Pols' Landlord Largesse
Key GOP pols got 18G

By MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News Albany Bureau

Republican state senators from the city and suburbs have raked in thousands of dollars in campaign cash from landlords even as they prepare for a showdown on rent laws that protect 2 million tenants.

The eight senators a key to any deal to avert the June expiration of the laws accepted a combined $18,050 in donations to their 1996 reelection campaigns, records show.

One of them, Sen. Guy Velella (R-Bronx), chairs a committee that collected a whopping $203,000 from landlord groups to help his party keep its control of the state Senate.

The money poured in from the Real Estate Board of New York, the Neighborhood Preservation Political Action Fund and the Rent Stabilization Association PAC, deep-pocket groups funded by hundreds of city landlords.

The cash represents only part of the total, because donations since Jan. 15 won't be disclosed until July, and money from individual landlords is not included.

The contributions illustrate the high stakes battle between landlords and tenants as the clock ticks down to the June 15 deadline.

Tenant leaders say the landlord donations raise concerns about whether the lawmakers will try to sway Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer), who has vowed to let the rent protection law lapse.

The eight senators are in a key position because they help make up the 35-26 Senate GOP majority.

Bruno could also be pressured to compromise because tenants have threatened revenge at the polls if rent laws are gutted.

Expiration of the laws would free landlords to boost rents to market rates, a scenario tenant groups say would hurt thousands of renters.

"Tenants are concerned that behind closed doors, it's the money that wins out," said Billy Easton, executive director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition.

The eight senators insisted the contributions would not influence their positions.

Velella, whose Bronx-Westchester County district includes tens of thousands of rent-regulated tenants, took $2,000 from the Real Estate Board for his 1996 reelection campaign.

As chairman of the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee, he also raised $203,000 from landlord groups.

But Velella vowed to "do everything in my power" to fight for renewal of the rent laws. He said he was unaware of the $2,000 he got from landlords until questioned by the Daily News. He said the money "must have slipped by" and promised to issue refunds.

"I never take real estate money," he said.

Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Queens), who took $3,500 from landlord groups, acknowledged the money bought "a certain amount of entree."

But Maltese denied that the cash swayed him to endorse a rollback of rent protections for households that earn more than $100,000 annually and pay monthly rent over $1,000.

Sen. Joseph Holland (R-Rockland) took $6,750 from landlord groups.

He, too, favors ending rent protection for any household with annual income above $100,000, but wants to keep rent laws for the elderly and disabled.

Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Queens) took $1,000 in Real Estate Board donations, but said he supports renewal of rent protections. Sen. Nicholas Spano (R-Yonkers) took $1,750 from landlord groups and also backs renewal.

Sen. Dean Skelos (R-L.I.) collected $2,700 from landlord groups. He ducked an interview last week, rushing into Bruno's office and shutting the door behind him when asked about rent laws.

Sen. Roy Goodman (R-Manhattan) got no money from landlord groups last year and said he supports renewal.

Sen. John Marchi (R-S.I.) took $350 from landlords and said he backs Bruno's drive to phase out the restrictions.

Landlord lobbyist Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, predicted that the downstate senators would march "lockstep along with the tenants because the No. 1 issue is survival."

Original Story Date: 033097
Original Story Section: City Central