Billionaire’s Henchman Goes Scorched Earth in Small-Town Mayoral Race

·17 min read
Michelle DeLateur
Michelle DeLateur

On Wednesday, a hedge-fund tycoon published an “open letter” in the newspaper of the tiny Idaho town where he’s running for mayor, delivering an ultimatum to a retired doctor raising questions about his candidacy.

Perry Boyle, a longtime executive at billionaire Steve Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management and now-defunct SAC Capital Advisers, left an affluent corner of Connecticut in 2019 to retire to picturesque Ketchum. It’s a community with an affordable housing crisis so dire that officials contemplated creating a tent city for nurses and service workers.

In his paid advertisement, Boyle called out 79-year-old Gary Hoffman—a physician who owns two area mobile-home parks that function as workforce housing and who supports the incumbent mayor, Neil Bradshaw—for circulating critical flyers to residents. The mailers underscored Boyle’s highly placed role at SAC Capital, a disgraced hedge fund that pleaded guilty to insider trading in 2013 and would pay a record $1.8 billion fine. (Boyle, it should be noted, was never charged. Court filings show the feds interviewed him as a witness, and Boyle says he volunteered to help a government-appointed monitor create a program to reform SAC Capital’s practices.)

“I have given Mr. Hoffman an opportunity to apologize and publicly retract his libel by sending a new mailer to all registered Ketchum voters,” Boyle wrote in his ad in the Idaho Mountain Express this week. “If he does so by October 26, I will consider the matter closed. If he does not, I will pursue the legal remedies available to me.”

“Other than a speeding ticket,” Boyle added, “I have never been party to any cause of action in any court, civil or criminal, at any time, in any jurisdiction.”

On Thursday night, Boyle kept up the drumbeat, sending a campaign email to supporters stating, “You probably got Mr. Hoffman’s mailer about me in your post box last Thursday. It is libel, and I believe a campaign finance violation, and I am taking the appropriate steps.”

Hoffman declined to comment, and it’s unclear whether he’ll acquiesce to the multimillionaire’s demands for updated snail mail. But the tussle is just the latest episode in an ongoing local war for the future of affordable housing.

For many denizens of this upscale mountain community—a city of 2,800 that neighbors celebrity playground Sun Valley and whose lower and middle classes have long been endangered—the mayoral race is more than some sleepy local election. As workers are priced out of the local housing market and businesses shutter or reduce hours because they can’t fill jobs, housing has become a crisis.

Some residents now fear that a powerful relative newcomer is swooping in with legal threats and lots of cash to reshape their community—and stamp out dissent.

A copy of Hoffman’s offending mailer, obtained by The Daily Beast, reveals it stated, in part: “Since recently arriving in Ketchum, Boyle has not only become a self-expert on all facets of Ketchum government, he is also too willing to show everyone just how much he knows.

“Of course, posing and posturing as an expert cuts into actual listening and learning time. His problem is that there are many as bright and even brighter here in Ketchum. The difference is that they live here for years and ask a lot of questions before thinking of assuming the role of Chief City Planner.”

The leaflet continues: “The message must be clear: Ketchum is not for sale to the highest bidder!”

Workers in the city might be forgiven for wondering about just that. In spite of the dearth of affordable rentals, the city’s only low-income housing project in the pipeline, Bluebird Village, has become something of a lightning rod. While many affordable-housing activists have endorsed Bluebird, which is slated to replace the current City Hall building downtown with 51 apartments, Boyle has helped lead a group of neighbors who want to thwart the project.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Michelle DeLateur</div>
Michelle DeLateur

According to a recent advertisement for the building, applicants making up to $39,000 a year can qualify for a one-bedroom apartment and households with up to $57,000 can apply for a three-bedroom unit. The city council approved Bluebird this month, and it will break ground in spring—if all goes according to plan.

But some voters told The Daily Beast they fear Boyle, whom they view as a well-heeled obstructionist masquerading as a champion of affordable housing, could ultimately derail the project if he’s elected. They’re also raising eyebrows at his longstanding ties to Cohen, one of the most powerful and controversial figures on Wall Street.

