by Jesse Drucker
Senator Roy Goodman:
A Gentle Republican Fights Bruno Quietly
NY Observer, May 5, 1997
- A Politician With Heart Among Wolfish Conservatives Tries Educating Colleagues - Soft Tactics In A Nasty Battle - He's Patrician and Cultured, So Upstate Nabobs Mock Him. Roy Goodman must be feeling a bit lonely these days. As perhaps the last of the "Rockefeller Republicans" in the State Senate, the 67 year-old East Side legislator has been forced to adjust to the knuckle dragging breed of Republican conservatism that has come to power in recent years. Patrician and verbose, the Harvard M.B.A. and heir to the Ex-Lax fortune is not, to put it simply, "one of the boys" in Albany. Since last December, however, Mr. Goodman's world has grown progressively more uncomfortable. That was when Joseph Bruno, the Senate majority leader, announced his desire to end rent regulation as New Yorkers know it. While a handful of Mr. Goodman's downstate Republican colleagues share his desire to preserve the state's rent laws -- which must be renewed by June 15 -- not one has nearly as much at stake as Mr. Goodman' should the laws expire. His district has by far the most rent regulated apartments of any Republican in the Senate -- approximately 90,000 which house 152,000 registered voters. Let a Republican elected official loyal to Mr. Bruno explain: "There is no possible resolution of the rent control issue that will not adversely affect Roy Goodman. None." Mr. Goodman has faced this dilemma several times in the past, most recently in 1993, when the State Legislature enacted measures to deregulate apartments of tenants earning $250.000 or more per year and paying at least $2,000 per month for two consecutive years. This so-called "luxury decontrol" also disproportionately affected the Senator's wealthy district. Evidently powerless despite his seniority, Mr. Goodman said he is spending his time explaining rent regulation to his upstate colleagues. "I am trying my best to act as an educator on the subject, because I think that some of my colleagues are unfamiliar with the laws," he explained. Among those who haven't benefited from Mr. Goodman's tutoring is Mr. Bruno, who still insists on phasing out the regulations. But Mr. Goodman claims to be undiscouraged, saying that Mr. Bruno has "indicated a willingness to listen. He's playing a game of negotiation poker. What I'm hoping is that the game of poker does not become Russian roulette where someone is killed." Switching metaphors, Mr. Goodman said, in an analogy unflattering to the majority leader, "This is a continuing battle. To some extent, it resembles Chinese water torture, where water drips onto a rock until the rock breaks. In this case, the rock is Senator Bruno." Mr. Goodman believes Mr. Bruno already has been worn down a bit: "He's come up with his first modification, which is the protection of the poor and the elderly and the infirm." For 28 years, Roy Goodman has been a member in reasonably good standing of the State Senate's Republican majority, an upstate- dominated clique that annually picks New York City's pockets. Inequitable funding formulas in public education, mass transit and other programs insure that the city is shortchanged by as much as $1 billion annually in state aid. Despite his continuing failure to stop this massive revenue drain, Mr. Goodman's ability to deliver funding for public libraries, the arts and public television have kept him wildly popular in his district. He is also very visible, frequently attending local Republican club events and community meetings. In other respects, Mr. Goodman has also remained true to his supposed liberal Republicanism, sponsoring bills championing gay rights and banning assault weapons, positions that have put him at odds with his Republican leadership with little positive result. "Roy is an anomaly in the current majority," said Assemblyman Alexander (Pete) Grannis, an East Side Democrat. "He's this socially responsible, old Rockefeller Republican. Republicanism with a heart, in contrast to this antigovernment, antitax, anti- poor people, very conservative group." According to Mr. Goodman, "I've been in that position for the better part of my 14 terms as a Senator, [which] makes my position more of a challenge than being a get-along, go-along guy. That maverick stance works against him in the rent regulation battle. "Roy doesn't have the kind of clout in the Senate that his years in office and his party position seem to indicate he should have," added Mr. Grannis. "Whether it's Roy or Roy's politics, I don't know." Indeed, Mr. Goodman's persona may have as much impact as his political views. "The politics of that body are suburban and rural, [and] he compounds the problem because he sticks out like a sore thumb," said one longtime Albany lobbyist. "He's cultured and arrogant and a bit pompous. You get people from upstate districts, and Roy is quoting George Eliot [to them]." (Senator Guy Velella of the Bronx, a fellow Republican, has been overheard referring to Mr. Goodman as "Harvard" behind his back.) Beyond his attempts to "educate" Mr. Bruno and other colleagues. Mr. Goodman has attached his name to a pro-regulation bill in the Senate that promises to go