Gov: A Rent Rally? Please Do Tell
Pataki & Bruno sniff at throngs of tenants who vow poll payback

Daily News Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- G ov. Pataki and state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno shrugged off a major tenant rally yesterday, saying the day-long Capitol protest failed to influence the war over endangered rent laws.

The Republican allies vowed to press for approval of Pataki's plan to abolish rent protections for more than 2 million people as tenants move out of their apartments or die.

Pataki and Bruno even needled organizers over the turnout. They said Capital Police estimated no more than 2,500 tenants attended the rally a showing Bruno termed "a major disappointment" for organizers.

"I was amazed that there was so few people, because it is such an important issue," said Pataki, who spent the day ignoring bullhorns and tenant chants on the lawn outside his Capitol office. "But that really doesn't matter because you don't set policy based on how many people show up. You base policy on what you think is right."

Rally organizers accused Pataki and Bruno of lowballing the turnout to deflect tenant anger over the vacancy-decontrol proposal. The advocates said 7,000 tenants fearing the threatened June 15 expiration of the rent laws got up at dawn and rode to Albany aboard 160 buses.

That estimate was officially confirmed last night by the Albany Police Department.

"Seven thousand is the largest demonstration this governor has ever faced, and all he's doing is changing the numbers because behind that smile he's sweating," said Billy Easton of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition.

That statement underlined the blunt warning the tenants delivered to Pataki: Renew the rent protections or find a new job in 1998.

Bearing signs that branded the governor "Tenant Enemy No. 1," the crowd spent the day at marches and speeches calculated to show that Pataki will face retribution at the polls next year if the state scraps rent protections.

"He's for the landlords, and not for the tenants," said Mike Greenstein of Rockaway Beach, Queens.

Addressing the crowd of tenants sporting pink caps that proclaimed "I'm a Tenant and I Vote!" Florence Fischer of Queens drew cheers when she warned of "chaos in the streets" if the state scraps rent laws.

Anna Dominguez, 39, said she'd have no place to turn without the protections. She pays $570 a month for the four-bedroom apartment on W. 139th St. in Harlem where she has lived for 11 years with her son, Elvin Eli Aymet, 17.

Dominguez, who earns $18,000 a year as a patient escort at Metropolitan Hospital on Manhattan's East Side, said she could not afford the $1,000 a month her landlord could get if rent laws were wiped out.

"It's just going to keep going up and up," said Dominguez. "We're just going to have to move out."

Pataki has proposed phasing out the protections gradually, while Bruno has pushed for faster elimination. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has pledged to block vacancy decontrol triggering GOP attacks over a deadlock that has stalled all other state business.

Silver refused to shift his stance yesterday, despite warnings from Assembly Majority Leader Michael Bragman that the rent war is delaying crucial state work. The tenants cheered Silver's message, chanting "No compromise!" after he addressed the crowd.

Along with dismissing the rally and renewing attacks on Silver, Pataki and Bruno made a point of spending the day on regularly scheduled state business.

Pataki did not appear at the rally or meet with tenants. Instead, he gave individual interviews to several New York City-based radio and television stations in which he stressed that his plan would protect 99% of tenants.

Bruno similarly spent the day in his office and the Senate chamber, which, like other parts of the Capitol, was guarded by scores of extra state troopers a security precaution that proved unnecessary.

One Republican had nothing to fear from the tenant crowd. Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross who on Monday publicly criticized the vacancy-decontrol plan proposed by the governor who dumped her from his 1998 reelection ticket yesterday shook hands with tenants and waved to the crowd from the Capitol steps.