Insiders fume: Gov betrayed Bruno

New York Post, June 16, 1997

ALBANY -- Gov. Pataki blinked last night, undermined his political ally, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and handed Assembly Democrats a major victory in the bitter battle over rent regulations.

Pataki's capitulation on the key issue of vacancy decontrol -- which would have ended rent regulations on apartments as they became vacant -- was an especially tough blow to Bruno, who had insisted for weeks that decontrol was his "bottom line" on rent reform.

But Pataki, with Bruno out of the room, cut a separate deal on the issue with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Manhattan Democrat, and then presented the arrangement to Bruno as a fait accompli.

"Bruno was rolled by the man who claims to be his great political ally," was how one bitter Senate insider put it.

Even some Pataki administration officials privately expressed concern that the governor had settled too quickly with Silver -- and on terms too favorable to the Democrats.

Pataki's capitulation resulted largely from fears about his own political fortunes, as well as the fortune of U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, both of whom face reelection next year, said GOP insiders, legislative staffers and lobbyists.

"The big concern was the political fallout from angering 2.5 million rent-regulated tenants who would go into next year's elections without real rent protections," said a prominent Republican political operative.

Private opinion polls and the judgment of some of the Republicans' smartest political operatives pointed to potential disaster for the GOP in 1998 -- for the re-election of D'Amato, continued control of the state Senate, and, possibly, even for Pataki -- unless a quick solution was found to the rent dispute.

"This was a highly dangerous game of chicken that was played down to the wire and, in the end, it was the Republicans who blinked," said a GOP official close to the talks.

"The political danger of allowing the rent laws to expire was just too great to risk."

The insiders said Pataki's capitulation also had something to do with the governor's own seeming unwillingness to take on tough political positions -- and then see them through to the end.

"The governor can never hold the line on any position, he always has to give in," said one furious Senate Republican with firsthand knowledge of the situation.

Pataki recently said he would crack down on Indian tax violations and violent Indian protests but then reversed himself, shocking many of his upstate supporters.

Pataki also vowed to force lawmakers to pass the state budget on time by cutting their pay and taking other dramatic measures, but he abruptly abandoned the effort.

The tentative rent settlement was a major political victory for Silver, whose known interest in seeking future statewide office will only be enhanced.