They Know Rent Regulations From the Inside Out

NY Observer, May 5, 1997

State Senator Franz Leichter of the Upper West Side recently was
in the midst of a long speech in favor of rent regulation when he
was interrupted by none other than the Senate's majority leader,
Joseph Bruno, an upstate Republican.

From his place on the Senate floor, Mr. Bruno asked his Manhattan
colleague: "Senator, do you think... that it makes sense that you
go on at such length when it's my understanding that you live in
a stabilized unit?"

Mr. Leichter seemed shocked that Mr. Bruno, no stranger to
Albany's notorious mixing of the personal with the political, had
raised the issue. And Mr. Bruno wasn't finished. "You are not
objective," he continued. "You speak as a person who is receiving
the benefit of being subsidized."

With his rhetorical assault on Mr. Leichter, Mr. Bruno suggested
that lawmakers who live in rent-regulated apartments have a
conflict of interest on the issue. It is a charge that has
infuriated several Manhattan Democrats.

"This is the ultimate cheap shot," said Assemblyman Alexander
(Pete) Grannis, who has lived in a rent-regulated apartment on
East 87th Street for more than 20 years.

"I have health insurance, and I am chairman of the insurance
committee. Does that mean I am biased? Even [Senator] Roy Goodman
in his fancy co-op on Fifth Avenue thinks this is an important

Another rent-stabilized Democrat, Assemblyman Edward Sullivan of
upper Manhattan, said that even raising the issue constitutes an
"intrusion in private life."

Two other Manhattan Democrats, Assemblymen Keith Wright of Harlem
and Herman (Denny) Farrell Jr. of Washington Heights, live in
stabilized apartments. The city's Democratic delegation, of
course, is an adamant defender of rent regulation.

While the State Legislature's rules require that lawmakers recuse
themselves from votes affecting their business interests and
personal affairs, it's not clear that subsidized housing falls
under these categories.

"Obviously, it would be better if Leichter did not have a rent-
regulated apartment," said Blair Horner of the New York Public
Interest Research Group. "But there is a time-honored tradition
of killing the messenger instead of debating the issue. Personal
attacks usually are a distraction from the issue.