Rob Astorino's moonlighting gigs for real estate developers were lucrative in 2019

David McKay Wilson
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Tax Watch columnist David McKay Wilson explores Rob Astorino's lucrative real-estate consulting business. 

As former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino contemplated his political comeback in 2019, he earned serious income as an after-hours real estate development consultant, according to according to Astorino's 2020 filing with New York's Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

It was a year when the Mount Pleasant Republican earned between $426,000 and $675,000 from a variety of jobs.

He was Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s delegate to the Mother Cabrini Foundation. He appeared regularly on the CNN cable network as a conservative commentator who defended President Donald J. Trump. And he served as a consultant with three real-estate development companies and an engineering firm.

He also had a short engagement with a right-leaning public affairs company, and an occasional stint as a talk radio host on 710 WOR. 

Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino talks abut his reasons for challenging Senator Pete Harkham in the 40th State Senate district while in his Hawthorne home July 1, 2020.

Among his clients was Fareri Associates, the real-estate developer tapped by Astorino in 2016 to create a bio-tech and medical office hub at The North 60, which was vacant county land on the edge of Westchester’s Grasslands Reservation in Valhalla. 

The financial disclosure comes as Astorino, who was defeated in his bid for a third term as county executive in 2017, looks to oust state Sen. Pete Harckham, D-Lewisboro, in the 40th Senate District. The district includes parts of northern Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties. Harckham beat state Sen. Terrance Murphy in 2018, bringing Democratic representation to the district for the first time. 

Astorino declined to be interviewed about his work in the private sector.

In an interview on WCNY in Albany on Oct. 5, Astorino said he helped a New York developer with what he called "a big development project." 

"I was giving them my thoughts on how to get through their dealings with local governments, how communities would react, and what would be best for their project," he said. 

Harckham, who earlier this month asked Astorino to disclose five years of federal income tax filings, as he has done, said Astorino’s multiple engagements could create conflicts of interest if Astorino was elected.

"He'd halt anything that would be a conflict of interest as senator, as appropriate," said Astorino spokesman Bill O'Reilly. 

He said Astorino no longer works for the Archdiocese of New York, and has dropped all of his consulting work, except for H.J. Kalikow & Co., the company run by Peter Kalikow. The Manhattan developer, who has a home in Purchase, sits on the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York, the major force for real estate interests in Albany. 

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O’Reilly said Astorino’s consulting work for real estate development companies in 2019, which earned him between $195,000 and $300,000, was conducted after he’d put in a full day with the Archdiocese of New York, coordinating grant applications made to the Mother Cabrini Foundation.

In 2019, the Archdiocese was awarded by 11 grants from the Cabrini Foundation, totaling $8.2 million, which included eight grants for social service programs operated by Catholic Charities Community Services.

Astorino was paid between $150,000 and $250,000 for his work, according to the range of incomes allowed under JCOPE's disclosure guidelines.

In his moonlighting gigs, Astorino earned:

  • between $50,000 and $75,000 with Kalikow;
  • from $75,000 to $100,000 with Fareri Associates, of Greenwich, Connecticut;
  • from $20,000 to $50,000 with Peter Gaito & Associates, of White Plains;
  • and from $50,000 to $75,000 with KARP/Renamba Greenwich, LLC, of Manhasset, which wants to build an assisted living complex in Greenwich. 

“These were done on his own time – evenings and weekends,” O’Reilly said.  

Harckham injected the tax issue into the campaign earlier this month, as questions surrounding President Donald J. Trump's tax filings swirled in the presidential race.  

Harckham released his tax forms two years ago after Murphy questioned whether he was double-dipping with jobs he had with the Cuomo administration from 2015 to 2017. He said the tax documents showed he had two jobs, at two different periods. 

The IRS filings provide a more in-depth view of an individual's financial standing, and falsifying those records can carry criminal sanctions. 

Peter Harckham, Democrat running for the 40th Senate District on Oct. 17, 2018.

“This is why I released my tax returns - to be fully transparent and so my constituents know I don’t have any conflicts of interest,” Harckham said. “If they don’t, it raises questions as to what they are hiding.” 

But Astorino declined, citing New York’s strict financial disclosure requirements.

“New York has among the most thorough candidate financial disclosure requirements in the country, providing even more information than a tax return," said O'Reilly. "Mr. Harckham knows that, and is playing games to try to deflect attention from his disastrous no-cash-bail law to anything else. We're not playing."

What Astorino did for Fareri Associates 

O’Reilly provided a glimpse at what Astorino did for the developers. 

For Fareri, the former county executive earned between $75,000 and $100,000 by reviewing the project’s draft environmental impact statement and housing study, and providing advice to Fareri on issues related to the development. The project is now overseen by the administration of County Executive George Latimer, who defeated Astorino in 2017, and signed the 99-year lease with the company in 2019. 

Harckham wondered why Fareri would hire Astorino to review the environmental study. 

“I thought that’s why you hire environmental consultants,” Harckham said. 

Astorino’s consulting business came as a surprise to Neil DeLuca, who was Westchester’s deputy county executive in the mid-1990s, and has worked for Fareri Associates on the North 60 project. 

“Rob likes to tout his experience in zoning and governance,” DeLuca said. “I didn’t know he had a consulting business. But he's an energetic guy - much younger than me. That’s pretty good work if you can get it.” 

Calls to Fareri Associates were not returned. 

What Astorino did for Gaito and KARP 

Astorino advised Peter Gaito and Associates, a White Plains architecture and engineering firm, on public, private and nonprofit projects.

For KARP/Renambo Greenwich, Astorino reviewed the proposal, along with legislation and planning issues involved in the assisted living project along the Metro-North railroad tracks, O’Reilly said.

An affiliate of the company also built the Ambassador of Scarsdale assisted living complex on Saxon Woods Road. 

“I picked his brains on land use and zoning issues,” said Amba Sharma, the company’s managing member. “There was also a meeting of the Commission on Aging where I wanted him to come and tell them how we did it in Scarsdale.” 

I asked Sharma if that’s all that Astorino did for him to earn between $50,000 to $75,000.

Said Sharma: "I'm not sure if I paid him that much, but if he said so, then I did."

Follow Tax Watch columnist David McKay Wilson on Facebook or Twitter @davidmckay415. Read his columns here.