Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) holds a huge edge in campaign fund raising for her congressional race against Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). She also holds a considerable advantage in personal wealth, with a household net worth valued between $994,045 and $3,267,998, spread over family real estate and her husband’s financial investments.
Meng’s campaign and supporters — including Mayor Michael Bloomberg — have cast her as a champion of the middle class. Her household’s estimated net worth lifts Meng at least $900,000 above the national median of $77,300, according to her personal finance disclosure released last week by the U.S. House of Representatives, and statistics from the Federal Reserve.
Halloran, a lawyer running against Meng in Queens’ newly redrawn Congressional District 6, reported a net worth valued between -$69,998 and $50,000. The councilman reported owing between $50,001 and $100,000 in student loans from law school at St. John’s University.
A politician’s personal wealth resonates with voters only when it contributes to a negative stereotype, according to Alexis Grenell, a Democratic political strategist, especially if it re-enforces a perception of the candidate as out-of-touch. Meng might not have that problem, Grenell said.
“Voters don’t inherently resent wealth, especially not Americans,” Grenell said. “The candidate has to be out-of-touch in order for that strategy to work. She seems to be connecting with the district.”
Meng seemed surprised when she heard the estimated total of her net worth during an interview with Columbia Journalism School reporting website Queenscampaign.com on Wednesday. She noted that much of her worth is in her family’s real estate holdings, and she does not receive much income from them.
“People aren’t necessarily concerned about a candidate’s assets but what they are doing to actively make families’ lives better,” Meng said. “Yes, my family does own some property in Queens, but I think what’s most important in this campaign is I’m the only candidate that’s been fighting to increase the minimum wage.”
Halloran did not respond to requests for comment through his spokesman, Kevin Ryan.
The personal finance disclosures became a source of contention between the campaigns two weeks ago, when Meng missed her May filing deadline for financial disclosure forms by four months.
In response, Halloran attempted to link Meng’s campaign and personal finances to her father, Jimmy Meng, the former state assemblyman arrested this summer on charges of soliciting an $80,000 bribe. Halloran questioned how Meng could loan her campaign $122,000 right before winning the Democratic primary in late June.
Meng filed her disclosure form on Sept. 27. She reported $79,500 in income from the New York State Assembly and an undisclosed salary for her husband, a dentist and New York University professor. She also reported receiving between $30,002 and $100,000 in annual rental income in total from the two properties, one a home she owns with her husband in Bayside.
“We are a middle-class family,” Meng said. “There are a lot of homeowners and property owners in Queens, and we are every day managing and working through our budget.”
She added: “We’re paying off student loans and putting aside money for the kids. I understand what other middle-class families are going through.”
The disclosures show Meng has an interest in assets that also appeared on her father’s finance forms filed with the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics in 2005 and 2006. In those forms, which were released by the Center for Public Integrity, Jimmy Meng listed ACM Development, Wealth Management LLC and 147 34th Ave. Realty LLC as companies in his spouse’s name.
The same companies appear on his daughter’s disclosures as assets in which she reported small ownership percentages. Meng reported receiving between $2,501 and $5,000 in annual partnership income from her 10-percent stake in an asset called Wealth Management LLC.
Her two largest assets are properties in Bayside, valued between $500,000 and $1 million each. City property records show that in 2002 Meng’s father transferred the deed of one of these properties to a trust called Gracemore Management LLC.
“Like I said, a lot of the properties are properties that belong to my family,” Meng said. “I have two siblings. They belong to us collectively. They were all acquired by my parents.”
Congressional disclosure forms do not ask politicians to disclose personal residences or homes that don’t generate rental income.
Meng reported dozens of investments that include stocks, mutual funds and retirement accounts. Most belong to her husband, and include stock in Apple, Procter & Gamble and Intel, all valued between $1,000 and $5,000.
Meng disclosed two debts worth between $100,000 and $250,000 each. One of them was a home mortgage taken out in October 2006, and the other was a student loan from November 2004.
In comparison, Halloran’s disclosure form looked barren. He earned $112,000 last year as a city councilman and $6,500 as a member of the New York City Assigned Counsel Plan. He listed two assets, his New York City 401K and his municipal deferred compensation plan, both valued between $15,000 and $50,000.
He is in debt for a loan from law school valued between $50,000 and $100,000. What’s more, Halloran’s home remains under foreclosure, according to online Queens County records.
He’s also in the middle of year-and-a-half-long divorce from his wife. Halloran is representing himself in his divorce, records show.
Congressional candidates must file finance disclosures to the House before their elections, and the forms ask them to list assets and liabilities valued at differing ranges.
The disclosure forms for both candidates don’t provide exact values for assets or debts.
Using the same method to calcuate net worth as the Center for Responsive Politics, the political finance watchdog that runs OpenSecrets.org, the two candidates’ disclosure forms illustrate a wide gap in personal wealth. Meng was worth an estimated $2.1 million, while Halloran was worth -$9,999.