`Solution' Pleases No One

By Michael Slackman. ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF

May 13, 1997 NY Newsday

Albany - When Gov. George Pataki outlined his vision for restructuring the state's rent laws yesterday, he managed to anger all sides in the debate.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) called aspects of Pataki's plan ``nonsensical.''

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) called it ``a turkey.''

Landlord leader Jack Freund said it was ``disappointing.''

And tenant leader Michael McKee said, ``It is completely unacceptable.''

While Pataki may have succeeded in inoculating himself from future criticism by presenting a plan he described as ``reasonable'' and ``fair,'' officials on all sides said what he did not do was bring the debate substantially closer to a resolution.

``I can't think of a single case where you have had people dig in their heels as much as this one,'' said Thomas Carroll, president of the conservative lobbying group Change-NY. ``It is still back to two people: Does Shelly blink or does Bruno blink.''

From the start, Pataki has tried to stand above the fray, hoping to ride in at the last minute and craft a compromise between Bruno, who wants to phase out rent regulations by a target date, and Silver, who wants to maintain the status quo. In his proposal yesterday, Pataki crafted a plan that looked to offer something for everyone: It rejected Bruno's call for ending rent regulations by a given date, yet it contained expansion of luxury decontrol and implementation of vacancy decontrol.

But even as Pataki spelled out the details of his vision, he did not pretend he would have an easy sell or that Bruno would fall into line.

``Senator Bruno's position is a deeply felt philosophical position,'' Pataki said yesterday. ``It is not a negotiating ploy. It is not a tactical position and it is going to be very difficult for Senator Bruno to accept some of the elements here. I don't know that he can.''

Although the battle over the rent laws heats up every few years, when they are slated to expire, Bruno threw rhetorical gasoline onto the debate in December when he called for ending rent regulations ``as we know it.'' From the start, observers speculated he was set up as a stalking horse, set out to take an extreme position to make Pataki - who will run for re-election in 1998 - look good when he eventually reined him in.

Then, last week, Pataki issued a statement, not only announcing his intention to issue his position in a matter of days but also criticizing Silver and Bruno for remaining so far apart.

With his announcement yesterday, Pataki again undermined the majority leader, this time by rejecting the central element that Bruno had called for. ``Senator Bruno has said that he believes there should be a cutoff date when the system is over,'' Pataki said. ``Our plan does not provide for that.''

So far, Bruno has not folded. While he was cautious not to criticize Pataki, he said he would not accept a plan that does not point to an end to rent regulations. He has indicated he can support vacancy decontrol as the road out, but he said yesterday Pataki's plan was unacceptable because it would continue to allow tenants to hand down their leases from generation to generation. Bruno again threatened that if a deal is not struck that meets his bottom line, he will let the law expire at midnight June 15.

By the end of the day, Pataki called Silver and Bruno into his office to try to jump start negotiations. But when the legislative leaders left, they said no progress had been made, and an exasperated Pataki said: ``It requires both parties to recognize that they have to move. If they are not willing to move, we are going to continue having this impasse.''