This October, the New York Observer ran a lengthy exposé of members of New Jersey's Wilf family and its patriarch Zygmunt Wilf — Zygi for short — who made their fortune in housing complexes before going on to grab control of NFL's Minnesota Vikings and cash in with a new taxpayer-subsidized stadium.
Zygmunt, Mark and Leonard Wilf, owners of Garden Homes and the Minnesota Vikings, are facing financial pressure and public approbation from the recent order of a Morristown court. The judge, after a two-year trial, declared emphatically: “They robbed their partners!”
The Wilfs now have to pay those partners at least $84.5 million. The court’s findings also have Minnesota taxpayers questioning the decision to give the Wilfs $498 million for a new Vikings stadium.
As previously reported here, many of the Wilfs and employees of their Short Hills, New Jersey–based Garden Homes and Garden Communities business empire have been heavy hitters in San Diego politics, giving early and often to candidates for city council and mayor.
Back in April 2001, Joseph Wilf was reached by phone at home in New Jersey and queried about why he and five other Wilf-connected donors to the campaign of then-mayor Dick Murphy were listed as "retirees" on Murphy's disclosure.
"My interest? Actually, I am not used to giving interviews on the telephone. It's kind of unusual. Our name is known in the San Diego area. Why should I respond on the phone? I have no information. My contribution was a few hundred dollars."
Questioned about whether he and his family were trying to influence an action by the city council, Wilf replied. "Of course not. I'm involved in different things, but again, I cannot respond on the phone if somebody calls me up. My contribution is mine.
"I don't think this is necessary. It's only a few hundred dollars. I don't want to hear any assumptions. I won't respond no matter how many times you ask me. I think the conversation went far enough. I'm going to finish the conversation right now. I don't want to speak to you anymore."
Murphy was a Republican, but the Wilfs have also been generous to Democrats, among them now-fallen-mayor Bob Filner, who earlier this year picked up a total of $10,000 for a political fund he called the "Mayor Bob Filner for San Diego Committee."
Garden Communities also paid downtown lobbyist Paul Robinson's law and lobbying firm of Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg & Bagley $1,000 during the first quarter of this year for advocacy work it did regarding "changing entitled use at 9085 Judicial Drive," according to a disclosure filing posted online by the city clerk's office.
Public records show that companies related to the Wilf family own millions of dollars of real estate in San Diego. Wilf-related entities include Costa Verde Hotel LLC, La Jolla Canyon Gardens, Pacific Bay Gardens, La Jolla Crossroads, Cape La Jolla Gardens, Torrey Ranch, DMG Associates, 820 Associates, and Villa La Jolla Gardens.
The Observer reports that the family giving pattern has been repeated in Minnesota.
John Marty, the state senator spearheading the political resistance to the new stadium, said that the Wilfs gave no money to anyone in Minnesota in 2004. “But then, during the 2006 election, the Wilf family gave $20,000 to the Minnesota DFL Party and $20,000 to the Republican Party.
"The Wilfs gave $10,000 to the DFL legislative caucuses and $12,000 to the Republican ones. They gave $5,000 to Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and $5,000 to Mike Hatch, his DFL challenger.”
According to data gathered from the Center for Responsible Politics, in the 2008-'12 election cycles, the family gave $49,700 to 11 Minnesota candidates for U.S. Senate and House seats. The contributions included candidates from both parties, incumbents, and challengers.
A MinnPost.com news report in August 2011 found that the Wilf family gave $17,000 to candidates for governor and the state legislature in 2010. This followed campaign contributions to the Minnesota legislative caucuses of $18,500 in 2008 and $27,600 in 2010.
A key player for the Wilfs in San Diego is Garden Communities CEO Stuart Posnock; according to a December 18 filing with the City Clerk's Office, he's given a total of $1000 each to both of San Diego's current mayoral hopefuls — Republican Kevin Faulconer and his city council colleague, Democrat David Alvarez.
It remains to be seen if the Wilfs weigh in during the coming weeks with more mayor's race money, further fueling a costly contest that is widely expected to feature a bevy of hit pieces from both sides. Independent committees for the candidates can accept unlimited personal and corporate contributions.