Boyle told The Daily Beast that he’s far from an interloper from the East Coast, and that voters should know of his family’s decades-long ties to Ketchum. He claims no residents have approached him about his 35 years in investment banking and asset management, 15 of which were under Cohen, a man said to have inspired the main character of the Showtime drama Billions.

“They’re not asking me those questions,” Boyle said in an interview. “I’ve been out in the community every day. The focus of the election is on affordable housing for local working people. I think the community believes I’m the best bet to get that done, given the mayor has had four years to do it and hasn’t delivered.” (Bradshaw doesn’t agree with that characterization, telling The Daily Beast, “The reason we’ve been able to get so much done is because we’ve stayed focused on housing, public safety and communication, and outreach. I don’t focus on the noise.” He said he’s advocating for all solutions to the housing dilemma and that “cherry picking which ones go through doesn’t help.”)

“One of the charms of Ketchum is people aren’t particularly class-focused,” Boyle added. “Everybody gets along. It’s one of the things that makes it special.”

Of course, some residents paint a darker picture: of a city coming to terms with class struggle and widening disconnect between the elite and the guides, servers, and teachers who give Ketchum its character—and keep it running.

Kris Gilarowski, a hospitality worker and local housing advocate, told The Daily Beast that Boyle is “the wrong guy at the wrong time to run for office.”

The father of two, who launched a Facebook group called Occupy Ketchum Town Square, was one of several residents who said they worried Boyle would somehow kill Bluebird if he gets elected.

“There is no shovel in the ground,” Gilarowski said, noting it is not too late to halt the project, at least in theory. “There is one more hurdle that we need to jump, and that’s this local election.”

Gilarowski is also concerned Boyle will use his wealth to silence any opposition. After all, Boyle’s open letter this week also indicated a second person had criticized him on social media, only to recant after speaking with the 58-year-old ex-hedge-funder.

“A supporter and business associate” of another mayoral candidate “broadcast libelous and defamatory statements about me on his public Instagram account,” the letter said. “After a conversation with me, he apologized and retracted those statements.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Boyle pushed back on the idea he amounts to some kind of free-speech stifler.

“To me, it’s quite sad that the divisiveness of national politics has reached a small town like Ketchum, where proponents of political candidates feel free to say almost anything without doing any fact checking,” he said, later adding, “My whole campaign is about increasing the number of voices, not reducing the number of voices, and I publish my phone number on every ad; they could just call me.”

For his part, Gilarowski recounted what he described as his own ominous experience with Boyle.

When he organized a rally for affordable housing earlier this year, Gilarowski said, Boyle sent a letter to the hotel where he works and complained. “I’m not doing this rally as an employee of the hotel. I’m doing this because I live in the valley and see people that have lived here way longer than me getting kicked out, living in the forest because they have nowhere to live,” Gilarowski told The Daily Beast.

“I got a family. I got kids. I’m not this guy who has a huge bank account,” Gilarowski added. “It’s unnerving that here in America, a guy with money can come in and try to take me down.”

“I’m tired of seeing wealthy individuals undermining how local government works,” he continued. “We have residents of means that are preventing solutions to our housing crisis. In a lot of these cases, the individuals live in multi-thousand square foot mansions, but yet they run on the platform of keeping Ketchum quaint.”

Asked about the letter to Gilarowski’s bosses—which The Daily Beast could not independently review—Boyle said Gilarowski’s characterization of the missive was not accurate.

“I sent a letter… asking why, when they built a hotel in Aspen, they built workforce housing, but when they built a hotel in Ketchum, they built no workforce housing and why at least one of their employees was living in taxpayer subsidized, low-income housing,” Boyle said. (Gilarowski pushed back on Boyle’s characterization: “I think it speaks to who Perry is. He has contempt for the working class people of this community. I think he intentionally calls this low-income housing to prevent the Bluebird from being built.”)

Boyle has emerged as one of Bluebird’s most vocal opponents since settling in Ketchum full-time in 2019. He helped to launch a group called the “Affordable Housing Coalition” to fight the project; while the entity purports to support workforce housing, its website is mostly dedicated to stopping Bluebird and detailing why it’s a wrong fit for Ketchum.

Opponents of the project have delivered talking points on what they view as pitfalls of the future structure. Among them: it’s coming from an out-of-town developer, it’s too large for the quaint town, it will lower property taxes, the city is losing millions in valuable real estate, and downtown businesses will lose parking spaces.

