Demonstrators Rally to Back Rent Laws

New York Times, June 13, 1997
NEW YORK -- Chanting "Rent laws yes! Decontrol no!" and other slogans in support of the state's rent regulations, about 1,000 demonstrators marched in midtown Manhattan Thursday and at times obstructed rush hour traffic as they rallied outside Gov. George Pataki's office on Third Avenue.

The police arrested 31 protesters and charged them with disorderly conduct, many for sitting in the street to block traffic. Four were also charged with resisting arrest. All were expected to be issued summonses and released.

The march, which was organized by a coalition of tenants' groups, began shortly before 5 p.m. at 41st Street and Madison Avenue, and took a winding route to 633 Third Avenue at 40th Street, where the governor has an office on the 38th floor.

The police closed 40th Street between Second and Lexington Avenues as protesters jammed the intersection at Third Avenue. Some demonstrators sat in a row on Third Avenue halting rush hour traffic for several minutes until they were arrested.

John Lilienthal, a member of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, one of the organizing groups, said: "We've got to let them know this is business. To get arrested on a bench appearance ticket is meaningless compared to being without housing."

As demonstrators were taken to the 17th Precinct station house in police vans, there were shouts of "Let them go! Let them go!"

Pataki, who has proposed a plan that would phase out the rent regulations, was the subject of much of the crowd's hostility. Among the chants were "Landlord lackey, George Pataki" and "Hey hey. Ho ho. Pataki's got to go."

Many demonstrators carried placards, including an outsized replica of an eviction notice, replete with the precise legal language, addressed to "Governor's Mansion, George Pataki."

The governor later made a live television appearance on New York 1 News during which he said he felt sympathy for the demonstrators. "I didn't see them," he said. "I was in the office but I didn't see them." He added, "I know there were those protesters out there and I feel very much for them."

Pataki said an emotional reaction was understandable from people who feared they might lose their homes.

About 6:45 p.m., after 90 minutes outside the governor's office, the crowd began to break up, though several hundred demonstrators marched to the 17th Precinct station house at 167 E. 51st St. between Lexington and Third Avenues, where they shouted for the release of their fellow demonstrators.