By GOP Vote
Big blow against controls
By KIMBERLY SCHAYE and MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News Albany Bureau
The state Legislature's top Republican yesterday crushed a Democratic effort to renew the laws that limit rent hikes for more than 2 million tenants.
Seven GOP senators from the city and suburbs ignored the pleas of tenants in their districts and stood with State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) to prevent the issue from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.
The decision, the first major battle in a rent war expected to rage for months, ended with a 33-to-27 tally that blocked for now a four-year renewal of the laws. The outcome was a victory for Bruno, who has threatened to let rent protections expire June 15 unless state leaders agree to a two-year phaseout.
But the vote also cornered several key Republicans, who were forced to choose between supporting Bruno or voting against the wishes of tenants in their districts.
"The real question is who do you represent, the party boss in Albany or the people who elected you?" said State Senate Minority Leader Martin Connor (D-Brooklyn), who forced yesterday's vote.
The most red-faced Republicans were Sens. Guy Velella of the Bronx and Nicholas Spano of Yonkers. Both said they support renewal of the rent laws, but both backed Bruno on the largely party-line vote.
Velella and Spano stressed that yesterday's action was a procedural maneuver on whether the Senate should consider renewing the rent laws, not a direct vote on renewal.
"It's not a vote on the merits," said Velella. "Whatever happens here today is not going to have a consequence on tenant protection laws."
Spano, referring to the jeers of apartment dwellers who rode buses to Albany for the vote and packed the Senate gallery, said, "It's unfortunate that people are misleading the tenants."
Other Republicans who stood with Bruno on the issue included State Sens. John Marchi of Staten Island, Serphin Maltese of Queens, Michael Tully and Dean Skelos of Nassau and Joseph Holland of Rockland.
The only GOP senators who defied veiled hints of retaliation by Bruno and voted with the Democratic minority were Roy Goodman of Manhattan and Frank Padavan of Queens.
"The arguments in favor of rent control are sufficiently strong so that any chance we get on the floor to voice our support in the form of a vote should be taken advantage of," said Goodman.
Tenants in the Senate gallery, sporting pink painter caps that proclaimed "I'm a tenant and I vote!" criticized the outcome.
"If they're scared to buck Bruno on this, when are they going to do it?" asked Billy Easton, executive director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition.
Landlord lobbyist Joseph Strasburg called the vote "the last gasp of an attempt to continue the status quo" and said the outcome "was a strong vote for Bruno."
Bruno, the only Republican who debated the measure, derided the Democratic maneuver as "all posturing."
With the defeat of the procedural vote, both sides are expected to return to political trench warfare. Bruno has vowed not to fold despite tenant attacks on Republican senators from the city and suburbs. But Democrats have vowed to fight to the end, linking the rent laws to approval of the state budget, now eight days overdue.
Original Story Date: 040897
Original Story Section: City Central