Fund-raiser fuels rent war

by KIMBERLY SCHAYE, JON R. SORENSEN
and MICHAEL FINNEGAN
New York Daily News, June 10, 1997
While tenants sweat out the looming Sunday expiration of state rent laws, Gov. Pataki today is set to star at a big-bucks golfing fund-raiser hosted by a top landlord advocate.

Tenant leaders yesterday cried foul over the Governor's Club tournament, a $2,500-a-head bash at the posh Meadow Brook Golf Club in Jericho, L.I. The Republican Party fund-raiser promises donors 18 holes of golf, plus a reception, brunch, dinner and personal photos with Pataki.

Hosting the event is Charles Urstadt, the former state housing commissioner who authored the since-repealed 1971 law that ended state rent protections as tenants died or moved out of their apartments.

Urstadt led Pataki's 1994 transition committee on housing a panel that said vacancy decontrol should be tried again to "dismantle" the state regulation system.

Tenant advocate Scott Sommer of the Metropolitan Council on Housing called Pataki's golf outing "troubling."

"While millions of tenants will be worrying about what's going to happen to their homes, he's running around the golf course soliciting exorbitant contributions and having his picture taken," Sommer said.

Pataki suggested he might skip the fund-raiser if a scheduled morning meeting with legislative leaders on the endangered rent laws proves fruitful. "If that meeting takes two hours, six hours, 10 hours, 24 hours if we're making progress, whatever it takes, we will do," he said.

Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon called criticism of the fund-raiser an effort to "play politics."

Word of the golf event came as the fate of state rent protections for more than 2 million tenants headed down to the wire. Legislative leaders said they likely will summon lawmakers to Albany hours before Sunday's midnight deadline.

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) repeated his vows against keeping the laws alive after the deadline.

"There will be no extensions, even if the governor asks for one," said Bruno, Pataki's top ally in the Legislature.

But Sen. Alfonse D'Amato predicted that lawmakers might approve a short extension.

Bruno, Pataki and fellow Republicans are pushing an overhaul that would scrap limits on rent hikes as tenants move out or die. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has vowed to block vacancy decontrol and has demanded that the current rent laws be renewed.

The three leaders met for 45 minutes yesterday but reported no progress. Pataki, however, suggested he was open to compromise on vacancy decontrol, the stumbling block that has held up a settlement and tied up all other state business. "Never on any issue have I said my way is the only way," Pataki said.

Bruno took a hard-line stance after the leaders' meeting. "I think we are headed toward that cliff where we will have full deregulation past midnight on June 15," he warned.

The high-stakes war of nerves has frightened thousands of tenants, like Lisa Kramer, who pays $500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment on E. Ninth St. in Manhattan. "I could become homeless overnight," said Kramer, who fears her landlord could charge $2,000 a month for the unit.

Tenant advocates, meanwhile, stepped up pressure on Pataki. They planned protests at the golf tournament and at the governor's Manhattan office Sunday. Tenant groups today also will begin airing a TV ad warning that vacancy decontrol "spells disaster for seniors and families."

Landlords planned their own new strategy, a "tenant-protection plan" set to be announced at City Hall. One source said the plan would call on building owners to accept a self-imposed cap on rent hikes.