Rowdy Rent Rally/Arrests as tempers flare during march over laws

by Merle English
Newsday, June 13, 1997
Chanting to the beat of drums and carrying placards and huge banners denouncing Gov. George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato as ``the three bad wolves,'' more than 1,000 tenants from around the city, Long Island and Westchester marched in Manhattan yesterday in support of rent regulations.

With rent laws set to expire Sunday, tenants turned out in a show of force hoping to put pressure on the Republicans in the State Senate to retain them.

Organizers had said it would be a peaceful rally, but tempers flared and police arrested 31 people for disorderly conduct, police said. Four were charged with resisting arrest.

The demonstrators shouted, ``We will fight! We will fight! Housing is a human right!,'' ``Decontrol, No! Rent Laws, Yes!'' and ``Hey hey! Ho ho! Pataki's gotta go!'' Some even called for a citywide rent strike.

The large crowd, reflecting every ethnic group and accompanied by a small contingent of police on motorcycles, halted traffic at intersections as they walked from 41st Street and Fifth Avenue, where they assembled, toward the governor's office on Third Avenue.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani predicted at City Hall that as many as 350,000 rent-stabilized apartments would remain regulated even if state rent laws expire this weekend.

Giuliani tried to assure residents that expiration of rent rules would not mean tenants would face immediate rent increases or eviction. And the mayor said returning to Albany to lobby lawmakers before the deadline would only create a distraction.

At issue is rent stabilization, which limits the size of rent increases for about 1 million apartments, mostly in the city.

The mayor estimated that 300,000 to 350,000 apartments are required to remain under rent controls because it's written into tax agreements negotiated with landlords, some of which run 10 years.

Even if the law expires, provisions limiting rent increases would remain in effect for those apartments, he said. The city is trying to identify which apartments would be covered.

On the street yesterday, demonstrators were wary.

Several were arrested for sitting down in crosswalks and for scuffling with police at the corner of 40th Street and Third Avenue, where the crowd's passage was blocked by about two dozen police in riot helmets and a small number from the motorcycle squad.

Several people fell to the ground during the commotion as some pushed against police officers and shoved away the barricades.

The police pushed back the marchers but exercised restraint.

Clare Dockery, 64, of the Upper West Side, was one of those who fell. She said she wasn't hurt, but she was outraged by the police response. ``I think it's disgraceful,'' said Dockery. ``We're peaceful. We're not out to do any harm.''

Jacques Derrida, 25, from Bronx, led the march tenants. He wore a white toga belted with an organge sash and a garland of leaves on his head and handed out a drawing of a tepee which he said symbolized ``the time when there used to be no landlords.''

``Down with the Caesars of modern day society,'' Derrida said in an interview.

The protest was focused on the governor. Some placards read: ``We'll remember in November;'' ``Phase out Pataki not our homes,'' ``Wacky Pataki, the landlord's lackey; ``No tenant protection no re-election,'' and ``Four more years? Don't rent on it.''

A group from Concerned Astoria Neighbors wore pink and white caps with the slogan: ``I'm a tenant. I vote.''

Representatives of Tenants and Neighbors pushed wheelbarrows loaded with bulging money bags amid oversize fake currency and yelled, ``Get your landlord fat-cat money.''

Bruno and D'Amato were not spared either.

One group carried a banner with large cutouts of the three bad wolves and bearing the legend: ``Save your homes from the big bad wolves.'' Other signs called for a boycott of upstate businesses in Bruno's Rensselaer district.

Tenants spoke of difficulties they face if the rent laws expire Sunday.

``It would be very hard on me if my rent is increased,'' said Loretta Lynn of Astoria, who said she is unemployed and pays $482.64 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Seth Tobdocman, 39, a tenant from the Lower East Side, said, ``I'm with the people. We can stop these laws from being enforced.''

One of several people handing out fliers invited passersby to join the demonstration, saying, ``Don't go home. You may not have an apartment next week.''