“They’re gathering together people who are theoretically grass-roots groups,” Ms. Davidson said, but “who carry nicely printed-out signs, who wear printed-out T-shirts and who’ve hired a lobbyist who used to work for the governor.”
Ms. Davidson was referring to the Alliance for Rental Excellence’s hiring of Kivvit, a lobbying firm led by Mr. Cuomo’s former campaign manager. Individual developers have also hired other well-connected lobbying firms, including SKDKnickerbocker and Patrick B. Jenkins and Associates, which was founded by the college roommate of the Assembly speaker, Carl E. Heastie.
Indeed, even as the real estate industry has unrolled its new approach, it has not abandoned more familiar ones.
The four industry groups behind Responsible Rent Reform, either individually or as a coalition, are paying lobbying firms more than $66,000 each month to push on the rent laws, state filings show. That is in addition to $100,000 that the coalition anticipated it would spend on its own between March and December, as well as a $30,000 retainer to another consulting firm and a $720 hourly rate to a third company, beginning last month.
Also, since January, Rebny’s political action committee has given $15,000 to Mr. Cuomo and more than $114,000 to state legislators, according to filings. Many of the donations have flowed to suburban Democratic senators.
Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a trade association representing about 4,000 building owners, said the new focus on average New Yorkers was not some “Machiavellian idea to undermine” the rent laws.
Mr. Martin’s group, known as CHIP, has gone perhaps the furthest in seeking new allies in the past few months, undertaking a wholesale landlord makeover of sorts: issuing statements denouncing President Trump’s policies on undocumented immigrants; sponsoring a Manhattan food bank; and even reaching out to nonprofit housing groups.