‘Bring Me the Head of Roy Goodman’
A Tenant Group Takes on the Senior Senator;
He Says They Don’t Know How Albany Works

by Peter Duffy, NY Resident, May 1, 1997

Jon Lilienthal of the Metropolitan Council on Housing is talking to any Upper East Sider who will listen to him.

"Roy Goodman has the strength to do more," he says to mostly disinterested Saturday morning strollers. "He must do more. He has to do more than talk the talk. He has to walk the walk."

Lilienthal, standing in front of the D’Agastino supermarket on 86th Street at First Avenue, is working with three Met Council volunteers. Behind the group is a table full of the council’s flyers and brochures, and nearby stands a life-sized cutout of Gov. George Pataki holding the disembodied head of East Side state Sen. Roy Goodman. "Your homes and your rents are also in his hands!" reads the sign on Pataki’s lapel.

Despite the Sam Peckinpah-like overtones – "Bring Me the Head of Roy Goodman"? — the poster sends an unmistakable message. "It’s an important point to make," said Jenny Laurie, executive director of the Met Council, one of the city’s most prominent tenants’ rights organizations. "Goodman is still a member of the Republican Party and is still going to work on the campaigns of [U.S. Sen. Al] D’Amato and Pataki. He’s very much a part of the apparatus that supports them. Clearly, if he wanted to do more for tenants he could."

A few feet from the Met Council’s table stands Jeff Rowley, a Republican state committeeman for the 65th Assembly District and a Goodman partisan. He is passing out flyers that tout Goodman’s record on rent regulations, which the senator has supported during his many years in Albany.

"He has stood up for tenants’ rights for a long time," said Rowley, who said he was out on the street to "help Roy."

With the rent regulation deadline looming closer, the scene on 86th Street could indicate trouble for the fight to renew the laws, which sunset on midnight June 15, some tenant advocates argue. Goodman, whose district is chock full of rent regulated units, has long been a supporter of the laws. On April 7, he and Queens Sen. Frank Padavan broke with their party – and the chief adversary of rent regs, Majority Leader Joe Bruno — to vote in favor of bringing a debate on the laws to the floor of the Senate.

Goodman has attacked Bruno’s inflexibility and recklessness. "What Sen. Bruno has been doing is playing a poker game," Goodman told the Resident after the April 7 vote. "I want to be sure that it doesn’t turn into a game of Russian Roulette where someone gets killed." He repeatedly says he will do what it takes to extend the laws.

But the Met Council argues that Goodman, with his influence within his party (he is chair of the New York Republican County Committee), should be putting greater pressure on his downstate colleagues who voted with Bruno on April 7 – people like Guy Velella of the Bronx, Nicholas Spano of Westchester, Serphin Maltese of Queens, Dean Skelos of Long Island and others.

Laurie noted that though Goodman receives no money from real estate political action committees (PACs), he does receive contributions from real estate developers – the Fisher Brothers Corp., Resnick Builders Co./Building Co., Newmark Associates and Donald Trump, among others. The contributions amounted to $13,960 from January 1995 to August 1996.

"Attacking Roy makes no sense," said Assemblyman John Ravitz, a Goodman ally who supports rent regs. "They forget what he did four years ago. If it wasn’t for him, those laws would have expired. … Why would you waste manpower and dollars to attack the number one man [on rent regulations] in the Senate? What, do you think he is going to work harder? I don’t get it."

Dawn Sullivan of the influential East Side Tenants Coalition noted that she has been getting many calls from the West Side, where there is a noticeable lack of leafleting. She would like to see the effort concentrated on that side of town.

"Why go after your friends?" she said of the Met Council’s efforts. "We should got after our enemies. A lot of us feel that way. Our energies have to be spent on the people who aren’t convinced. I’d like to see the effort put against D’Amato and Pataki, not Goodman."

She said it took "a lot of guts" to vote against Bruno on April 7. "The activists all know that in 200 years a motion to discharge [the technical name for the vote] hasn’t passed in the City Council or the state Legislature."

But Sullivan added: "He is an eloquent speaker and it would’ve been great if he could’ve addressed the issue [during the Senate’s discussions]."

Goodman was out of the country this week and unavailable for an interview. In response to requests from the Resident, he issued a statement on the Met Council protests.

"Some individuals may be misinformed about how the process in Albany works," he said, "but I am firmly committed to ensuring that all tenants who live in rent regulated apartments maintain their protections."

The protests began two Saturdays ago – on April 19 – and Goodman reportedly was not pleased.

"I talked to him last week," said Laurie of the Met Council. "He was unhappy with what we were doing. We discussed it and we agreed to disagree. He insisted that he was doing all he could. I insisted that he wasn’t."

Goodman may have also be piqued by one of the flyers that the Met Council is handing out. It features a story written by New York Times columnist Elizabeth Kolbert and includes a quote from Goodman that implies that he wouldn’t do everything he could to renew the laws. Goodman claims he was misquoted. He registered his anger in a phone call to Kolbert and in a letter to the editor (which has yet to be printed). "I was outraged," Goodman told the Resident last month. "They better" run the letter, he added.

Among those who are against toning down the rent war rhetoric is the voluble Michael McKee of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition. When asked if he thinks putting pressure on lukewarm legislators might backfire, he let out a loud belly laugh.

"We should be nice to these guys?" he said. "We should back off? Bullshit!"

While the Met Council has been gunning for Goodman, NYSTNC has concentrated its efforts on Skelos and Spano. The group has set up phone banks, organized volunteers for door-to-door canvassing, and encouraged letters and phone calls to the legislators. "We have an army of volunteers that is growing by the day," McKee said.

In recent days the focus of the debate has been shifting to Pataki and D’Amato. The New York State Democratic Party has launched 30-second ads arguing that the state’s two most powerful Republicans are "really behind the threat to end rent protection for two million New York tenants." Both men, who are responsible for Joe Bruno’s elevation to Senate majority leader, have tried to distance themselves from the issue.

"Pataki represents all 2.8 million rent regulated tenants," said McKee. "He bloody well better take a position."

With both facing re-election next year – and the potential wrath of millions of New York voters — there is little chance that there won’t be an extension of rent laws, argues Alan S. Chartock, a political commentator and professor based in Albany.

"These guys are smart," he said. "They have thousands of consultants. They know trouble when they see it. They know they won’t have three votes in New York City [if rent laws expire]."

Chartock feels that Goodman holds "immense" power in the rent regs debate.

"The reason is obviously that the Republican majority [in the Senate] is five votes and the Republicans have six votes down there [in the city], none of whom wants an angry group of tenants to coalesce against them on the most important and salient issue that any New Yorker feels fight now."

Goodman will always stand up to Bruno when it comes to rent regs, he said.

"He is safe because he is smart," Chartock said. "If it is going to be Bruno’s wrath or his survival, he’s surviving."

And, many say, tactical disagreements among the city’s many tenant groups and advocates is nothing unusual. There are a wide variety groups, each with its own philosophy and method of working for tenants.

"I think the notion of tenant unity is a fiction and everybody puts their head in the sand [about it]," said John Fisher, a longtime tenant advocate whose web page (http://tenant.net) serves as a valuable resource for many tenant groups. "We would be much stronger if we recognized that we disagree on a lot of things."

It is plain that the Met Council and the East Side Tenants Coalition, for example, disagree on how to work with Goodman. And, on 86th Street last Saturday, there seemed to be as many Goodman supporters as opponents.

When offered an anti-Goodman flyer, one elderly woman said, "I’ve known him for 30 years." When the Met Council volunteer pressed his case, she quickly continued down the street, shouting in her wake, "No, no, no, no."