February 27, 2014 / Brooklyn news / Will’s Watch

Cuomo contributors Fortis, Related Companies bid for LICH

Updated: Cuomo contributors vie for control of hospital on prime real estate

Brooklyn Daily
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Two of the top contenders for taking over the ailing medical center’s Cobble Hill property are big-time donors to the 2014 re-election campaign of Governor Andrew Cuomowho controls the levers that will determine the facility’s fate.

The Guv’s bid for another term has accepted $17,500 from the Kestenbaum family, founders of the Fortis Property Group — which was the state university system’s first pick to take over the hospital. Fortis’s plan was to rip the hospital down and replace it with a condo complex that would include a so-called “medical mall,” featuring an urgent care center, dentist offices, and surgery facilities, but no emergency room. The state ultimately ruled against this proposal, but insiders say Fortis remains the frontrunner in the new auction.

Fortis president Joel Kestenbaum gave the Cuomo campaign $5,000 last November, while his uncle Moshe — who is not a partner in the firm — gave $12,500 in Jan. 2014. The Kestenbaums run the Oda Health Center in Williamsburg.

A Fortis spokesman pointed out that the contributions were completely legal, and denied they had anything to do with the battle for the property.

“Any suggestion that political contributions are linked to the competition for LICH is unfounded and absurd,” said spokesman Ross Wallenstein.

The Kestenbaums are not the only bidders ponying cash for Cuomo. Stephen Ross, founder of The Related Companies — who joined forces with the Brooklyn Hospital Center to submit a rivalproposal for the property — gave Cuomo $5,000 last year. A Related spokeswoman pointed out Ross made the contribution months before his business got involved in the bidding process, and has not made any donations since.

The Governor is responsible for appointing 15 of the 18 members of the state university board of trustees, which runs Long Island College Hospital and voted to close the 156-year-old institution last year. Cuomo also appointed Nirav Shah, the commissioner of the Department of Health, who would ultimately be responsible for approving the closing.

Governor Cuomo’s campaign failed to respond to repeated requests for comment prior to press time. The state’s highest elected official has stayed similarly mum throughout the entirety of the hospital controversy, despite the bright red signs in the storefronts along Court Street and Atlantic Avenue demanding “Where is Governor Cuomo?”

• • •

Brooklyn’s Congressional Democrats are piling on Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) ahead of next week’s scheduled House vote on legislation to delay post-Sandy flood-insurance rate hikes — but Grimm is striking back.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D–Sheepshead Bay) hit the Republican legislator for voting three weeks ago to block the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act — which Grimm helped write — from reaching the House floor.

“I don’t get it. He seemed to be in favor of supporting the homeowners who are really going to be hurt by the increase in rates. I don’t know why he has changed his mind, but I hope he changes it back,” Clarke said at a meeting of the Bay Democrats last Wednesday. “Your constituents want to know why you aren’t fighting for them.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–Bensonhurst) made a similar attack on the GOPer two weeks ago.

But Grimm lashed out at his Dem colleagues, pointing out that the parliamentary move that would have allowed the Democrats to call a vote on the insurance bill would have also allowed them to bring far less popular pieces of legislation to the floor. He accused Clarke and Nadler of simply mouthing slogans from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is trying to elect Grimm challenger Domenic Recchia, the former Councilman from Coney Island.

“These members know full well that my vote was against a parliamentary trick by a group of misguided Democrats to hijack the House floor and ram through any legislation their hearts desired. Despite this useless stunt, our efforts have moved forward in earnest, and I will be very curious to see what the DCCC has to say when these very same Members cast their vote in favor of my bill,” Grimm said.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019: The original version of this story erroneously reported that Moshe and Louis Kestenbaum pled guilty in 1991 to a $4 million scheme that redirected groceries intended for the Soviet Union and illegally sold them inside the United States. In fact, the charges were dropped.
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