Joe Gives In on Gay Succession

by GREGG BIRNBAUM
NY Post, June 13, 1997
ALBANY -- State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno yesterday ditched his plan to abolish the right of gay partners to inherit rent-regulated apartments, and made other new concessions on rent laws.

Bruno -- who once called homosexuality an "abnormal lifestyle" -- had vowed only last week to end the court-approved right of gays and lesbians to stay in rent-protected apartments once their lover dies or moves out.

With just three days until rent laws expire, Bruno said he flip-flopped after getting an earful from Gov. Pataki and some Republican lawmakers who want to preserve "succession rights" for homosexual couples.

"If you're talking about immediate family, these are families," said Bruno (R-Rensselaer).

"They consider themselves families, whether they are married or not. I think that argument is pretty persuasive."

After Bruno had proposed ending succession rights for "domestic partners," gay activists and Democrats attacked him as coldhearted, noting many have lost their partners to AIDS.

"This is a tremendous victory," declared Dick Dadey, executive director of the Empire Pride Agenda, a gay-rights group.

"He's obviously chosen to follow the lead of Gov. Pataki and Sen. D'Amato in respecting equality of rights."

Bruno's conservative supporters were flustered by his about-face. Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long said: "I disagree with Sen. Bruno. He will hear from me."

Rent laws covering 2.5 million tenants are set to die at midnight on Sunday.

Both the GOP-led state Senate and the Democratic-controlled Assembly are planning to return to the Capitol on Sunday evening should emergency action be required.

Negotiations will not resume until tomorrow, because Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who wants to extend rent regulations, is observing the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Silver spokeswoman Patricia Lynch declined to comment on Bruno's statement.

The main obstacle to a deal remains vacancy decontrol, under which apartments are free to go to market prices when the original tenant dies or moves.

Bruno and Pataki back it, while Silver is opposed.

Billy Easton, executive director of the Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, said Bruno's reversal on gay partners "proves that the governor can deliver the Senate."

"If the governor backs off on vacancy decontrol, the Senate will follow," Easton said. "That's the message today."

In continuing to ease his position on rent laws, Bruno also further expanded the circle of relatives who he proposed can take over leases for rent-protected apartments.

His succession list now includes spouses, parents, kids, siblings, step-parents, stepchildren and anyone with an emotional and financial dependence on the tenant, provided the person has lived in the apartment for at least the two years required under existing law.

Bruno would allow only one-time succession after the original tenant is gone.

Current law -- which both Pataki and Silver favor keeping -- allows two dozen blood relatives, in-laws and others to continue under rent safeguards for unlimited successions.

Bruno also said he now wants more well-to-do tenants to keep protections. After proposing last week that no tenant earning more than $125,000 a year be protected, he raised that figure up to $175,000, matching Pataki's plan.

Silver wants to keep the current $250,000 income level.

In fact, Bruno's rent plan is now nearly identical to Pataki's, except for who can inherit rent-protected apartments.

Bruno, who again vowed he would not extend rent laws if there is no deal, did not say when the GOP-controlled state Senate would vote on his rent bill, which was publicly unveiled yesterday.

Bruno's eagerly awaited rent legislation, which is 32 pages long, surfaced out of the blue in the Senate, catching many by surprise when it was suddenly substituted in place of another housing bill.

While bending on succession rights and luxury decontrol, Bruno said he will not budge off his demand for vacancy decontrol.

"The whole hang-up is vacancy decontrol," Bruno said. "We can agree in 20 minutes on the rest of it."

Pataki praised Bruno's change of heart.

"I think that's a very positive step forward and a major philosophical concession on his part," the governor said.

"But we have a lot more to go."

Meanwhile, Pataki stepped up his attacks on Democrats and tenant leaders for scaring tenants.

"It's easier to frighten tenants, than to solve problems," Pataki said. "It's always easy to frighten the most vulnerable -- seniors or low-income people. It's wrong to do that to people.

"I don't think the overwhelming majority of tenants understand that they will be protected if my plan is adopted, that their families will be protected, that their right to continued occupancy will be protected."

Today, the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, plans to launch a television advertising campaign in the city, to continue through Monday, blaming Silver for the expected death of the rent laws, a landlord official said.