Boyle is the sole candidate adamantly opposed to the project, and said he wants to sell the city land instead, using the proceeds to invest in other affordable-housing mechanisms like deed restrictions. (Among the other candidates, David Barovetto has said he doesn’t support Bluebird’s location, while Spencer Cordovano supports it.)

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Boyle suggested Bluebird may not make it to construction—not because of his candidacy, but because other locals are considering litigation. “The consensus in town is that there is going to be a private lawsuit against the building, that could either stop it or delay it long enough that its tax credits expire.”

He claimed that if he’s elected mayor, Bluebird is unlikely to “be a decision that’s placed in my hands.”

Multiple Ketchum residents told us the mayoral election is more than a referendum on Bluebird, but will determine the future of working people in the city. Meanwhile, Boyle is a force by virtue of his finances alone: Blaine County records show Boyle has thus far raised $25,000, or about $20,000 more than his rivals, including through his own loans to his campaign.

“It is a test point for our community,” said Dale Bates, a retired architect who designed Ketchum’s first three affordable-housing projects. Bates wasn’t involved in Bluebird, but supports the project.

“It is hard to see people with so much money, so new to town, think they know what is best, when they only know what is good for them and their small circle of friends,” Bates added.

Still, Boyle insists he’s heavily scrutinized Ketchum’s government. “I believe I’ve been to more city meetings than any combination of the mayor and the other candidates running for mayor,” he said. “I’ve been studying this city intensely to understand how it works and the more I learn, the more disturbed and fearful I become.”

Boyle is an active commenter on the Mountain Express website, using the moniker “Idaho4us” to spar with locals, including Hoffman, who, as The Daily Beast reported, this year parked a trailer around Ketchum with a banner demanding “Worker housing now!” In smaller print, the sign added: “What The One Percenters Ignore: Affordable housing has always been the lifeblood of a vibrant community. A town dies when its most productive people cannot afford to live in it.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy Gary Hoffman</div>
Courtesy Gary Hoffman

In the comments section under one April letter to the editor opposing Bluebird, Boyle took aim at Hoffman, writing, “I think Gary Hoffman’s trailer park is the PERFECT spot for Bluebird. Its [sic] on the bus line and bike path. It it grossly underutilized land. You could build 4x the housing Mr Hoffman provides. The neighbors would all prefer a more attractive view, so no NIMBY issue.”

When Bluebird’s Seattle-based developer Greg Dunfield penned an op-ed this week, warning that “NIMBYism and inconsistent political support have thwarted many real affordable housing proposals over the last 20 years,” Boyle weighed in and criticized Dunfield for building a mansion in Sun Valley as opposed to Ketchum. He did the same while submitting public comment for an Oct. 4 city council meeting. “I guess Ketchum isn’t good enough for the likes of him?” Boyle noted. “Too many working people? At least he will no longer have to live next to workforce housing.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy Gary Hoffman</div>
Courtesy Gary Hoffman

Dunfield told The Daily Beast that Boyle’s “personal attacks have no place” in the conversation around Bluebird and affordable housing “and should just stop.”

“I have spent so much time growing up in the [Wood River] Valley, I don’t really identify with the boundary between Sun Valley and Ketchum; I looked in both to build my home,” Dunfield said. He also balked at Boyle’s suggestion that he wanted to build a house away from employee dorms in Sun Valley. “Perry Boyle is so desperate he just keeps making stuff up with no fact checking. He just says what sounds good.”

“The crazy thing is he and his supporters live in this bubble and have no clue as to the work and the life of people working day-to-day jobs in the city of Ketchum,” Dunfield added. “My first real job was driving the Zamboni at the Sun Valley Ice Rink during the day and doing dishes at River Street Retreat in Ketchum at night. My first real-estate experience was as a property manager and realtor in Ketchum. Now I am using my 27 years of professional experience as an affordable housing developer to contribute to solutions for the local housing issue, with my own time and money.”

“I know friends who are in the hedge-fund business,” Dunfield added. “They think the whole world is changeable for the sake of their profit. That’s how they think, period. There are no rules.”