nowhere. Shortly after the Democrat- dominated Assembly passed an extension of rent regulations in late March, State Senator Marty Markowitz, a Democrat, and Senate minority leader Marty Connor introduced an identical bill in the Senate, which proposed extending the laws for four more years. Two days later, Mr. Goodman introduced virtually the same bill again -- he changed one word—in order to take credit for it. On April 8, he, along with State Senator Frank Padavan of Queens, defied Mr. Bruno on a procedural vote and supported a Democratic motion to bring Mr. Markowitz's bill to the Senate floor for a vote (a move made with the apparent assent of the Republican leadership). Mr. Bruno's forces easily defeated the motion by a vote of 33 to 27. Not surprisingly, Democratic elected officials and tenant advocates consider those efforts insufficient. Mr. Goodman, they say, should attempt to round up his downstate Republican colleagues in a revolt against the leadership. "If he were to refuse to cooperate with Bruno, there's no way to know how far he could go with it," said Jenny Laurie of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, which has taken to regularly leafleting Mr. Goodman's district. "When he speaks in public, he often says, 'I'm trying to convince my upstate colleagues.' It's not the upstate ones who count, it's the downstate ones that matter." Mr. Goodman disagrees. "to tie up other important legislation would be doing a serious public disservice," said Mr. Goodman recently on a WNYC radio program. "I've never made a threat of that sort because it would, first of all, be ineffective, since we would not have a sufficient number of senators to actually do the blockage. And secondly, even if we did, I think it would be a poor idea because much good legislation could suffer." Such a revolt against the Republican leadership would be unorthodox, to say the least. "It's very, very inconsistent with Albany tradition." said Eric Lane, a professor at Hofstra Law School who spent six years as the chief counsel to the Senate Democrats. "It would be extremely aberrational." There is only one scenario. Mr. Lane added. where such action might be feasible. The Republicans, who currently hold a nine-seat edge in the Senate, could fear the possibility of lost seats due to a voter backlash against downstate Republicans. "If the leadership is convinced that it could mean the death of one or two members, that moves the number of Democrats in the Senate to 28, and the Republicans lose control," said Mr. Lane. "They still have the majority, but it's small-C control, not large-C." The prospect of Mr. Goodman leading a revolt against the leadership is remote for other reasons as well. Most Republicans with significant numbers of rent-regulated tenants in their districts would be unlikely to join him. Mr. Velella of the Bronx is personally close to Mr. Bruno. Serphin Maltese of Queens is active in the Conservative Party, which is avowedly opposed to rent regulations. Staten Island's John Marchi has already announced his opposition to the current laws. Political observers suggest Mr. Bruno has calculated that Mr. Goodman's popularity is strong enough to withstand a Democratic challenge next year, as he always has. That may be why a proposal to further decontrol luxury apartments -- leaving unaffected the districts of senators such as Mr. Velella or Westchester's Nicholas Spano -- is considered likely, perhaps in combination with some form of "vacancy decontrol." The upper hand is held by Mr. Bruno, because if the laws are not renewed by June 15, they simply expire. Rather than negotiate the specifics of rent regulation, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is apparently planning to use other issues important to the state's Republicans -- such as the state budget or the impending Long Island Power Authority’s takeover of the Long Island Lighting Company. Publicly, Mr. Silver has called for Mr. Bruno to pass a bill in the Senate and then negotiate in a conference committee. Meanwhile, back in the Senate, Senator Emanuel Gold, Democrat of Queens, has declared that he plans to block the passage of so- called "home rule" bills -- minor state laws intended to benefit one particular district—until Republicans take their hands off rent regulation. But for Mr. Bruno, there may be too much at stake to back off. Joseph Strasburg, cigar-chomping president of the Rent Stabilization Association, the dominant landlord lobby, argues that Mr. Bruno's extreme stance (adopted originally at an association breakfast) will make compromise difficult. "Joe Bruno has staked out his position so strongly on this [that] for him to trade it off goes directly to the issue of him as a leader," Mr. Strasburg said. "For him to talk and not follow through, people [will] ask, 'Is he serious?'" Confronted by a determined leader, Mr. Goodman admitted, "I wish that my powers of persuasion were as great as Senator Bruno's. I do not make committee assignments, I do not award member-item appropriations, I do not have control over their staffing. And so you might say my oratorical powers are unfortunately not an adequate match for the tools that are available to the majority leader to influence legislators."