Pols Duck Job Eviction

by JOEL SIEGEL
New York Daily News, June 16, 1997
Tenants aren't the only ones breathing easier following last night's tentative deal to renew state rent regulations. So are several top elected officials.

The possible end of rent protections had threatened to spur a voter backlash against the politicians who let the it all happen, according to independent pollsters and political strategists.

"It's a pocketbook issue that affects millions of people. That's a recipe for a real political stew," said independent pollster Lee Miringoff of Marist College.

Despite the divisions in Albany over rent controls, a clear majority of New Yorkers wanted Pataki and legislative leaders to continue the half-century-old system without any changes.

It could be weeks before it becomes clear how the eleventh-hour deal plays out politically, and whether those who fought to change rent regulations will face payback from voters.

But last night's tentative agreement eases some of the threat of major political fallout against Pataki and U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, political analysts and strategists said.

The Republican Party led the charge to weaken the rent laws, and Pataki and D'Amato both expected to seek reelection next year are the state's most prominent GOP figures.

The strategists added that Pataki hurt himself by proposing a compromise that fell between the positions of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who fought to keep rent laws intact, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer), who vowed to end rent control "as we know it."

"It turned into a big problem for the governor. There is no such thing as a middle ground on this issue," said Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

A recent New York Times poll found that Pataki already has suffered some fallout. His approval rating plunged 10 percentage points in the city in three months, to 31%. Asked whom they would hold most responsible if rent laws expired, 31% of respondents identified Pataki.

At one time, Giuliani's Democratic rivals in this year's mayoral race had hoped to use the rent control issue to hurt him. But even before the deal, the Republican mayor appeared to have sidestepped any backlash.

He supported the existing laws. Giuliani's rivals charged he that he failed to pressure fellow Republicans on rent control with the same zeal he's used to attack scofflaw diplomats and other foes.

The mayor responded by pointing to two lobbying visits he made to Albany. He also portrayed himself as a tenant champion by opening an emergency command post and hotlines to help nervous apartment dwellers. Giuliani also launched a radio ad campaign touting the hotlines and his position.