Leonard Litwin one of New York's biggest political spenders
State records show that Litwin, Glenwood and more than two dozen other limited-liability companies connected to them have pumped $1.5 million into political campaigns over a 12-month period ending in July. LLCs can legally circumvent campaign-finance rules that limit contributions by corporations to $5,000 and individuals to $150,000 combined for all campaigns each year, according to good-government advocates.
Litwin and Glenwood-controlled companies donated $154,000 to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during the first six months of 2012 -- making them collectively Cuomo's single-largest contributor for that time period, according to reviews of the campaign finance filings by Newsday and the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Litwin and Glenwood's companies give to both sides of the aisle, and the contributions have increased in recent years. In 2009, for example, they gave $877,698, according to NYPIRG. The next year that rose to $1,541,713.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said that although channeling campaign contributions through LLCs is "perfectly legal," it's "an extraordinary way around campaign limits."
Lerner said the practice "particularly favors the real estate industry . . . because most property owners who own multiple properties tend to manage those properties through separate LLCs -- one for each." Barclay Street Realty LLC, Columbus 60th Realty LLC and East 72nd Realty LLC are just three of the 27 Glenwood-related entities that Newsday identified that gave campaign contributions.
'Icon in the industry'George Arzt, a Democratic strategist and lobbyist who has represented Litwin, said the developer's contributions are in line with others in the industry. "He's a person that's trying to protect his own property," Arzt said. "He's no different from any other owner or developer."
Arzt said Litwin is "looked upon as an icon in the industry and people within the real estate community regard him with great reverence."
Glenwood also spends on lobbying -- $744,000 in 2011, mostly on real estate legislation but also on bills that would close the loophole allowing companies to use LLCs to skirt campaign-contribution limits. Lobbying records don't show whether Glenwood supported or opposed the legislation.
The danger, Lerner said, is that debates in Albany can be influenced by the flow of money.
"We see that in the way in which the real estate industry is able to drive policy in Albany in a way that the tenants who certainly outnumber the real estate owners if not in dollars then certainly in numbers don't have nearly as much clout," Lerner said.
Litwin and Glenwood declined to comment.
Glenwood owns and manages some of the toniest buildings in Manhattan, some of which it built with taxpayer subsidies. Since 1997, the company has financed seven Manhattan buildings using $1.03 billion in tax-exempt bonds issued by the New York State Housing Finance Agency.
Tax-exempt financing is a form of taxpayer subsidy that can save a borrower millions of dollars by lowering interest costs. In return for the cheap financing and other tax breaks, Glenwood reserved between 5 percent and 20 percent of the units in its buildings for low-income and middle-income tenants.
Litwin was once among the 400 richest Americans, according to Forbes magazine, though he dropped off the list in 2008.
During a 2006 interview with the magazine, the typically press-shy Litwin said: "Calling me a billionaire is shocking. My wife will be surprised."
Rise to mogul statusHis father, Harry Litwin, started the family's nursery business in Melville in 1933, opening Woodbourne Cultural Nurseries, which is still under family ownership, according to the nursery's website. In the 1950s, father and son ventured into real estate, building and renting luxury apartments in Manhattan.
"He is New York real estate," said Dan Margulies, executive director of the Associated Builders and Owners of Greater New York, which represents the interests of building owners.
For all of his name recognition in New York City's high-stakes real estate industry, Litwin is often described as "quiet" and "private" by colleagues.
"He's the classic example of someone who doesn't talk much, but when he does everyone listens," Margulies said.
Litwin and his wife, Ruth, live in a two-story Colonial-style home in Great Neck. The couple have two daughters, Diane Miller and Carole L. Pittelman, who is an executive vice president for Glenwood.
Through the Litwin Foundation, the real estate mogul has poured millions of dollars into philanthropies, including an annual $1 million donation to run the Litwin-Zucker Research Center at North Shore LIJ Hospital. The center, established in 2004 along with funding from Manhattan developer Donald Zucker and his wife, Barbara, focuses on researching Alzheimer's disease.
"He will describe himself as 'impatient for results,' " said Peter Davies, director of the center. "He works every day, he wants results, he's not afraid to tell you that he wants results, to push for what he wants."
Davies said Litwin visits the center several times a year, asking researchers questions and sometimes suggesting research projects. For the past five years, Litwin has organized a conference among the Alzheimer's research organizations he donates to, providing a venue for researchers to discuss their findings.
"He's soft-spoken, he doesn't command attention by raising his voice, he's simply clear and articulate on what he wants done," Davies said.
Litwin also has served in two of the city's real estate lobbies representing developers and landlords -- the Real Estate Board of New York and the Rent Stabilization Association.
While Litwin and Glenwood's companies give to both major parties, he donates more to Republicans than Democrats -- especially in the State Senate, where the GOP holds a narrow majority. Litwin also gives to some upstate candidates.
Litwin and Glenwood's LLCs gave to the campaigns of 22 Democrats and 28 Republicans in the first half of 2012.
Variety of contributionsFive of Glenwood's LLCs donated a combined $35,000 to freshman Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).
"We've met him in person before at strictly political events," Zeldin's campaign manager, Michael Johnson, said of Litwin. Johnson said discussions with Litwin have always been about Long Island issues and not Glenwood's business in New York City.
"We make sure those things never cross paths," Johnson said.
Glenwood LLCs gave to eight members of Long Island's GOP senate delegation this year, omitting only retiring Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon). So far this year, Zeldin received the most, followed by Sens. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) and Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who each got $20,000. State law prohibits an individual from contributing more than $6,500 to a Senate candidate's primary campaign and $10,000 for the general election, but by using multiple LLCs, Glenwood can contribute greater amounts. They've also contributed to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and the Senate Republican Committee.
Litwin himself gave $5,000 to the Taxpayers for an Affordable New York political action committee, whose contributors amount to a who's who of New York City real estate moguls.
Litwin and his companies donated $9,500 to the Nassau County Republican Committee. Anthony Santino, spokesman for GOP chairman Joseph Mondello, said he was not aware of any conversations with Litwin or the company about public policies.
Glenwood LLCs gave $90,000 to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone last year and have donated $40,000 to the Suffolk County Democratic Committee over the past 18 months.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he and Bellone became friendly with Litwin during plans to create a botanical garden in Wyandanch.
"During his [Bellone's] campaign last year he was very supportive of a couple of events that we've had and he's been very supportive of the county Democratic committee as well," Schaffer said. Schaffer said Litwin does not have any business before the county.