Bruno Shifts Gears On Gays
Flip-flops by easing stance on rent succession

by By JON R. SORENSEN AND KIMBERLY SCHAYE
Daily News, June 12, 1997
In a political about-face, State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno yesterday dropped his demand that gay partners be barred from keeping rent-regulated apartments when a lover dies.

The leader of the drive for rent law overhaul said he backed down in a bid to break the deadlock over the threatened Sunday midnight expiration of protections for more than 2 million tenants.

But Bruno, Gov. Pataki and other officials reported no progress toward an agreement yesterday as the deadline loomed closer.

Bruno had insisted that only immediate relatives should be able to inherit rent-regulated apartments. He said he changed his mind after talking to Pataki and fellow Republican lawmakers "who represent a lot of those people."

"These are families. . . . They consider themselves families whether they are married or not, so I think that argument is pretty persuasive," said Bruno.

Pataki called the turnabout by the Republican from upstate Rensselaer "a major philosophical concession." The change surprised gay rights organizations.

"It's a tremendous victory for our community and our families," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda.

State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long criticized Bruno: "He's trying to prove to the world that he's willing to compromise. I think that's the wrong compromise."

Bruno outlined his new position as he formally released long-awaited legislation to overhaul rent protections.

The bill mirrors changes outlined earlier by Pataki.

It would end state rent protections when a tenant moves out or dies a vacancy-decontrol system that represents the bottom line for the GOP-controlled Senate and Republican governor.

It also would lift state rent protections when a tenant's income for two consecutive years totals $350,000. Bruno earlier had demanded a $125,000 annual income cap.

Pataki has called for deregulating units when the tenant earns $175,000 annually and is not a senior or disabled.

Bruno's bill would grant succession rights to anyone who shares an apartment and can demonstrate "emotional and financial commitment and interdependence" with the main tenant.

That person, in turn, would be entitled to pass the unit on only to a spouse.

Bruno's proposed law, which would expire in four years, would toughen penalties for landlords who harass tenants. It also would authorize landlords to move tenants out of rent-regulated units temporarily while a building is renovated.

Current laws let a tenant refuse to move during renovations unless the landlord can show financial hardship.

While Pataki did not immediately endorse Bruno's proposal, his spokesman Michael McKeon said it "shows a willingness to compromise. Unfortunately, there has been no such willingness by the Assembly."

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who has called vacancy decontrol nonnegotiable, declined to comment on the bill. Silver, an Orthodox Jew, was away from Albany yesterday because of a religious holiday.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, applauded Bruno's willingness to compromise but said, "We are concerned that he has given up some of his strong basic principles too early in the process."

Tenant advocates said Bruno had staked out a more extreme position early on as a political tactic to make it appear he was compromising.

"We've been saying all along that it's a good-cop, bad-cop scheme," said Billy Easton of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition. "This bill is the Pataki vacancy-decontrol plan, and it's absolutely unacceptable."

It was unclear yesterday whether Bruno could muster the 31-vote majority needed to pass the bill. He had the necessary votes from Republicans until yesterday's death of Sen. Stephen Saland's father. Saland won't be available for a vote by Sunday's deadline.

Sources said Assembly Democrats today will propose a short-term extension of the rent laws to buy negotiating time. But Bruno said, "there will be no extenders."