The battle for rent reform is coming to a head in the New York State Senate, exposing rifts in the Democratic conference. Democrats hold a tenuous 32–30 majority in the senate, but their ranks are fractured into different camps, making the passage of so-called “controversial” legislation difficult.
At a Sept. 10 senate special session, 150 tenants urged their Democratic allies to get behind a package of rent reforms that passed the State Assembly earlier this year. On this day, they had hoped to see the senate pass S2641, a bill that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants from more than one apartment for personal or family use. However, the bill had been withdrawn the day before after Sens. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) and Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn) voiced opposition. The vote on S2641 was supposed to be a “practice run” for repealing vacancy decontrol, a rule that lets landlords deregulate vacant rent-stabilized apartments if the monthly rent can legally be $2,000 or more.
Kruger’s campaign war chest is well stocked, thanks in large part to real estate interests that appreciate the support. Tenant advocates say that Kruger, a conservative politician from a largely Russian southern Brooklyn district, fears any potential Russian challengers and thus ingratiates himself with the powerful landlord lobby to maintain his seat. He has also verbally sparred with tenant advocates in Albany and ducked behind closed doors to escape chanting tenants who lined Albany corridors Sept. 10. He is allied with conservative Latino senators like Dilan and Ruben Diaz, Jr. (D-Bronx), an evangelical minister who opposes marriage equality, and former senate coup leader Pedro Espada, Jr. (D-Bronx).
In a small victory for tenants, it appears that former coup leader Espada and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx, Westchester) were inclined to vote for S2641 Sept. 10. Klein is closely aligned with two white senators, Craig Johnson (D-Nassau) and Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/South Brooklyn) and has tepidly offered his support for rent reform. His group is known by many tenants as the “white guys.”
Tenants will rely heavily on the socalled “Manhattan liberals,” (Senators Tom Duane, Liz Krueger, David Squadron and Eric Schneiderman), as well as progressives in the Black and Latino caucuses to pass rent reform, which they hope to bring to the table at a special session to be held in late September or early October.
Bennett Baumer works as a tenant organizer on the West Side of Manhattan.