The Queens-based developer and Bronx financial partner who won a bid from the city to redevelop the defunct Greenpoint Hospital into affordable housing, contributed thousands of dollars to the neighborhood’s powerful assemblyman and his political allies in what opponents say was a naked ploy to win the bid.
Last year, as city housing officials were deciding the fate of the coveted Greenpoint Hospital project, Great American Construction Corporation and TNS Development Group donated $1,500 to the re-election campaign of Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Williamsburg), who is also the Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman.
In 2008, Great American President Samuel Gaccione kicked in $1,000 of his own money to Lopez’s unopposed campaign to go with another $1,000 that Gaccione gave to Lopez in 2004.
Gaccione’s financial partner, Bronx-based Lemle & Wolf, has been similarly active in Brooklyn politics, giving Lopez $2,000 since 2008. Last year, the company’s president, Frank Anelante, supported Lopez-backed Council candidates Steve Levin and Maritza Davila with contributions of $500 each, while his wife, Lorraine Anelante, chipped in another $250 to each candidate.
And if that weren’t enough, Lemle & Wolff’s Political Action Committee, Affordable Housing PAC, has given Lopez’s Assembly campaign $4,400 since 2006 to ensure that the Housing Committee chairman stays in office. The PAC also gave $350 to Lopez’s party organization.
In April, the two housing development partners were awarded the site, beating out the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation, and the Bushwick-based Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, which Lopez founded.
Great American’s plan to bring 240 below-market-rate units to the Kingsland Avenue site was nearly identical to the Greenpoint group’s plan, whose group’s members had worked on the proposal for more than two decades.
Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Williamsburg), a rival of Lopez’s, believes that the Assemblyman steered the city toward Great American’s bid for the Greenpoint Hospital in retaliation for her objection to his Broadway Triangle rezoning plan.
But Great American’s Sam Gaccione said that his company applied for the project because “it looked like a great opportunity” and that politics did not play a role in his company’s award.
When asked about his financial contributions to Lopez, Gaccione replied that they were made because Lopez, as chairman of the Assembly housing committee, has been a proponent of affordable housing in New York and secured millions of dollars in state programs for the industry at large.
“Other than that, we haven’t had any relationship with Vito,” said Gaccione. “Every event we’ve been to with Vito has been attended by 20 or 30 other affordable housing developers.”
Indeed, Lopez’s allies say that it’s preposterous to think that Lopez played any role — especially since the bid would have likely gone to his favored group, Ridgewood Bushwick, if Lopez really had any say over it.
Then again, another city source suggested that Lopez is using his “snub” of Ridgewood Bushwick in this case as cover for his pay-to-play deal with Great American.
Esteban Duran, a Community Board 1 member and a candidate opposing Lopez in a state committeeman race, believes that the powerful Brooklyn party boss steered the bid towards the Queens-based group since it was unlikely that Ridgewood Bushwick would be awarded the project anyway.
“He has a competitor’s mindset,” Duran said. “If his nonprofit is not going to be able to build, then he doesn’t want any other nonprofit in the neighborhood to get a project. With the housing comes organizing power, and that emboldens your political organizing.”
A city spokesman said that the Greenpoint Hospital’s developer was selected through a competitive process, “based on an evaluation of the financial feasibility of the proposal, affordability of residential units, quality of architectural design, and development and management experience” and that politics did not play a role.