Takin' It to the Streets / Groups targeting Sen. Maltese's swing vote

By Robert Ratish and Dan Morrison. STAFF WRITERS
Newsday, June 15, 1997
Amid mounting suspense, tenant groups launched last-minute rallies yesterday as City Hall prepared for the possible end of rent regulations, which are set to expire at midnight.

Not content with merely bringing their message to his district, tenant advocates lined up yesterday in front of the Maspeth home of Republican State Sen. Serphin Maltese, hoping to tip the legislative scale in favor of continuing rent regulation.

About 40 protesters turned the usually quiet street where Maltese lives into a symbolic backdrop for their demonstration.

"The attack on our houses is far greater than people gathering in front of his home," said John Lilienthal of the Queens League of United Tenants.

Holding signs that read "Evict Maltese," and "Don't Be a Sleaze Maltese," the protesters vowed that if he doesn't vote with the tenants, the tenants won't vote for him. "You sell us out, we'll vote you out," they chanted.

"For years, there's been complacency in the city," Lilienthal said. "If necessary, we'll find a candidate to run against him."

Some protesters hoped that continued pressure would sway Maltese. A close legislative vote on the future of rent regulation is anticipated, and the senator was considered one of the deciding votes.

"He holds in his hands the fate of the houses of 2.7 million New Yorkers with seventy to eighty thousand in his own district," said Martin Brennan, a campaign coordinator with the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition.

As the protesters grew louder and reporters converged on the street, neighbors of Maltese said they did not mind the commotion.

"I don't like to see people paying high rents," said Mary Moakley, who lives next door to Maltese.

Maltese's whereabouts were unknown and he could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Vicky Vattimo, the senator's spokeswoman, said earlier in the week that Maltese "hasn't really said what he is going to do. He's waiting to see what is at the negotiating table."

In Manhattan, preparations were being made in case the rent regulations end. The police command and control center, usually the headquarters of city officials during hurricanes, blizzards and power outages, was staffed with a rent-stabilization task force.

"I consider anything that affects the lives of 2.4 million New Yorkers a crisis," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said at a news conference yesterday morning in the control center.

By 11 a.m., the number of calls to the task force was pushing 400 after a 6 a.m. start, Giuliani said. The majority of the calls were from tenants with legal questions about their housing status, the mayor said.

Giuliani predicted the vacancy decontrol plan favored by Republican Gov. George Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) "would have a marked impact on the quality and nature of the city."

But the mayor has distanced himself from the rent battle, leaving the city to wait for Albany to decide the future of rent protections.