The ‘Greenfielding’ of Brooklyn politics • Brooklyn Paper

The ‘Greenfielding’ of Brooklyn politics

Tip clip: Councilman David Greenfield (D–Borough Park) wants to stamp out gratuitous gratuities by making restaurants clearly label any tips automatically added to the checks.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s new, supposedly “Progressive” Council has is supposedly fighting for the 99 percent, but one of its first moves bows down to Brooklyn’s ultimate insider and real estate millionaire ally — Borough Park Councilman David Greenfield.

Greenfield’s impending appointment to the helm of the Land Use Committee was one of the first details to leak out on the deal between the Progessives and Brooklyn Dem boss Frank Seddio to put Viverito at the top of the Council food chain — just at the moment when real estate interests were lining up to oppose the left-wing East Harlem councilwoman’s rise to the speakership. The leak that a figure closely aligned with major property owners would be given authority over zoning and public land dispositions was no accident, according to insiders.

“It’s not that hard to connect the dots,” one source said.

Greenfield is perhaps the single most influential political figure in Brooklyn today, thanks mainly to gerrymandering and a nearly bottomless supply of cash from deep-pocketed backers.

Sources say Greenfield derives his power from two sources — his ability to collect donations from wealthy Sephardic Jewish real estate moguls, and his ability to act as an intermediary with the religious Jewish community for other councilmembers.

Greenfield’s sway over multi-millionaire Middle Eastern Jewish community stems from his pre-Council stint as executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation, a post sources said he obtained through a personal connection with the group’s founder. Greenfield is Ashkenazic, or European Jewish extraction, but he nonethelessquickly became the Sephardic community’s favored representative to the political world, with a reputation for delivering.

“What happens is they go to him with what they want, and David creates a forum where that can happen,” a former Greenfield associate said.

Even before Greenfield became a councilman, his influence over Sephardic dollars obligated elected leaders to pay him respect. His son’s 2009 bris drew a veritable who’s who of Brooklyn pols. And when he decided in 2010 to run to replace then-Councilman Simcha Felder, he received the backing of then-Dem boss Vito Lopez and the entire Sephardic community. The names of major Sephardic real estate families — Sitt, Sutton, Tawil, Jerome, Bailey, Laboz, among others — now appear in the campaign filings of nearly every candidate that Greenfield endorses.

Greenfield’s fund-raising prowess has astounded members of his own party.

“He’ll just show up with checks from people you never heard of and you’ll ask ‘who the hell is this?’ And he’ll say ‘don’t worry about it,’ ” one Democratic leader said.

The Sephardic community has seen a remarkable return on their investment. In the three years since Greenfield entered the Council, more than $2 million in taxpayer funds have gone to Sephardic organizations in Brooklyn.

Insiders said Greenfield also directs his land-owning backers to have Seddio and his law chairman Frank Carone — both attorneys — handle the legal paperwork on their real estate transactions, which translates into even greater influence over the party machinery for Greenfield.

“He gets the two of them a lot of work, and so when he says ‘jump,’ they say ‘how high?’ ” a party insider said.

Greenfield now reportedly helps the county organization select candidates for endorsement, using a simple criteria — anyone too intelligent or too independent is automatically ruled out.

“He likes to work with councilmembers who aren’t that smart, or at least aren’t as smart as he is, because that means they’re easier for him to control,” an insider said.

A spokesman for Seddio and Carone denied that they have received accounts through the Councilman, and Greenfield denies streering business their way.

Once in the Council, Greenfield quickly became co-chair of the Brooklyn delegation and its budget negotiator. He later gained further influence from the Council redistricting soon after he took office, which divvied up the core religious Jewish neighborhoods of Borough Park, Crown Heights, and Midwood among several councilmembers, who turned to Greenfield to gain entrée to that tight-knit community.

Sources said Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D–Flatbush) was terrified of an Orthodox insurgency in the Crown Heights section of his turf in 2013, and had Greenfield take him on a tour to introduce him to the major players in the Jewish community. Eugene denied being scared of any demographic, but admitted he had received Greenfield’s assistance

“Councilmember Greenfield, when I go to his community, he makes me feel comfortable,” Eugene said.

Insiders say the only check on the power Greenfield wields over his colleagues and the Brooklyn Democratic machine is how much his colleagues loathe him.

“He would definitely agree with Machiavelli’s theory that it’s better to be feared than loved,” one observer said.

In City Hall, Greenfield’s behavior is described as domineering, and two insiders recalled Greenfield once reducing Councilwoman Darlene Mealy (D–Brownsville) to tears with a barrage of pointed questions. Greenfield, however, said he and Mealy have “great working relationship,” and the councilwoman declined to comment.

Sources said that Greenfield twice lobbied his Council cohorts to name him head of the powerful Finance Committee, but the distaste for the councilman was too great.

“They said ‘no way,’ because they f—— hate him,” one insider recalled.

Another insider agreed that Greenfield is unpopular in the Council.

“He doesn’t have any true allies who would go to the mat for him if he was in trouble,” the source said. “Luckily for him, he hasn’t been in trouble yet.”

Greenfield’s office denied that he lobbied for any committee chairmanship and called the allegations conveyed in this piece “offensive and bizarre,” sating the councilman “is well liked and respected by his colleagues.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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