D'Amato: GOP to be cast as villain

NY Post, June 13, 1997

Sen. Alfonse D'Amato yesterday stunned Republican leaders in Albany yesterday by warning that they risk "being blamed primarily" if the rent-control impasse isn't solved -- fast.

D'Amato (R-N.Y.) predicted the public will apportion blame to "the Republican leaders in theSenate, obviously, the Assembly leaders on the Democratic side and the governor -- in that order."

His remarks caught fellow Republicans off-guard because they go against efforts by the GOP and Gov. Pataki to blame pro-rent-control Democrats and accuse them of refusing to compromise.

"I think the state Senate and the Assembly, to a lesser extent, the leadership, will bear the brunt of it, the governor to a certain extent," D'Amato told reporters in his Washington office.

"It'll be a tripartite kind of thing -- with the legislative leaders on the Republican side being blamed primarily," he added.

State Senate GOP leader Joseph Bruno -- leader of the bid to phase out rent controls -- told The Post he's "very surprised" by D'Amato's remarks, which could undercut GOP efforts to point the finger of blame at Democrats.

"I've talked with Sen. D'Amato a number of times and told him we're doing everything we can to protect the tenants. He has his opinion, but he's not here. He's in Washington."

Polls already suggest Pataki -- who is up for re-election next year -- is paying a political price as the rent impasse drags on with the threat that the rent-control law will expire on Sunday.

D'Amato -- who is close to both Pataki and Bruno -- also conceded "there'll be those who try to drag me in as well" for a share of the blame.

He insisted his warning was only on how the public will apportion blame and denied he's unhappy with how Bruno has handled the issue.

For his part, D'Amato said he favors "basic protection" except for those at "upper levels of income" -- but declined to propose any specifics on grounds he lacks "jurisdiction in this matter."

He also said he hasn't "been invited" to play a role by Pataki, Bruno or Assembly leader Sheldon Silver -- whom he dubbed the "troika" that must solve the rent impasse.

He noted that rent protection now stops when income hits $250,000 -- and the rental price of the apartment is $2,000 a month or higher -- and suggested officials might want to change that to "some lower level" but refused to say what that level should be.

Instead, he said metropolitan-area tenants "with the exception of the people at the upper levels of income, notwithstanding all the cries for a free market, need a basic protection" because of low vacancy rates and high demand.

Silver's spokeswoman, Pat Lynch, disputed D'Amato's claim there will be three-way blame, saying recent polls show Pataki will bear the brunt of it.

Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon had no specific comment in reaction to D'Amato's statement.

Billy Easton, executive director of the Tenants and Neighbors Group, said he suspects D'Amato is "pressuring Bruno specifically not to let the laws temporarily expire" on Sunday as the Senate leader has threatened.

Asked if that was his goal, D'Amato replied: "I remain hopeful that the legislative leadership and the governor will come together and continue rent protections for the tenants."

Dan Magulies, president of a landlords group, the Community Housing Improvement Program, disagreed with D'Amato, saying he expects the blame to be shared three ways, but not targeted at the GOP.

"I don't think there's any question in the public's mind that Bruno has compromised," Magulies insisted.

It's far from the first time D'Amato's remarks have startled fellow Republicans -- he's sharply rapped House Speaker Newt Gingrich and yesterday blasted GOP handling of flood-disaster relief in Congress as "the wrong way to go."

Republicans have taken heavy flak for trying to force President Clinton to make unrelated political concessions as part of the flood-relief bill.

Republicans admitted defeat yesterday and pushed through an $8.6 billion for flood disaster without the provisions that sparked Clinton's initial veto.