Residents: South Huntington Developers Made Big Political Donations

Neighborhood advocates are pointing out that the developers behind large apartment complexes for 161 and 105A S. Huntington Ave. made bundled contributions to local politicians as the projects are moving through the approval process.

[Editor's note: The following is a press release from neighborhood advocates, some of whom serve on the JP Neighborhood Council. It is not an official position of the JP Neighborhood Council, however, as the original post wrongly indicated. JP Patch is getting in touch with developers to get their side and will post more information when available. It is not against the law to make such contributions. Also, a sentence incorrectly characterizing City Council Matt O'Malley's district has been removed.]

Residents in Jamaica Plain reacted with outrage at news that the developers of two large luxury housing projects slated for South Huntington Avenue, each of which has encountered overwhelming opposition from the community, went on spending sprees to the campaigns of elected officials with influence over the development process. “How can the community trust that this is a fair process if there’s an appearance that money may be influencing development decisions that will impact everyone’s lives? This is a real problem,” commented Benjamin Day, a resident near the development.

According to the latest reports from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF), the developers of each project made initial rounds of donations targeted at City Councilors and State Representatives in whose districts the developments would take place.  After running into widespread community opposition and setbacks in the regulatory process, the developers’ attorneys and consultants made large “bundled” campaign donations to Mayor Menino’s campaign committee.

After Cedar Valley Development submitted a proposal to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to construct a ten-story tall, 195-unit luxury housing development at 105A South Huntington Avenue, OCPF reports show that Cedar Valley’s three principals, including Michael Nader of Marshfield, Assad Nader of Foxborough, and Anthony Nader of Milton, made "bundled" donations of $2,000 to City Councilor Michael Ross, $1,500 to Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, $900 to City Councilor Felix Arroyo, and $250 to City Councilor John Connolly ($500 per year is the maximum donation permitted under state law).

When the Cedar Valley proposal encountered strong opposition from the community and became stalled at the BRA, the project’s Attorney, Matthew Kiefer of Goulston & Storrs, and eleven others employed by that firm collectively made donations of $3,550 to Mayor Menino’s committee. Executives at two of the consultant firms engaged by Cedar Valley added another $1,000.  A final decision by the BRA was pending at the time of the donations.

At 161 South Huntington Avenue, Boston Residential Group has proposed to demolish the century-old Home for Little Wanderers building in order to construct a 196-unit luxury housing complex, consisting primarily of studio and 1 bedroom units that would rent for $2,000 per month and up.

The law firm hired by Boston Residential to facilitate its applications with the city, Nixon Peabody, owns a Political Action Committee that earlier this year made $150 and $200 donations to City Councilor Matthew O’Malley and State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, respectively.

After the Impact Advisory Group of local residents, established under zoning law to review Boston Residential’s plan, voted unanimously to oppose the development, and two public hearings organized by the BRA drew overwhelming community opposition, the BRA Board removed the development from its September meeting agenda, where it was initially scheduled to receive a vote.  Two weeks later the project’s attorney, Lawrence Dicara, along with twenty-six other attorneys at Nixon Peabody, made a $6,050 “bundled” donation to Mayor Menino’s campaign committee.  The Nixon Peabody bundle was accompanied by donations from Boston Residential’s President, Curtis Kemeny ($500) and other contractors for the project, for a total of $7,300 in donations.  At its next meeting following these donations, on October 18, the BRA Board voted unanimously to approve the project.

The developments border on the Latin Quarter of Jamaica Plain. “People from a low to moderate income community cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars in political contributions,” commented Martha Rodriguez of Hyde Square. “Why is a project like this still rapidly moving forward despite so much community opposition?” Ara Reyes reacted with shock, “I’ve lived in Jamaica Plain my whole life, and it is getting harder and harder for the community to afford to live here with rising rents. I can’t believe the developers donated this much money while their projects were up for review.”

