Bruno Links Arson to Tenants

Daily News Albany Bureau Chief

The upstate Republican leading the drive to wipe out rent protections for 2 million tenants yesterday said he suspects "inflammatory statements" by tenant leaders sparked two arson fires in his district office.

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) also said tenant groups fighting to save the rent laws may have set the stage for death threats against him.

Bruno singled out tenant lobbyists Michael McKee and Billy Easton and State Sen. Martin Connor (D-Brooklyn), saying they scared tenants into falsely believing his threat to let rent laws expire June 15 would "kick [tenants] out into the street."

"Nobody was hurt, but people's lives have been threatened," Bruno said of the attacks. "What gets us to this point where people feel that it's productive to threaten people, to create the potential of bodily harm or killing people?"

The tenant leaders called Bruno's accusations "patently untrue."

State and local police are investigating the fires that broke out Thursday at Bruno's Saratoga Springs district office.

Bruno was not in the office when the first fire was set shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday in a hall closet.

No one else was in the office, but a dance class was about to begin elsewhere in the building. Two men in the building helped put out the blaze before firefighters arrived.

Six hours later, another fire broke out in a closet above the office, threatening several tenants before firefighters extinguished the blaze.

The fires caused relatively minor burn, water and smoke damage to the office, authorities said.

Police and fire officials in Saratoga Springs classified the fires as arson but said they have no evidence of any link to the rent battle.

A day before the fires, a bomb threat was called in to the district office. Bruno said the call was among several threatening messages and letters he's received since he announced in December his campaign to end the rent laws.

"I will not be intimidated," Bruno said of the threats, which are under investigation by state police.

However, aides said the Senate and police have stepped up security for Bruno since the initial threats.

"We are very sorry to hear about the fires, whatever the as-yet very unclear causes may be," the tenant leaders responded yesterday. "Sen. Bruno's comments regarding this matter, however, are hasty, irresponsible and patently untrue."

Original Story Date: 041297
Original Story Section: Beyond the City