Klein Balks at Voting to Repeal Urstadt Law

State Senator Jeffrey Klein. (Screengrab: NY1)

State Senator Jeffrey Klein. (Screengrab: NY1)

State Senator Jeffrey Klein’s most prominent endorser, Mayor Bill de Blasio, may support the repeal of a rent regulation law that many city Democrats despise, but the powerful Bronx lawmaker does not appear ready to strike the Urstadt Law from the books.

Mr. Klein, the leader of a breakaway faction of Democrats that currently govern the senate with the Republican Party, would not commit to a repeal of the law when pressed by Oliver Koppell, a former councilman running an uphill race against the co-senate majority leader.

“Can I ask a question: are you going to vote to repeal the Urstadt Law?” Mr. Koppell asked at last night’s televised debate on NY1.

“Again, I will weigh every issue as [it comes],” Mr. Klein said. “I support rent stabilization, I support everything that protects tenants. I think we need to take a good hard look at the MCI [Major Capital Improvements] law. There’s a lot of things that are out there.”

Mr. Koppell tried again, but Mr. Klein was finished answering him.

“I answered the question,” he said.

The 1971 Urstadt Law gave the state legislature authority over the city’s rent regulation, altering the balance of power between New York City and Albany for decades to come. Passed at a time when the city was teetering on the brink of fiscal disaster, the law was not necessarily unpopular in the 1970s. But since then, city Democrats have called repeatedly–with no success–to repeal the law because they argue New York City is on firm financial footing today and no longer in need of Albany’s oversight.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg never supported a repeal, unlike Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat. The mayor, with Mr. Klein’s support, has promised to construct 200,000 units of affordable housing and cited an end to the Urstadt Law as a crucial plank of that plan.`

Mr. Klein–like Mr. de Blasio and many influential Democrats–is also close to the real estate industry, which has not always favored a repeal. Tenants PAC, a liberal pro-tenants group that endorsed Mr. Koppell, has attacked Mr. Klein for doing too little to benefit low-income tenants.

But Mr. Klein, sparring often with Mr. Koppell at the debate, offered a robust defense of his record on NY1 last night. “I fight for core Democratic legislative accomplishments. I wrote landmark legislation which protects both tenants and homeowners due to foreclosure. Before my legislation, people, tenants and homeowners, were thrown to the street. I made sure banks sat down and took part in a settlement conference to try and keep people in their homes,” he said.

“We now forced banks to maintain foreclosed properties, forced banks to keep tenants in foreclosed properties,” Mr. Klein continued. “I wrote the legislation that makes it a felony to harass a tenant, to get them out of their building, to flip it. I have done so much and I’m going to continue to do so much.”

Mr. de Blasio endorsed Mr. Klein after his Independent Democratic Conference agreed to govern the senate with the mainline Democrats after the fall elections. Labor groups and much of the political establishment support Mr. Klein–he also holds a significant fund-raising advantage over Mr. Koppell.

The Democratic primary will be held September 9.