Tenant Advocate Denounces Proposal to Save Rent Regulation

New York Times, May 20, 1997
NEW YORK -- The leader of the tenant campaign to defeat Republican efforts to repeal New York's rent-regulation laws denounced Monday a proposal by Ruth W. Messinger to save the system, calling it a diversion that could derail efforts in Albany to protect existing laws.

Michael McKee, the rent law campaign manager for the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, had warned the Democratic mayoral candidate of his objections before she first held a press conference outlining her proposal that any changes in the rent system be decided by a voter referendum, the candidate's aides said. But Ms. Messinger, the Manhattan borough president, decided to proceed with the press conference over McKee's objections.

"We think it's a diversion," McKee said Monday as he prepared for a rally in Albany Monday to demonstrate tenant support for the existing system, which Ms. Messinger will attend. "It's a diversion from the need to put all the focus on the state legislature and the governor, to make sure the laws get renewed without any damaging amendments."

McKee's public criticism of Ms. Messinger came as aides to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, described him as also worried about Ms. Messinger's remarks. They said he will ask Ms. Messinger, when the two meet in Albany Tuesday, to talk less about her idea for transferring control of the system to New York, or home rule, and instead criticize the proposal by Gov. George E. Pataki to remove protections from New York apartments once they become vacant, known as vacancy decontrol.

The remarks by McKee and the concern of Silver's aides suggest that the fight for preserving the rent regulation system in Albany, and Ms. Messinger's campaign for mayor, may now be at odds. Ms. Messinger's aides have described her rent protection proposal as a cornerstone of her campaign, designed to demonstrate what she contends is Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's lack of commitment on the issue. Under Ms. Messinger's proposal, the existing rent laws would be extended for two years, and the state Legislature would turn over control of New York rent regulation to the City Council. The Council would submit any proposed changes to voters.

But McKee and Silver's aides said it was highly improbable that the Republican-controlled state Senate, which is initiating the effort to phase out rent laws, would ever turn control back to the city, as much they might like that to happen. Ms. Messinger said she did not share those concerns.

"I can think a lot of things that somebody said was not going to happen and I've lobbied for and I've won," she said, while at City Hall to accept the endorsement of Rep. Thomas E. Manton, the Queens Democratic leader.

Ms. Messinger found an unexpected source of support for her idea, Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross. The lt. governor broke with Pataki again Monday to say that she opposed his idea for deregulating apartments when they are vacated, a policy known as vacancy decontrol, and she agreed with Ms. Messinger that control of rent regulation should be shifted to New York City.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company