As the hours tick down to the end of the State Legislature’s session Monday, virtually every one of the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s major priorities in Albany—mayoral control of schools, a reform of the 421-a tax credit, a hike to the minimum wage and most urgently, the expansion and extension of rent laws—remain in flux.
But Mr. de Blasio—who has previously said he believed he’d be able to accomplish the parts of his agenda that run through Albany—said today there’s not much he thinks he could have done differently to move his priorities along in the notoriously intransigent state capital, which is even more scandal-scarred this year than usual.
“I think the obvious problem lies in Albany. It’s not a surprise. I’m someone who believes we need fundamental change in Albany,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer today during a press availability after marching in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. “We need public financing of elections. We need a different kind of leadership in the Senate. We shouldn’t be surprised that time and time again issues aren’t dealt with in this current status quo in Albany—it just doesn’t work.”
Mr. de Blasio is not the first to attack the status quo in Albany, where decisions are typically made by the “three men in a room”—Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader. This year, two of those three men are new on the job—Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader John Flanagan swooped in mid-session to take over for their predecessors, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, both of whom had to give up leadership posts after being indicted on corruption charges by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
But how much Mr. de Blasio’s proposed remedies would help—or how realistic they are—are debatable. There is little enthusiasm in Albany or among the public for publicly funded state elections. And Mr. de Blasio has already gone down the road of trying to change the Senate leadership: he pushed hard for a Democratic takeover last November, only for Republicans to win enough of a majority to rule even without the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference. After he campaigned against them, the GOP members running the State Senate have little reason to work with Mr. de Blasio, who is deeply unpopular in their upstate or suburban districts.
Late-session jockeying in Albany is not uncommon; Mr. Cuomo has said lawmakers will be called into a special session if Monday comes and goes without significant action, particularly on rent regulations that affect more than 2 million people living in rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments. Still, many less immediate priorities—criminal justice reform, the minimum wage—are likely to be shelved.
“How on earth, when you see all around this country states and cities increasing the minimum wage, how can Albany fail to act? How can they fail to act on a reform of 421a that will help taxpayers get a better impact for their dollars? How can they keep subsidizing luxury condos? It doesn’t make any sense. Albany needs to get its act together—that’s particularly true on rent,” Mr. de Blasio said.
In addition to a State Senate dominated by people who avowedly oppose Mr. de Blasio’s ideals, recent headlines have suggested that Mr. de Blasio has alienated even some of his allies in the Democratic Assembly, and his fraught relationship with Mr. Cuomo has been an ongoing storyline in city politics. But the mayor said he thought there was little he could have done differently.
“If you look at this consistent pattern of inaction, I don’t know what I would do different in strategy when it comes to, obviously, a reality in Albany that’s broken fundamentally,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It’s something we’re going to have to work on. The people of this state are going to have to demand more of Albany.”
Mr. de Blasio has previously noted that when Mr. Cuomo wants to get something done, he does it—citing the hammering through of the gun-control Safe Act.
“I appreciate the governor’s position, but any governor is responsible for the final votes,” Mr. de Blasio said today. “So we need to see him push the Senate to action. We need a better rent bill, or we’re just gonna keep losing tens of thousand of units of affordable housing.”
Today, Mr. Cuomo said he would not support a Senate proposal to extend rent laws for eight years because it did not include changes to the law and had provisions that would make things more difficult for tenants, rendering the bill “unacceptable.”
“As I have said all along and repeated in a letter to New York City landlords, I will not allow the Legislature to leave town until the rent laws are resolved and at the end of the day the rent laws will be in place so landlords and real estate speculators should not seek to exploit any apparent lack of clarity in New York City’s rent laws,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement today. “Any such speculation would be futile and possibly actionable as tenant harassment. The only question now is what improvements the Assembly and Senate can agree on.”
Tenant activists are pushing for major changes to the law, including preventing landlords from removing vacant apartments from the rent control program and from increasing the rent 20 percent on stabilized apartments once they become unoccupied. Mr. Cuomo has said he would like to see some changes to law, suggesting an increase to the rent price at which an apartment can be removed from rent regulation.
“The governor has taken a good position in the sense that he’s making it very clear that we need to expand and strengthen rent regulations, but the proof is gonna be in the pudding,” Mr. de Blasio said, noting the Assembly has already voted through stronger rent regulations.
Mr. Heastie, the Assembly speaker, also pointed his finger at the Senate, saying his bill was supported by Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio and tenant advocates. He argued the issue should not be linked to any other priorities that Mr. Cuomo would like to pass, like a 421a extension or a tax credit for private schools.
“Only the Senate is standing in the way of these new laws which are crucial to millions of New Yorkers. I call on Governor Cuomo to stand with us in calling on the Senate to end their blocking of these crucial laws,” Mr. Heastie said. “Rent laws should stand on their own merit and must be done independent of any other issues the Governor or the Senate may be advancing.”
If rent regulations do expire, most tenants should be protected by existing leases. Like Mr. Cuomo, the mayor today warned landlords against any efforts to break leases, and said information would be available tomorrow for concerned tenants, who can call the city’s 311 line for help.