BY MARK BOAL
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 issue." 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.