Long Island cable monopoly.

Do we want Ron and Jimmy’s children broadcasting their own foolishness to us 40 years from now?

Nick Rizzo is a former Democratic District Leader and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.