Bob from JP October 24, 2012 at 05:55 PM
We are talking about a total of what, ~$15K in contributions? Do you think for one second if this was an affordable housing project and there were $15k in contributions made that this would be an issue? The JPNC is a joke.
Reed Miller October 24, 2012 at 07:41 PM
I share the outrage---to me, it is easy to connect the dots and see that these campaign contributions were intended to influence the development decision, against strong community opposition. How dare these developers grease there way into JP? Bob, I would be similarly appalled if affordable housing developers felt the need to buy influence with elected officials. That's not the way democracy is supposed to work. I would like us to compare this situation to that which former City Councilor Chuck Turner experienced. He allegedly accepted $1k to allegedly help a resident get a liquor license (which he didn't have jurisdiction over) and was not only stripped of his position as an elected official, but is currently in jail for 3 years. The only differences being that: his alleged contribution was not made via a check and recorded, he is a Black man who acted for decades in defense of his community, and his total alleged contribution was smaller than the bundles reported here!
John McLoughlin October 25, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Reed, That is a pretty big difference. Because the donations are recorded, we can monitor and decide for ourselves if the person bought influence. There are maximums in place to try to prevent undue influence. Regards, JOhn
Bob from JP October 25, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Good going Reed, I was wondering how long it would take for someone to complement the classism card with the race card. Well done. Good thing you have absolutely zero credibility after you "contributions" to the Whole Foods matter.
Glynnis October 25, 2012 at 09:55 PM
All - I work in financial services - and if I took a bribe of any kind - or anything that even APPEARED to be a bribe - I'd be fired instantly. Integrity is core to my company's brand. I'd like to know where the accountability is here. Thank you Ben Day and the JPNC for your courage bringing this to light. I'm ashamed of these politicians, and ashamed I voted for some of them. Glynnis Cornock
Rob October 27, 2012 at 01:53 PM
It may be worth noting the Nader brother's are longtime JP/MS business men, they appear to have been making political donations for more than 10 years. I mean maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt that they are donating to officials that represent the district they have done business in for so long. I mean it does seem strange if you look at a one time donation, but it appears these guys have been giving for a long time even before this project. If no one donates to these campaigns these officials won't be able to run for office. Also, not that this makes it any better but I can't see how a few thousand dollars in donations could sway a 50+ million dollar project.
Bob from JP October 30, 2012 at 03:05 PM
A voice of reason........... http://bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/30/jamaica-plain-subjects-real-estate-development-identity-politics/8tA8KYiPd9goY4bdEhr4GL/story.html
leman October 31, 2012 at 01:54 PM
So tired of these insular socialists trying to kick people for investing in and improving the neighborhood. This is exactly why people can't stand preachy self-righteous liberals.
Pat Roberts October 31, 2012 at 11:45 PM
And it's the professional protesters again, trying their best to prevent any improvements to the neighborhood. Unless, of course, the "improvement" is more subsidized housing, built by their friends and allies. Don't these people have anything useful to do with their time?
Pat Roberts October 31, 2012 at 11:46 PM
And they haven't been laughed out of town yet--I'm mystified.
Rich L October 31, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Bob, the issue at hand is the influence of private money on public decisions by elected officials. The sad fact of the matter is that even holders of federal office are swayed by surprisingly small amounts of money. It's sad but true. That said, I would hope that the appearance of conflicted interest would be called out no matter what the nature of the project is. Shame on all of us if we don't. It is right to cause an outcry in this case.
Rich L October 31, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Bob, the author in the link you posted talks about one monolithic group opposed to gentrifications. This article you are commenting on is not about gentrification. I am sure there is some overlap between the two groups (those opposing gentrification and those angry about the confluence of donations and votes), but your comment belongs to a different article and not this one. Not everyone angered by this is someone opposed to adding in development for all income levels. I am a case in point.
Rich L October 31, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Rob, do you have a source for the donation info you cite? I am not doubting your claim in the slightest; I'd simply like to see it for myself. Thanks!
Rich L November 01, 2012 at 12:12 AM
leman, please see my comment to Bob above regarding how your comment is out of place. Being tired of the influence of money in politics does not make me an "insular socialist." I wouldn't say that NOT being tired of it makes you an elitist neoconservative, so do your best to not mischaracterize everyone who is angered by the points raised in THIS article. Thanks.
Rich L November 01, 2012 at 12:15 AM
And yet another comment on the wrong article. Pat Roberts, people angered by this sort of thing- donations influencing decisions- are not a monolithic group, and are probably in the vast majority. I am sad to see that you come to this story with your mind already made up as to what is going on in the heads of anyone angered by it. Try to be more open.
Ara Reyes November 02, 2012 at 04:09 AM
"These people" as you called them mr. roberts... are very busy and active community people. I for one, probably one of these people you speak of, am: a single mother who has manage to live in JP for over 22 years and bought a house here even though most people I group with in JP cannot afford to live here anymore. I have worked hard to keep this neighborhood vibrant and safe for years so my daughter has a happy and healthy place to call home. I work over 65 hrs a week and in my "spare time" I study an participate in various community groups and events as well as of course be an attentive and living mother to my child and other neighbors in my community. Oh yeah, I am also an elected member of the JPNC. I also help little old ladies cross the streets and reach highshlelved items at S&S. an yet I do find the time to give back to my community. I guess "these people" don't have anything better to do with their time..
Bob from JP November 02, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Rich - the fact is there is a very large overlap in those opposed to Whole Foods and those opposed to this. You may not be one, but that does not change the points made in the editorial, which I believe to be, for the most part, valid. The parallels between the two issues are quite clear.
Pat Roberts November 02, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Ara, thanks for sharing. Why do you want to prevent the construction of more housing in JP? It's been said many times that there is no money right now for more subsidized housing. Building more market-rate housing will increase the supply of places to live, and has the potential of bringing down the cost. Preventing the construction of more housing will definitely increase the cost of what's here. Couldn't others share the good things you find about living here?
Maura November 02, 2012 at 04:37 PM
This editorial in the Gazette http://jamaicaplaingazette.com/2012/11/01/editorial-jpnc-chair-should-resign/ has some very logical and balanced things to say about political donations. Give it a read.
Pat Roberts November 02, 2012 at 05:55 PM
The Gazette's comments about political donations are marred by its pretense that the JP neighborhood council has any integrity or honesty. The Gazette says "the council must immediately restore its sense of integrity..." What integrity would that be? And it says the duties of the neighborhood council chair include "providing a neutral forum and preserving the council's hard-earned influence..." The neutral forum, we all know, is something the neighborhood council is pledged never to allow. The hard-earned influence...does the Gazette mean that the neighborhood council is the laughingstock of JP and also of Boston? I didn't realize they worked so hard to achieve that reputation, or that they valued it so much. Maybe the Gazette thinks we don't remember the negative role the neighborhood council played in the conversations about Whole Foods, just last year. Or the role it played in the community meetings over the disposition of the Blessed Sacrament site, a few years back. If we all had amnesia, maybe we would think the neighborhood council deserved respect now. But most of us remember.
Maura November 02, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Pat, your points about the council are well taken but not the reason I found the editorial helpful and informative. It is useful to me to be reminded how political donations really work (completely aside from anything at all related to the JPNC). I thought the Gazette did a good job with that.


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