capitol bill

Eyeing D.C. Job, de Blasio Avoids Albany as Rent Reform Fight Looms

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies in Albany during the state budget hearings on Feb. 11, 2019.
Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies in Albany during the state budget hearings on Feb. 11, 2019. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

New presidential candidate Bill de Blasio already has spent far more time in key battleground states this year than in Albany, his public schedule shows.

The mayor, who last Thursday officially declared his intention to seek the Democratic nomination, is hitting the national campaign trail as a rent reform fight looms in the state capital ahead of a June 15 deadline.

“From my perspective, he hasn’t been super engaged in the process of trying to expand rent regulations and what Albany’s doing,” said State Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn), who has taken a leading role in promoting rent law reform.

The mayor has made the 150-mile trip to Albany for one-day visits five times this year. Publicly, he attended Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address and testified on New York City’s budget needs. Privately, he hobnobbed at the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and Somos weekends and made a backroom case for continued mayoral control of schools.

Meanwhile, de Blasio has spent nearly two dozen days outside of the state this year, traveling to South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada, among other places.

For the first time in decades, Democrats firmly control the state Legislature. But de Blasio — who campaigned for Senate Democrats in 2014 only to end up having his fundraising tactics investigated by the Manhattan district attorney — has been largely absent.

In a statement, a mayoral spokesperson said: “The mayor has been fighting tirelessly in Albany on behalf of New Yorkers. He’s secured mayoral accountability for our public schools, congestion pricing for our subways and speed cameras to make our streets safer. Any belief to the contrary is misinformed.”

Others Head North

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has made two appearances at #TenantTuesday rallies in the Capitol, where hundreds of city tenants and activists trek each week to call for stronger rent regulations.

Making state rent laws more tenant friendly is “the most important issue facing our city right now,” Johnson declared at last Tuesday’s rally, which City Comptroller Scott Stringer also attended.

Earlier this month, Johnson testified before an Assembly hearing on rent regulations in Manhattan, while the city housing agency sent an assistant commissioner.

State Sen. Julia Salazar.
State Sen. Julia Salazar. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

With the laws that govern rent increases and lease terms on roughly 1 million apartments due to expire soon, Democrats in Albany and tenant advocates are pressing to close what they say are loopholes that allow sharp rent hikes and eventual deregulation of apartments. De Blasio published an op-ed on Monday reiterating his place in that camp.

Upping the stakes and burnishing his progressive credentials, the mayor also signaled that he’s willing to support a proposal from Salazar that would cap rent increases for apartments that have been deregulated or were never in the system in the first place — and bar evictions where a landlord cannot show good cause.

Still, he suggested a less aggressive version of Salazar’s proposal: “It has to be done right, but there’s a smart way we can guarantee these new rights,” the mayor wrote.

De Blasio also stopped short of embracing Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s call to eliminate landlords’ power to pass on costs of improvements to tenants, instead saying that resulting rent increases should not be made permanent.

Despite de Blasio’s notes of modulation, a landlord association slammed the mayor — and held his travels against him.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised that Mayor De Blasio is using an important issue like affordable housing to score points on the campaign trail rather than solve real problems for New Yorkers,” said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents building owners.

“When the mayor’s in town, he’s cutting shady deals with notorious landlords, and when he’s gone, he’s demonizing even the small owners who depend on these programs to make rent stabilized apartments safe, clean, and affordable,” Martin added.

Not Missed by Some

Some, however, say de Blasio’s presence in the heated fight over rent regulation isn’t necessarily needed.

“I have not seen evidence of the mayor engaging on rent regulation reform this year. But I don’t know that I think it’s necessary,” said Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), who’s heavily involved in housing issues.

Aaron Carr, the founder the tenant watchdog organization Housing Rights Initiative, said there’s “no political upside” in de Blasio getting involved in rent regulation discussions.

“The fight involves the most powerful sector in New York, and there’s already innumerable electeds and organizations involved. If his number one priority is his presidential campaign, the last thing he would want to do is piss off real estate and take on issues that won’t allow him to be the star of the show,” Carr told THE CITY.

“For the mayor, politics isn’t local, it’s national,” said Carr. “Why talk about potholes and rent regs when you can talk about banning skyscrapers and Donald Trump?”

Sign up for “THE CITY Scoop,” our daily newsletter where we send you stories like this first thing in the morning.

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.