Monday, May 5, 1997 O'C to Speak On Rent Morals
Will join debate over control

By MICHELE McPHEE and STEPHEN McFARLAND Daily News Staff Writers

Cardinal O'Connor jumped into the fracas over rent control yesterday, promising to address the contentious topic "from a moral perspective."

Speaking during his Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, the spiritual leader of 1.5 million New York Catholics said: "In the coming week, I will address the issue of rent control."

City and state politicians and landlord and tenant groups are locked in a battle over rent control and rent stabilization laws that set rental costs for 2 million tenants in the city and suburbs.

"This is a very important issue, which has very definite moral components which have not yet been addressed," said O'Connor's spokesman, Joseph Zwilling.

"The cardinal has a responsibility as a spiritual leader of Catholics in this city to examine the moral aspects of public policy issues," he said.

"He is not a politician and he is not an economist, so he will not be directly addressing those aspects of rent control, but we will be looking at how this affects people, what is just and what is right," Zwilling added.

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer) has vowed to let the laws lapse June 15 unless legislation is adopted to end the system in four years.

Gov. Pataki has called for continued rent ceilings for some households, but an end to them for more affluent tenants. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) supports retaining existing laws.

The cardinal's comment came on the same day as several hundred rent control supporters marched through Washington Heights.

O'Connor is an influential figure for millions of Catholics who live outside his archdiocese, including those in Brooklyn and Queens.

He has spoken out on political issues in the past, opposing legalized abortion and the controversial welfare reform law.

O'Connor has not previously taken a position on rent control.

"We'll just have to wait and see what he says," said Chuck Deister, a spokesman for Pataki.

"Sen. Bruno's position is well known. We'll wait and see what the cardinal says before we respond," said John McArdle, a spokesman for Bruno.

Original Story Date: 050597
Original Story Section: City Central