Blink, Mr. Silver

Albany Times Union, June 13, 1997
The Assembly speaker isn't serving his office by refusing to offer anything on rent control

Time has all but run out for state lawmakers to decide the future of New York City's rent control laws, and yet Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver seems content to wait it out while the governor and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno do all the compromising. That's an abdication of his responsibility to serve the public.

True enough, rent control should have been treated as a home-rule issue from the outset. It is just that -- a law that applies mainly to one city in the state.

Yet it has become the most contentious state issue in years, primarily because of Republican blundering. Mr. Bruno might have thought he could use rent control as leverage with Mr. Silver in budget negotiations. If so, he badly miscalculated.

All the polls now show the Republicans, particularly Governor Pataki, as the villains in this dispute. Thus, there's little incentive for the Speaker to change his hardline position of extending rent control on a permanent basis.

There is a larger reason why Mr. Silver should soften his position, however. It's called public duty. New York City's rent control laws were designed to protect GIs returning home from World War II. What made sense a half century ago cannot be justified today. Unfortunately, few New York City politicians have the courage to risk voter backlash by suggesting that rent control be phased out.

Yet it's the right thing to do. Rent control has led to chronic housing shortages in New York City. It has discouraged builders from even thinking about adding to the city's housing stock. And it has led to a steady exodus of the middle class.

Governor Pataki, to his credit, has proposed a reasonable middle ground that would protect the poor and middle class while apartments are gradually removed from controls.

Senator Bruno, to his credit, has backed off his misguided opposition to allowing gays to inherit leases.

Now it's Mr. Silver's turn to offer some concessions -- and to get on with the other issues of statewide importance.