EVEN though Republican Rudolph Giuliani is moving up in the polls, New York City's powerful real estate community continues to back liberal Democrat David Dinkins for mayor. One reason is simply that the knowledgeable, pragmatic, and often Republican moguls expect Mr. Dinkins to win tomorrow. Another reason is a likely change in the way the city government works. For a long time now, enormous power has been vested in the narrowly based Board of Estimate. It's been relatively easy for real estate interests to make their weight felt there, particularly under the 12-year, developer-friendly administration of Edward Koch, who lost to Dinkins in the Democratic primary.
But voters are expected to approve a dramatic revision of the city charter. Under it, the Board of Estimate would lose its final say over zoning and development after an eight-month transition period. This authority would go to the 51-member City Council.
``We will be facing a new form of city government after the election,'' says Warren Wechsler, senior vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York, the leading trade association here. ``It will pose problems. There will be many more people involved in the decisionmaking process under the new charter.''
The need will be for a coalition politician who can cajole the city's overwhelmingly Democratic interest groups into making concessions. That, say the real estate interests, is Dinkins, not Mr. Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan. ``We've taken on some tough fights with Dinkins over the last couple of years,'' says Sid Davidoff, an attorney who represents developers and is also active in the Dinkins campaign. ``But we have found that there is some middle ground with him. He can be reasonable.'' Dinkins is currently the Manhattan borough president.
``The real estate community is much more worried about the change in the city charter than the mayor's campaign at this point,'' says a top aide to Gov. Mario Cuomo. ``There are a lot of developers who are Republicans who may privately be supporting Giuliani, but they are being very quiet about it. The stakes are too high.''
Indeed, in interviews with a dozen top real estate people in the city, few wanted to speak for the record. Most concede, though, that they have contributed to the Dinkins campaign. For the most part, they know Dinkins much better than Giuliani and seem to feel more comfortable with him. ``We have no idea in the world what Giuliani would do if he became mayor,'' one developer says. ``We have no relationship with him at all. Dinkins, we know, can be open to discussion and is a reasonable man.''
The real estate crowd is also seeking accommodation with City Councilwoman Ruth Messinger, a close political ally of Dinkins and long-time Upper West Side foe of developers. In the past several years, the tough-minded Ms. Messinger has been at the forefront of a Democratic reform movement to block development in her financially key district.
Messinger will by all odds become Manhattan borough president. Now, both she and top real estate executives are going to great lengths to communicate before they have to sit down and work their way through the complicated new city charter package.
Real estate men do have some qualms about Dinkins. ``I am deeply concerned about the city's viability as the world's financial capital,'' says the senior vice president of a major firm.
``David Dinkins is a lovely man, but his advisers are remarkably ill-informed on most economic issues. From what I hear, a number of people around him are from the radical left,'' he says. ``New York City could go the way of Montreal economically if it is led by a strong clique like those in Quebec who essentially are anti-growth. Congressman [Charles] Rangel, in my book, is the only Dinkins' adviser who even comes close to knowing anything about economic reality.''
``Despite these misgivings,'' he says, ``I have contributed to the Dinkins campaign.'' The real estate industry had better ``find a way to provide some access to City Hall or we're doomed.''