One concerned resident, who asked to remain anonymous because of ties to local government and fear of professional blowback, said that when they travel around Ketchum, the signs they see supporting Boyle “are in front of these mega mansions.”

“Perry Boyle terrifies me,” they said. “He presents himself as being an expert and he’s not in any way. He doesn’t know affordable housing. He throws these things out there that are totally false. His supporters, who are NIMBYers, lap it up. They totally believe in him. So he’s convincing. But he’s also very wrong.”

Boyle’s residence, on a quiet cul-de-sac in a subdivision of multimillion-dollar homes, is about a mile from the future site of Bluebird in downtown Ketchum. Public records show the Boyles sold their mansion in Darien, Connecticut, for $3.6 million in November of last year. Their Idaho home—which was featured on the cover of Sun Valley Magazine last fall—has a similar market value.

The outlet reported that Boyle’s wife Lisa Ryan-Boyle “reflected on the seamless blending of the home with its setting, noting that ‘the goal is to make it feel like the house is growing out of the hill, rather than someone just putting it there.’”

Despite such luxury, Boyle’s campaign website seems to downplay his high-flying investment career and features a casual photo of him in sunglasses, arms crossed and smiling into the distance. Boyle notes that his wife’s parents have lived in Ketchum for decades and that their eldest son graduated from high school in Idaho.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Michelle DeLateur</div>
Michelle DeLateur

“I understand what it is like to struggle to pay the bills and to live on spaghetti and tuna fish to repay your college loans,” it reads. “I borrowed my first apartment’s rent from a loan shark at 1% interest a week. I went to Wall Street not because I wanted to be rich, but because I was afraid of being poor.”

Boyle, a graduate of Stanford and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, spent the latter half of his career working for Cohen’s hedge funds. In recent years, Boyle has served as chairman of The BOMA Project, a nonprofit focused on extreme poverty in Kenya and that received $10 million from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott.

When former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara circled the latter billionaire investor for alleged insider trading, Boyle was SAC Capital’s Director of Research. SAC Capital shuttered after pleading guilty to insider trading in 2013, and Cohen settled with the SEC in 2016 and was temporarily banned from managing others’ funds. Months later, the billionaire placed Boyle at the helm of a new firm called Stamford Harbor Capital.

At the time, a Stamford Harbor Capital spokesman told Bloomberg News that Cohen owned the new firm but per his “agreement with the SEC he will not supervise the activities of anyone working on its behalf.” And, according to the Wall Street Journal, Cohen was “allowed to own Stamford Harbor Capital, so long as Mr. Boyle and his eventual staff make their own independent decisions about running the shop.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">Michelle DeLateur</div>
Michelle DeLateur

Now, some in Ketchum think Boyle has a shot at winning because, as the concerned resident put it, “[Boyle supporters] are duped by what they see as his understanding of economics and the market.”

“This election is going to decide whether regular people in Ketchum have housing moving forward,” they told The Daily Beast. “It’s possibly the most important in the city’s history right now because we’re at crisis and there’s either going to be a mayor who supports developments like Bluebird… or there’s going to be someone who kills those deals and ruins the character of Ketchum because they’re concerned about parking spaces instead of having housing for people.”

But Boyle is not without support among residents, including Wolfgang and Stefanie Dietrich, who recently created a website to demand the city crack down on Airbnb and VRBO rentals, which they say are replacing long-term units. (A 2017 state law, however, prevents municipalities from limiting these rentals.) “After speaking at length with Perry Boyle, we think he’s the best choice,” Wolfgang said, adding that he believed Boyle’s housing plans “are way more comprehensive than any other candidate.”

Wolfgang added that Boyle’s criticisms of Bluebird are valid and that two online polls on the Mountain Express website show a nearly 60 percent disapproval rating for Bluebird. “From friends I’ve talked to, a lot see Bluebird as problematic, but people are simply desperate and are willing to accept a lot of flaws if it means more housing,” he said.

“There’s a lot of money in Sun Valley, that’s nothing new,” Wolfgang said of Boyle. “To me, he comes across as a bit of a workaholic who wants to give back to causes he finds important after a career in the private sector. Whether you disagree with him or not, his participation in city government can’t be denied.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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