Hey Big Spender: The Parking Lot King of Philadelphia

 Credit:  WHYY

Credit: WHYY

This is the first installment of our "Hey, Big Spender!" series. The series seeks to highlight the special interests, power players and shot-callers in Philadelphia local politics. We last profiled Joseph Zuritsky in "Top City Council Donor & Parking Magnate Joseph Zuritsky Has Ties to the Anti-Muslim Right Wing."

In Philadelphia, political donors are divided into two groups : Individuals and Organizations (including Political Committee, Partnership, Sole Proprietorship or Other Form of Business Organization.) Joseph Zuritsky, owner of the Parkway Corporation, a large local real estate development firm, is one of the largest donors to current city council members in both categories. As a real estate developer, Zuritsky is not alone in donating large amounts of money to city politicians. Developers often rely on political connections to get permits and financing for large projects.

According to campaign finance data obtained from the City Board of Ethics, Zuritsky has contributed over $113,000 to current council members— and over $22,500 in 2017. This makes him the 19th largest overall donor to the current council from 2006-2017; when only the Individual class of donors is considered, Zuritsky is the largest individual donor in that period. (We made this determination by gathering all extant campaign donation data on the City Board of Ethics campaign donation database and ranking donors by total giving over the 2006-2017 period.)

 

Who is Joseph Zuritsky?

Joseph Zuritsky is the founder and CEO of the Parkway Development Corporation. With his son, Robert Zuritsky, they manage the family business and have watched it grow from owning some parking lots in the 1920’s to brokering multi-million dollar real estate deals in Center City. He is also an avid koi farmer, and in fact most of the press on him recently has been about his retirement from koi breeding. Zuritsky was also a founding member of the Center City District, a Center City non-profit which has been a major force behind development in Philadelphia since the 1990s. He continues to sit on the board. Zuritsky became involved in city politics in the late nineties as “a matter self defense.” Since 2006, he has been one of the largest donors to the current City Council.

In 2016, Zuritsky was involved in a scandal in Allentown where then mayor Pawlowski was indicted for corruption and pay-to-play politics. In 2004 Zuritsky was also accused of donating money to then-Mayor John Street’s campaign in exchange for a zoning variance that was needed for 1706 Rittenhouse Square (the luxury high rise, which was completed in 2008.) While these accusations have been denied by Zuritsky, the practice of “pay-to-play” campaign donations have been and are common in Philadelphia. This is thanks to campaign finance regulations that allow donors to give “Post-Candidacy Contributions” to councilmembers year-round.

 Zuritsky (far left) with Paul Levy of Center City District (podium) and Mayor Nutter (far right.) Credit: Philly Chit Chat

Zuritsky (far left) with Paul Levy of Center City District (podium) and Mayor Nutter (far right.) Credit:Philly Chit Chat

Who does Zuritsky donate to on City Council?

In 2017, Joseph Zuritsky donated over $22,500 to members of City Council. He was the 8th largest donor over all and the 2nd largest individual donor behind outdoor advertising executive Dominic Cipollini.

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In 2017 Zuritsky’s largest contributions were to:

  1. Kenyatta Johnson (District 2):  $4,000.00
  2. Mark Squilla (District 1) & Allan Domb (At-Large): $3,000.00  
  3. Darrell Clarke (District 5, City Council President): $2,500.00
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Save the donations to Clarke, these patterns generally hold if you look at donations between 2006 and 2017.

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Kenyatta Johnson comes in 1st at $18,600.00 and a little under a quarter of total donations with Mark Squilla ($13,900) and Bobby Henon ($13,100) coming in behind him. Altogether, these four individuals account for more than half of Zuritsky’s donations. As a reminder, those council districts cover all along the waterfront from South Philly up to the North East as well as other hotly-developing neighborhoods like Point Breeze and Kensington. Allan Domb is a real estate broker for high-end residencies and a current member of City Council, has also received a lot of support from Zuritsky.

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If you’d like to dive into Mr. Zuritsky’s campaign donations further to explore individual gifts you can check out our spreadsheets listing his donations to current council members from 2006-2017 here.

See anything fishy? Let us know about it at phillypowerresearch@gmail.com

You can find our full set of links to sources here: https://www.phillypowerresearch.org/sources

If this level of spending is a concern, contact your council member and let them know about this report, and our previous profile of Zuritsky.  You can find them at:

District Council Members (Find your District Council Member here)

  • Darrell Clarke (215) 686-3442 

  • Mark Squilla (215) 686-3458

  • Kenyatta Johnson (215) 686-3412

  • Jannie Blackwell (215) 686-3418

  • Cindy Bass (215) 686-3424 

  • Curtis Jones, Jr.  (215) 686-3416

  • Brian O’Neill (215) 686-3422

  • Bobby Henon (215) 686-3444

  • Cherelle Parker (215) 686-3454

  • María Quiñones Sánchez (215) 686-3448

At Large Councilmembers (Representing Everybody)

  • Al Taubenberger (215) 686-3440

  • Derek Green (215) 686-3450

  • Helen Gym (215) 686-3420

  • Blondell Reynolds Brown (215) 686-3438

  • David Oh (215) 686-3452

  • Allan Domb (215) 686-3414

  • William K. Greenlee (215) 686-3446