Bruno's Role in Debate Is Unclear

New York Times, May 13, 1997

ALBANY, N.Y. -- By laying out his own plan for gradually scaling back the state's system of rent controls, Gov. George Pataki appears to have undercut his main ally in the state Legislature: Joseph Bruno, the Republican Senate majority leader who has been the main proponent for abolishing nearly all rent controls.

But in fact, Pataki's plan includes a number of provisions that Bruno and landlords consider key to ending the existing system of rent controls, including the lifting of protections for a small number of wealthy tenants and removing controls from apartments as they become vacant.

That is why many tenant advocates and Democrats believe that Republicans are far more united on this issue than it appears, and that Bruno has hardly become isolated from the leadership of his party. In fact, they say Bruno's primary role has now become abundantly clear: to act as a foil for Pataki by continuing to take an extreme position that makes the governor's plan appear to be a reasonable alternative.

Bruno has repeatedly threatened to let the rent laws expire June 15 if the Democrats in the Assembly do not agree to his demands.

"Joe Bruno is far from irrelevant in this process," said Billy Easton, the executive director of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, which opposes ending rent regulations. "Bruno is going to stay out there as the bad guy threatening to let the laws expire on June 15. And Pataki is going to pretend that he has no power to rein Joe Bruno, so that tenants have to swallow his plan if they want to be saved."

To be sure, Bruno has expressed some serious reservations about Pataki's plan, particularly a so-called succession provision that would allow relatives of people living in rent-regulated apartments to inherit those apartments. Bruno said Monday that the provision essentially undermines the governor's broader plan of removing controls from apartments as they become vacant because families will simply pass those apartments down for generations.

"If you have succession, then your child inherits your lease," Bruno told reporters after the governor released his plan. "And then your child's child can inherit that lease. And that unit stays regulated for the next hundred years."

To that extent, Bruno's role will be to work behind closed doors, encouraging the governor to resist moving any closer to Democrats in the Assembly who have called for extending the current system of rent regulations. Bruno is also likely to use his considerable influence to insist that any final deal include a number of things that landlords want, such as repeal of the so-called succession provisions.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company