BY JACKSON CHEN | A political newcomer could turn the City Council District 7 election this year into a three-way race, with incumbent Councilmember Mark Levine already being challenged by Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a candidate who has used anti-Semitic and race-baiting language as part of his campaign.
In a district that covers Manhattan’s West Side from roughly West 96th to 165th Streets, Matthew Gros-Werter, who owns a small real estate firm, has thrown his name into the hat against the other two candidates, despite a history with Lopez-Pierre that includes some curious ongoing ties.
Gros-Werter, 33, launched his Matthew Neil Group real estate business last September and on April 6 registered an election committee with the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB). With no experience in local politics or on the area’s community board, Gros-Werter said he expects to bring his real estate savvy to the Council run.
“In business, we’re selling the idea, which is a product that you give to somebody,” Gros-Werter said. “In politics, you’re selling an idea that becomes a bill or a concept that then becomes implemented.”
In an interview with Manhattan Express, Gros-Werter said his two biggest concerns for District 7 are educational excellence and the neighborhood’s safety. When asked how he would address the housing problems confronting the district — ranging from tenant harassment to a shortfall in its affordable housing stock — the candidate said that’s an issue that needs to be addressed through extensive discussion with developers, landlords, and tenants. Community planning, Gros-Werter said, must be incorporated into approval of new housing construction so that developers can build bigger but only if they offer amenities to the neighborhood.
Gros-Werter doesn’t currently live in District 7 — being shy just a block of its border — but said he plans to move within the next couple of months.
While many have not heard of Levine’s newest challenger, one of Gros-Werter’s opponents is already aware of the name. According to the CFB, Gros-Werter donated $175 to Lopez-Pierre on January 9, 2013 for that candidate’s short-lived run that year.
When asked about that contribution, Lopez-Pierre recalled that Gros-Werter’s sister, Ariel, gave him a check on her brother’s behalf. The CFB database also shows that Ariel has donated $175 to Lopez-Pierre’s current 2017 campaign.
But when Gros-Werter recalled his 2013 contribution, he said the two men met in person when Lopez-Pierre picked up the contribution check from him. When asked why he donated to Lopez-Pierre’s campaign, he said it was due to his sister’s recommendation and that he was “thrilled to be involved in politics at that time.” Gros-Werter has not donated to Lopez-Pierre since then.
Campaign contributions aren’t the only ties between Lopez-Pierre and Gros-Werter. According to the CFB, the Committee to Elect Thomas Lopez-Pierre’s treasurer is Sandra Monperousse, whose LinkedIn profile cites her role in that campaign but also highlights her real estate license. According to the Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services, Monperousse’s license is registered with Matthew Gros-Werter and his 160 West End Avenue offices. Other online references also mention Monperousse’s position at the Matthew Neil Group.
When asked about that, Gros-Werter said that he was not aware that Monperousse — one of only four employees at his firm — is the treasurer for Lopez-Pierre’s committee, despite her being with Matthew Neil since the company’s launch. Gros-Werter explained that he usually discourages talk about private matters in the office.
Noting that Monperousse had donated $175 to his 2017 campaign, Lopez-Pierre said he does not discuss details about his contributors. When asked if he had a relationship with Gros-Werter himself, Lopez-Pierre said he met him before, but that they were “not friends.”
“I would prefer he didn’t run but I’m not going to stop some kid from running,” Lopez-Pierre said of Gros-Werter. “The business of politics is incestuous. I’m not shocked. If you look at my contributors, you will find they’re related to some really interesting people.”
But an email blast Lopez-Pierre sent out on April 13 suggests he is not unhappy that Gros-Werter has joined the race. The email noted “there are now two Jewish candidates in the race for the 7th Council District.” Describing Gros-Werter as part of a wave of younger generation Democrats looking for political office, Lopez-Pierre asserted, “These two Jewish candidates will divide the Jewish vote!”
Lopez-Pierre is of Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Haitian descent, and has said that two-thirds of the voters in District 7 are black or Latino.
Gros-Werter said he’s seen Lopez-Pierre around in the neighborhood, but denied having a personal relationship with him. When asked about any ties to the other challenger, Gros-Werter said, “Politics is a funny gig, if he wins or I win, doesn’t he need a cabinet, a group of people he can trust?”