Months after the New York World first highlighted the practice, a pair of Queens community newspapers persisted in handing out endorsements to political candidates who are paying clients of the papers’ affiliated political consulting firm, a review of campaign filings reveals.
In 2013, in competitive primary and general electoral races, all candidates who hired the firm, Multi-Media Advertising, and spent more money than rivals on consulting services and ads in the Queens Tribune and PRESS of Southeast Queens received an endorsement in at least one of the two newspapers.
The endorsements did not disclose the business transactions to readers.
In all, the endorsed candidates and their outside supporters spent a total of more than $268,000 on Multi-Media during the 2013 election cycle. The largest sum came from Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, who paid Multi-Media $135,000 for consulting services, printing and postage for his campaign.
Five days before the primary, the Tribune’s editorial page endorsed Catsimatidis for the Republican mayoral primary: “Catsimatidis is an approachable billionaire,” it raved. “He loves people and he loves this City…he will bring into his administration bright people.” The other candidates on the Republican ballot, Joe Lhota and George McDonald, were not Multi-Media clients.
Catsimatidis was not available for comment.
The Tribune and PRESS of Southeast Queens endorsed candidates in 19 competitive races on the ballot in Queens. In all nine contests in which a Multi-Media client was in the running, the papers’ editorial pages endorsed the candidate who did the most business with Multi-Media and the publications. (If that candidate was defeated in the primary, the Tribune and the PRESS in some cases endorsed for the general election a candidate with smaller or no business ties with the firm.)
Among the Tribune’s endorsements was one for Reshma Saujani in the public advocate primary. Saujani spent $5,400 on ads in the Tribune and PRESS of Southeast Queens. Rival Daniel Squadron had spent $340 to have Multi-Media print his primary ballot petitions, but nothing on advertising with the paper.
When the World reported the connection between the papers and consultancy last year, the newspapers and the political consulting firm were both owned by Tribco LLC. They continue to share the same address in Whitestone, the Tribune’s website, the PRESS’ website, and a recent ad for Multi-Media show.
The Tribune and PRESS’ editor-in-chief, Steven Ferrari, declined to comment when reached over the phone and by email. Their publisher, Michael Nussbaum, who is also Multi-Media’s president, did not respond to an email and a phone call; The New York World visited the office but was told that Nussbaum was not available to meet.
Catsimatidis’ fingerprints are also on another Tribune endorsement. In the Flushing race pitting Democrat Lew Simon against incumbent City Council member Eric Ulrich, a Republican, the mayoral candidate struck against the sitting councilman with a $15,000 attack mailer designed, printed and distributed by Multi-Media. The episode came after Ulrich described Catsimatidis to reporters as a “buffoon.”
The Queens Tribune followed with an endorsement of Simon, praising his “years of service as an Assembly District Leader and his tireless efforts to help his neighbors adversely affected by Superstorm Sandy.”
Commenting on the Tribune’s endorsement, Ulrich noted that all other Queens newspapers that weighed in on the race — the Chronicle, the Forum, the Gazette and the Courier — had endorsed him, and said the harm done to his campaign was “absolutely none.”
He said that he believed candidates’ consulting-firm spending and newspaper endorsements had nothing to do with one another, and in any case that the paper’s endorsement matters little.
“I would question the notion that the Queens Tribune carries a lot of weight in an election,” he said. “I think that voters make up their minds based upon other things.” (The Tribune claims a circulation of 146,000.)
In the Queens borough president race, the newspapers endorsed then Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. in the Democratic primary. Vallone reported spending just over $3,000 with Multi-Media for campaign literature in connection with the 2013 primary and another $9,300 in Tribune ads. Vallone’s victorious rival, Melinda Katz, spent $300 on the firm for campaign literature. The Tribune and the PRESS backed Katz for the general election.
The scenario repeats itself in City Council races.
In the contest for the Bayside council seat left vacant by Dan Halloran, the Tribune endorsed Multi-Media client Austin Shafran over Vallone’s younger brother, Paul. Shafran, who paid Multi-Media in excess of $43,000 for campaign literature, petitioning, mailers and ads, would eventually suffer defeat in the primary. The Tribune then backed Vallone, who spent about $2,400 on ads in the paper.
In Astoria, candidate Gus Prentzas was the only Multi-Media client among three Democrats vying for the vacant City Council seat. Prentzas spent $44,000 on campaign literature, mailers and petitioning with the firm. He was endorsed by the Tribune for the primary before being defeated by Costa Constantinides. The Tribune subsequently endorsed Constantinides for the general election, which he won.
And the PRESS of Southeast Queens backed the Multi-Media candidate in Cambria Heights, where Manuel Caughman spent close to $27,000 on mailings, posters and other campaign literature. After Caughman was defeated in a crowded primary — finishing fourth among six contenders — the PRESS pronounced itself in favor of the winning Democrat, Daneek Miller.
In the primary and general races for comptroller, the Tribune also endorsed the Multi-Media candidate, Scott Stringer, who paid $300 for palm cards on the eve of the primary. Stringer’s campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on why Stringer used the consulting firm.
Last year, The New York World found that between 2009 and 2012, all but four candidates who had purchased $1,000 or more in services from Multi-Media had received the endorsement of the Tribune.