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Charles Kushner, Fort Partners Reportedly Funneled Cash To Surfside Politicians

A pair of big name developers quietly donated to political groups that tried to steer an election in the small beach town of Surfside, funding that was only revealed after the votes were cast.

The candidates who benefited from those donations ultimately lost, and the new mayor and vice mayor told Bisnow Tuesday that they now plan on reviewing, and potentially reversing, zoning changes in light of the revelation.

Surfside totals 0.6 square miles, with condo buildings dotting the main thoroughfare of Collins Avenue.

Charles Kushner, the chairman of New York-based Kushner Cos., and Fort Lauderdale-based Fort Partners contributed a combined $40K to groups supporting the reelection campaigns of three Surfside politicians as the developers also sought approval for projects in the town, the Miami New Times reported.  

The donations helped fund ads in support of then-mayor Shlomo Danzinger, Vice Mayor Jeff Rose and Commissioner Fred Landsman, all of whom lost their seats in March. 

The donations took a circuitous route to the groups supporting the officials’ campaigns. 

It started with a firm called Florida Way, founded in Palm Beach in February 2023, that received $20K in donations from both Kushner and Fort Partners. Florida Way made three payments totaling nearly $37K to Floridians Together For Change, which then paid $20K to One Surfside, a political action committee registered in Plantation, the Miami New Times found. All three entities list political consultant Aaron Nevins as a manager. 

Floridians Together For Change also donated $5K to 1,000 Jews for Florida, a group that backed Danzinger but bills itself as a nonpartisan entity engaging Jewish voters. Around $10K was spent on phone calls, canvassing and consulting fees, per the Miami New Times.

The donations funded political mailers sent by One Surfside in support of Danzinger, Rose and Landsman. Charles Burkett, who won the race for mayor, made scrutinizing new development a key plank of his campaign. 

Danzinger, who recently announced he’s running for Miami-Dade County mayor against incumbent Daniella Levine Cava, told Bisnow in an interview that he had worked with Fort Partners and Kushner in the past to review proposals before they were formally submitted, something he said he did with most developers who had plans in the town. 

He said he was unaware the developers had donated to the PAC supporting him because of the legally mandated separation between campaign and PAC activity. He denied that any developer received special treatment during his administration and said Burkett’s positions calling for the scrutiny of new projects likely led developers to oppose his campaign. 

“If you're going to have a platform and campaign on anti-development, then you can expect the developers to support the opposing side,” Danzinger told Bisnow

Tina Paul, who defeated Rose to become vice mayor, said in an emailed statement that she hoped the New Times’ reporting spurred “an investigation into the past two years where over 30 ordinances for zoning changes were approved by the previous commission.”  

Burkett, the newly elected mayor, said in an email that he had asked his staff to summarize each of the zoning changes referenced by Paul and planned to put them “on our next agenda for potential reversal.” 

Kushner Cos. and Fort Partners didn’t respond to Bisnow’s request for comment. 

Developers frequently contribute to political action committees to help boost their preferred candidates for public office, but the donations also came as the two firms had proposals making their way through town hall.  

Kushner Cos. won approval from the town commission on Jan. 9 for an 87-unit luxury apartment building at 9300 Collins Ave., seven days after Charles Kushner donated $20K to Florida Way, the Miami New Times reported. 

The three-story development is slated to have a 1,185 SF synagogue that Kushner needed to include in order for the project to qualify as mixed-use, which would allow it to build underground parking. 

The synagogue had been the source of some dismay in the community, with some residents questioning at the town’s planning board meeting whether its inclusion was a benefit to the community or if it was a tool to get around zoning requirements.    

Fort Partners has been a prominent developer in Surfside, a 0.6-square-mile town of 5,487 people north of Miami Beach. Its plans for an 11-story condo building at 9133 Collins Ave. went before the town’s zoning board in November 2023, a month after Fort Partners donated $20K to Florida Way, per the New Times report.

The project required several site amendments that were ultimately approved by a 3-0 vote of the zoning board. 

During his administration, Danzinger also faced scrutiny for his relationship with Damac, the Dubai-based developer planning a 12-story condo building on the site of the Champlain Towers South collapse in 2021 that killed 98 people. 

Two of Danzinger's opponents on the previous town commission pushed for him to disclose more details of an October 2022 trip he took to Dubai in which he met with Hussain Sajwani, the billionaire head of Damac.

Danzinger denied that he has ever given preferential treatment to a developer. He said his opposition to many aspects of the Live Local Act, a law meant to spur affordable housing construction through tax incentives and density bonuses, made him unpopular among some in the commercial real estate business. 

“What they're trying to do is say that somebody's in someone's pocket and gives favors,” Danzinger said. “Understand that every project we approved has always been to code, which was never changed. The height, the density, the square footage. Everything has always been allowed.”