Bruno toasts rent war's end with a bitter whine

New York Post, June 21, 1997

ALBANY -- Gov. Pataki yesterday quietly signed the rent bill into law -- and quickly came under fire from state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno who charged Pataki blew it for landlords.

In his first criticism of Pataki's handling of the rent issue, Bruno (R-Rensselaer) said Pataki made a mess of it by ignoring his advice and unveiling a rent plan in mid-May, signaling he was willing to make concessions well before the laws were to expire.

"The governor came in with his plan too early," said Bruno, who had vowed in December to end rent control "as we know it."

"The governor never should have, in my mind, put that out. It got sort of harder because that established a middle ground, and where do you go from there?"

Bruno also made it plain that it was Pataki who on Sunday abandoned the fight for vacancy decontrol, the Holy Grail that was desperately sought by landlords.

Bruno accepted some of the blame for failing in his bid to phase out the rent system. He said he did a poor job of getting his side of the story out, particularly to the 2.5 million rent-regulated tenants.

He credited Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D- Manhattan) and tenant leaders with winning the public-relations war.

Bruno said he and others seeking to end the rent system failed in large part because "we lost the p.r. war" while Silver and tenant leaders "did a good job" on the public-relations front.

"It was tenants against landlords. Greedy landlords against the poor tenants -- you know, the poor tenants making $200,000 a year," Bruno complained.

Pataki's low-key signing of the high-profile bill was unusual -- his office issued a one-sentence statement saying he had inked it into law yesterday morning. It was passed by the Legislature late Thursday night.

Unlike other major legislation, there was no public bill-signing ceremony -- perhaps because Pataki would have faced a boycott from tenant leaders, and landlords weren't too happy with him either.

"We wouldn't want to be in a picture with the governor, making him look like a tenant hero," said Billy Easton, executive director of the Tenants and Neighbors Coalition.

Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a landlord group, said, "As far as my members are concerned, there is no feeling of accomplishment."

Pataki spokeswoman Zenia Mucha said he signed the "Rent Reform Act of 1997" without a press conference because it had to be done as soon as possible since the laws had lapsed on Sunday.

Bruno said he was relieved Pataki wasted no time to ink the new rent legislation.

"We have to get on with our lives," Bruno said.