It's gonna get 'real bloody'

by Frederic Dicker
New York Post, June 11, 1997

ALBANY -- New York City's bitterly contested rent-control laws will expire Sunday night, and a final settlement of the biggest state political battle in decades won't come until late next week -- at the earliest.

That's the grim forecast from senior aides toGov. Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

It means continuing anxiety for more than 2 million tenants in 1 million rent-regulated apartments.

The aides say that a kind of unstoppable political doomsday machine is in operation at the Capitol, meaning things aren't going to get better for tenants until they get a lot worse.

"This is an elaborate macho dance in which Pataki, Silver and especially Bruno are ready to go to the wall to show their varying constituents that they're fighting like hell for what they believe in," one of the state's highest-ranking officials said.

"Not until everybody gets real bloody is there a chance of compromise, which means the rent laws will expire Sunday night, there'll be a lot of yelling and shouting for several days, and then, out of the agony, there'll be a compromise, I hope," the official continued.

Albany insiders here also agree that some unusual political chemistry will make the conflict more difficult than usual to solve.

The unusual chemistry results from the fact that upstater Bruno (R-Rensselaer) is widely regarded as the toughest and most politically conservative legislative leader to hold his powerful position in modern times.

And Bruno is "convinced to the bone," in the words of one of his close friends, that the rent laws have ruined the city's housing market and he's determined, as he's vowed publicly, to fundamentally change them.

"Pataki and Silver could probably work out a deal by themselves, especially because Pataki likes to compromise," the Bruno friend said.

"But Bruno's presence in the mix changes the chemistry dramatically. He's determined to bring about change for what he believes is the good of New York."

Right now, it's too early to tell how or when a compromise will be reached, or who will bring it about.

But here are the two main compromise scenarios being kicked around by senior aides to Pataki, Bruno and Silver. That Pataki and Bruno back off their demand for vacancy decontrol in exchange for widely expanded "luxury decontrol," affecting apartments which are rented for $1,500 or more a month by persons earning more than $150,000-a-year.

Such a Republican retreat could be encouraged, according to one widely speculated plan, by the last-minute entry of New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato into the controversy.

Republican D'Amato is nervously eyeing next year's elections, carries considerable clout with Pataki and Bruno and stands to gain politically if he can pull off a compromise popular with New York City tenants. That Silver (D-Manhattan) backs off his adamant opposition to vacancy decontrol by agreeing that high-priced apartments -- say those renting for more than $1,500-a-month -- are decontrolled upon vacancy.