Cardinal is poised to join rent-control fray

By ANGELA MOSCONI and TOM TOPOUSIS

John Cardinal O'Connor will jump into the emotionally charged war over rent control this week, calling it a moral issue that Roman Catholics must address.

But O'Connor wasn't ready to reveal which side he'll back -- just yet.

"It's not for me to speak as a politician or economist but from a moral position -- what is good, what is bad," O'Connor said during his Sunday homily at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

"In view of the fact that there's been much said economically and politically ... it's imperative as Catholics to address it morally."

O'Connor added there are "potentially grave implications regarding the question of rent control and deregulation."

The cardinal said he "will be issuing a statement" within the next week. For now, he's playing his cards close to the vestments.

Mayor Giuliani welcomed O'Connor to the fight.

"All of the voices that have come out have already shifted the battle -- it hasn't shifted it enough yet, but at least we're in a different position than we were about two months ago," said Giuliani.

Giuliani said political forces in Albany started out trying to crush rent regulations completely. But after lobbying, the talk is now about a compromise, leaving some form of rent regulation in place.

"The cardinal is right to be concerned because the rent stabilization law's removal could hurt a lot of people who are not only middle class, but who are poor and would have no other choice," said Giuliani.

The cardinal yesterday quoted a Swedish economist who has described rent regulations as disastrous to cities, but his spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, said this should not necessarily be taken as an indication of O'Connor's views.

"He said this is a matter of great interest and importance in the City of New York -- an urgent issue that he will address," said Zwilling.

"It affects the lives of so many people," said Zwilling. "The Catholic bishops of New York always address these questions that have potentially profound moral implications."

The Legislature has been fighting over rent-regulation laws, due to expire on June 15.

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has vowed to do away with rent regulations, Gov. Pataki said he wants to scale back the protections, while Assembly Democrats want the laws extended.

Rent stabilization affects about 900,000 apartments in New York City.


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