Bronx congressional candidate has raked in health care cash

Bronx congressional candidate has raked in health care cash

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera may run for Congress—and the health care industry has kept his political career in peak fitness, a Crain’s analysis found.

The Bronx Democrat recently filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to seek the House seat currently occupied by retiring Rep. Jose Serrano. Rivera won his state seat in 2010, and became ranking member of the Committee on Health in 2013. After Democrats gained control of the upper chamber this year, Rivera became the panel’s chair.

Because New York does not permit a candidate to run for two offices simultaneously, Rivera would have to forfeit his state Senate seat if he chooses to seek the House post next June.

The politician’s state campaign account reflects relationships with deep-pocketed leaders in the medical sector. Rivera’s single largest individual donor is David Rich, executive vice president, government affairs, communications and public policy for the Greater New York Hospital Association. Board of Elections disclosures show Rich has given the senator $64,800 since December 2010.

Further, Rivera has received an additional $12,000 from a Scott Smith who shares Rich’s Maplewood, N.J., address.

Close behind Rich is Dr. Sumir Sahgal, founder of the Essen Medical Associates and Metro Urgicare network of clinics. The campaign has taken in $56,590 from Sahgal and his medical and real estate companies, nearly all of which are based out of a single post office box in Hartsdale. Rivera also received $3,000 from Choice One Pharmacy, which shares a Sahgal-owned space with another Essen Medical location, but the doctor denied being the proprietor of the drug dispensary.

Rivera’s campaigns also have received $29,000 from billionaire Alexander Rovt, who is best known for his holdings in the fertilizer and real estate industries, and for attempting to illegally donate $10,000 to President Donald Trump in 2016. The Ukrainian-born magnate cameoed in the news again in 2017, when federal investigators probed a questionable loan one of his affiliated financial entities, Spruce Capital, had made to now-convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Rovt is also deeply involved in New York’s health care sector. He sits on the boards of both Brookdale and Maimonides Hospitals, is a substantial shareholder in the Prime Home Health Services companies,and in recent years has acquired multiple nursing homes.

It is common for industry leaders to donate to politicians who serve on committees relevant to their field, and there is no evidence Rivera took any specific action on the behalf or behest of these contributors.

However, Rivera aligned himself with GNYHA this year in aggressively opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed reductions to the state’s costly Medicaid program. In his assessment of the most recent state budget, the politician touted having “secured $24 million for home health care providers” and helping “mitigate a $122 million cut to nursing homes.”

He also has sponsored legislation this year that would increase payments and create capital grants for home health services.

The senator appears to have a particularly warm bond with Sahgal, with whom he has made numerous public appearances and honored with an official state Senate proclamation in 2015. Earlier this year Rivera sponsored legislation that would shield physician groups from medical malpractice lawsuits.

“These positions all reflect the best interest of my constituents and New Yorkers across the state, which is the only thing I take into consideration when determining my position on an issue,” Rivera said in a statement to Crain’s. “I agree with my supporters on policies as often as I disagree with them.”

The elected pointed to his longtime sponsorship of the industry-opposed New York Health Act, which would create a single-payer health care system for the state, as evidence that contributions do not influence his stances or proposals. The bill has so far failed to make headway in the state Senate despite the Democratic takeover this year and Rivera’s elevation to chairman.

Rich declined to remark on his gifts to Rivera, except to say that they were “personal” and unrelated to his work for the hospital association. An aide to Rovt told Crain’s the billionaire was traveling in Europe and unavailable to comment.

Sahgal noted that he has received proclamations and recognition from other elected officials, many of whom he has never donated to, and professed ignorance of Rivera’s malpractice bill.

“I have a progressive view of the community where I practice and support leaders who serve the community,” the doctor wrote in an email to Crain’s.

The declared contenders for the congressional seat include controversial City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., a close ally of the city’s livery industry, and Assemblyman Michael Blake, a veteran of the Obama White House. Councilman Ritchie Torres, whose district overlaps heavily with Rivera’s, also has set up a committee—though, like the senator, he has not formally announced his candidacy. Several other long-shot aspirants either have entered the campaign or are considering a bid.

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