All Eyes on Three Men and a Clock

New York Times, June 16, 1997
ALBANY, N.Y. -- With the future of the state's rent laws uncertain and the fate of 2.7 million tenants hanging in the balance, events in Albany on Sunday seemed the sort New Yorkers would look back on decades from now as a defining experience in their own lives, not to mention the life of the city, a legislative version of the blackout of 1965, or the blizzard of 1969.

And so, in the interest of posterity, here is an account of events as they actually unfolded on Sunday in the State Capitol:

10 A.M. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, holds his first news conference of the day. Silver, D-Manhattan, accuses the Republican governor, George Pataki, of being a wholly owned subsidiary of the landlord lobby. Nevertheless, Silver says he is hopeful that a compromise can be reached by midnight. "I think it's only right," he says in his typically lugubrious tone.

10:40 a.m. Pataki, Silver and the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, gather for a negotiating session. Before heading into the governor's office, Bruno, R-Troy, pauses to hold his own news conference. He predicts flatly that the rent laws will expire.

"I think it's unfortunate that we're here on Father's Day," he says, and he seems to mean it.

12:20 p.m. The governor, the speaker and the Senate majority leader are joined by their respective counsels. According to a rumor that snakes through the press corps, this is a sign that talks are progressing. The rumor is short-lived.

12:55 p.m. The talks blow up. Depending upon whom one asks, this is either a genuine response to real stalemate or a purely theatrical response to a tactical impasse.

In a series of back-to-back news conferences, the governor, the speaker and the majority leader each gives his version of what happened. Up first, Bruno accuses Silver of intransigence. He reiterates his prediction that the rent laws will lapse, and says that while he feels "badly about that," the speaker will have to "bear the responsibility."

1:10 p.m. Silver denies that he is being intransigent. On the contrary. "I actually gave them a written proposal" for a compromise, he says huffily. However, when he lays out the details of his proposal, which include only minimal concessions to the other side, it becomes clear that Bruno has a point.

Silver repeats his contention that a compromise can be forged by midnight. "I don't want to see the roof removed from anyone's head," he says dolorously.

1:30 p.m. Pataki confirms that Silver has offered a proposal for a compromise but dubs it "quite simply absurd."

"Laughable," he elaborates.

3:50 p.m. Silver arrives back at the governor's office for another round of negotiations.

4:30 p.m. Bruno arrives. He announces that he has just come back from celebrating Father's Day at his home in Rensselaer County. "I got some nice presents," he relates.

4:45 p.m. For reasons that he does not share with reporters, Silver exits the negotiations.

5:45 p.m. He returns.

7 p.m. Bruno, who has changed his entire outfit since the afternoon, gives his third news conference of the day. Yet again, he predicts that the laws will lapse. But in characteristic Albany fashion, the less time there is to work out a solution, the more likely one becomes, and Bruno seems less convinced of his prognosis than he did a few hours earlier.

"My expectation is that we're not going to have anything to do tonight," he says. But then he adds, "Things happen in this business and I'm aware of that and you're aware of that."

7:15 p.m. Silver, also holding his third news conference of the day, somehow manages to seem upbeat despite his customary gloomy visage. He sticks to his prediction that the whole mess will be solved by morning.

"While the hours are running out, I would hope we can come to an agreement by midnight," he says.

7:30 p.m. Pataki refuses to say what he thinks will happen.

9 p.m. The triumvirate reassembles in the governor's office.

10:30 p.m. Once again the leaders call their counsels into the negotiations. Rumors are rife that a deal is imminent. The deal, according to reports leaking out from the negotiations, apparently centers on the same proposal by the speaker that the governor dismissed earlier in the day as "laughable," meaning that the rent regulation system would remain pretty much as is, despite seven months of debate, several weeks of Sturm und Drang and one very, very long day.

12 p.m. The rent laws expire.