Bruno Red-Baiting Tenants,
Nixon Redeaux or Checkers Deja Vu
By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
New York Times, April 12, 1997
Bruno, Threatened, Attacks Rent Groups:
After 2 Fires Near an Office, Senate Leader Says He Is Endangered
ALBANY, April 11 -- After two suspicious fires near one of his offices and a series of death threats, the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, the leading proponent of abolishing rent regulations in New York, accused tenant organizers and Democrats today of creating an emotionally charged atmosphere that has placed him, his staff and his family in danger.
The two small fires occurred within six hours of each other Thursday night in two trash closets on the first and second floors of a building in nearby Saratoga Springs, where Mr. Bruno has an office, the police there said. The fires were put out quickly, and no one was injured.
The fires followed a series of threats against Mr. Bruno in the last few weeks, the authorities said, including a phone call on Wednesday from an unidentified man who threatened to bomb the Senator's district office in Saratoga Springs. The police said they had not determined whether the fires and the threat on Wednesday were related, nor could they say what prompted the threat or whether it was a hoax.
But in a news conference this morning, Mr. Bruno, appearing slightly shaken, used the episode to unleash an unusually personal attack against tenant leaders and Democratic lawmakers, accusing them of distorting his position and trying to demonize him and scare tenants. He charged that panic they had stirred among tenants, particularly those in New York City, had placed him and others at great risk, prompting telephone and mail threats to his office and to his home in Brunswick.
"They ignore the facts and they deal emotionally," said Mr. Bruno, a Republican. "When you deal with emotions with people, people sometimes act irresponsibly, and the result has been threats to myself, to my family, to my friends, to my staff."
But Mr. Bruno, who now has state police troopers guarding his office and home, said the threats had only strengthened his resolve. "I will not be intimidated," he said.
Mr. Bruno attacked several opponents by name, including Michael McKee, the rent law campaign manager for the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, and Billy Easton, a lobbyist for that organization. The two men have played a significant role in rallying tenants across the New York metropolitan region, issuing fliers and newsletters that have attacked Mr. Bruno for his pledge to end rent regulations for most apartments by mid-l999.
"In my mind, people like Billy Easton and Michael McKee, spearheading the campaign with tenants in New York City, who meet with these people, say the most inflammatory things, demonizing me as the devil," Mr. Bruno said.
Mr. Easton said in an interview that he and Mr. McKee were sorry to hear about the fires but dismissed the notion that he and other tenant advocates somehow bore responsibility for the incidents. And he contended that it was Mr. Bruno who had created panic and anger among tenants with his pledge to end rent regulations for all tenants except the elderly, disabled and poor.
"The polarized atmosphere around this issue was created by Senator Bruno himself when he announced in December and repeated on many occasions since his intention to decontrol the homes of 2.7 million New Yorkers," Mr. Easton said. "These unfortunate personal attacks by Mr. Bruno are a desperate attempt by Senator Bruno to divert the political pressure being felt by Governor Pataki and his colleagues who are seeking to end rent control laws."
Mr. Bruno also singled out Democratic members of the Senate, who earlier this week attempted to force a vote on a bill in the Senate that would have extended the current rent regulations for four years.
He attacked Martin Connor, the Democratic minority leader, for declaring on the Senate floor that Mr. Bruno was holding tenants "hostage" in threatening to let rent regulations expire on June 15 if Democrats did not yield to his demands. Mr. Bruno also criticized Franz S. Leichter, a Manhattan Democrat, for saying during the floor debate that Mr. Bruno was "holding a gun" to the heads of tenants by his stance.
"When things are said on the floor of the Senate like ‘He's holding a gun to their heads,’ well, people read that," he told reporters. "And, ‘They're being held hostage.’ People read that. And then they think, ‘What kind of a guy is this?’" He added, "I'd like to see the rhetoric controlled somewhat in all of this."
But Mr. Leichter and Mr. Connor dismissed his accusations, saying he was the one who had staked out an extreme position on the subject and had used harsh language.
"If Senator Bruno is worried about the discourse over rent control, he ought to examine his own statements," Mr. Leichter said. "He was the one who exacerbated emotions when he said that rent control has had the same effect on New York City as dropping an atomic bomb."
Mr. Bruno said many of the threatening calls and letters appeared to be coming from New York City, where the vast majority of the 1.2 million rent-regulated apartments are situated. "I've cautioned my wife not to open anything that appears the least bit bulky, especially if it comes from New York City," he said.
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company