Ads by Tenant Groups Target Pataki and D'Amato

New York Times, May 16, 1997

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Stepping up their efforts to pressure Republican leaders to soften their positions on rent regulations, groups representing tenants plan to begin an advertising campaign accusing Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of supporting proposals that would dismantle rent protections for more than 2 million tenants.

The advertisement, which will begin running on several New York City television stations Friday, is intended to push the state's two most powerful Republicans into dropping their support for a policy known as vacancy decontrol, under which rent protections are lifted from apartments when they are vacated. Under vacancy decontrol, the rent regulation system would eventually end as more units were decontrolled, though it could take many years.

"The Pataki-D'Amato plan for vacancy decontrol means an end to rent protection, and it's a disaster for 2.7 million New York tenants," the narrator in the commercial says.

Current laws restrict rent increases on 1.1 million regulated apartments, even when they are vacated. But those laws are scheduled to expire June 16, and are now the focus of a bruising political fight in Albany pitting Republicans, who want to abolish or scale back the rules, against Democrats, who want to extend them unchanged.

The tenants' advertising campaign is relatively modest, costing $100,000, and will place the 30-second spots in and around newscasts over the next two or three weeks, said Martin Brennan, campaign coordinator for New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, one of the groups paying for the campaign.

The campaign is part of a recent strategic shift by the tenants' group toward focusing their lobbying efforts against Pataki -- and, to a lesser degree, D'Amato -- and away from Republican state senators. In recent days, the group has also begun distributing literature and making phone calls to tenants urging them to call Pataki in support of the current laws.

The shift indicates that the tenants' groups now believe that Pataki, who released a rent plan earlier this week endorsing vacancy decontrol, has replaced state Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno as the main Republican negotiator with the Democrats over the rent laws.

"George Pataki and Al D'Amato are clearly the two most powerful Republican leaders in the state and have the most direct control over the policies that its party implements," Brennan said.

The tenants' campaign also comes just two weeks after the state Democratic Party began running commercials that urged voters to hold Pataki and D'Amato responsible if the rent laws expire. State Democratic officials have said they will try to cast Pataki as a pawn of D'Amato in next year's gubernatorial campaign.

In a sign of coordination between the tenants and the Democratic Party, the two sets of commercials were produced by the same political consulting firm: Morris & Carrick of New York City. The firm is also working for Rep. Charles Schumer of Brooklyn, who is challenging D'Amato in next year's Senate race -- a fact that D'Amato's aides attacked as evidence of the tenants' partisanship.

"The fact that the ads are being done by Chuck Schumer's political consultant speaks for itself," said Lisette McSoud, a spokeswoman for D'Amato. "What they conveniently forget to say is that the governor's plan protects 99 percent of the citizens of New York City."