Some neighborhood activists are trying to block an affordable housing complex on Blondell Avenue in the Bronx.
Although two community boards opposed the project as too big, the City Council unanimously approved it, along with $1.4 million in funding, after the local councilman, Mark Gjonaj, endorsed it.
Now Gjonaj is facing criticism after Crain's New York Business revealed his campaign received $11,000 from people related to the owners of Exact Capital, the developer of the project, called Blondell Commons.
“You’re being accused of steering public dollars towards donors. What’s your response?” NY1 asked the councilman.
“I know who I am. I sleep very well with myself. I can’t be bought off,” Gjonaj replied.
NY1 learned Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Junior received $15,000 in campaign donations in 2014 and 2016 from Exact Capital Co-Owner Craig Livingston, his wife and relatives of the other owner.
Diaz signed off on the project last year. He declined multiple requests for an interview.
Asked if he feels as though he's "taking all the hits on a project that involved a lot of people," Gjonaj replied, "I don’t run away. I don’t hide. I address things head on.”
Blondell Commons is to be built on a former junkyard. Gjonaj says he took into consideration the community concerns and got the developer to shrink the project's size, add a parking lot and space for a school, and reduce planned rents.
“I was not a supporter of it, but I crafted this into something that would benefit the community and the neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhood.”
When we asked his office in January whether he had received campaign donations from the developers, a spokesman told us no.
“So you didn’t knowingly deceive me?” NY1 asked Gjonaj.
“Hell No. Hell no. there would be no reason to deceive you or anyone else. It’s not who I am,” he replied.
Gjonaj's office later told us a staffer made an error while searching campaign records.
The activists have launched an online petition demanding Council Speaker Corey Johnson revoke the project's funding.
“Corey Johnson needs to stop these funds. This is a project that the community adamantly opposed,” said one project opponent.
A Council aide tells NY1 the Council vigorously vetted the project and “worked closely with the community to bring badly needed affordable housing to the Bronx."