What a Democratic State Senate means for tenants

Nov20 Mike McKee color

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For years, Democrats in Albany have been pledging to strengthen rent regulations in New York City, but whenever legislation aimed at doing so dies on the chamber floor, fingers get pointed at their Republican colleagues, who, up until November 6, held a majority in the State Senate.

Now, with the chamber having turned unquestionably blue, tenants might just have a chance at seeing some of the legislation, most notably the repeal of vacancy decontrol, get signed into law. Following the election, the Democrat to Republican ratio is 40 Democrats to 23 Republicans. While this figure includes Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, the Democrats still have a clear majority.

But even still, it won’t be easy, Michael McKee, the treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants Political Action Committee, is warning.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” McKee said. “We are going to have to work very hard to make sure our friends in both houses do the right thing and hold them accountable. Just because the Senate is now under Democratic control, it doesn’t mean stronger rent protections are automatically going to happen.”

Already, he said, the real estate industry has fired back in its own inimitable way by making contributions to Democrat senators it would not likely have previously supported.

“They are equal opportunity opportunists,” McKee sniffed.

Three beneficiaries of industry money McKee has recently tracked in recent months are Luis Sepulveda of the Bronx, James Sanders from Queens and Kevin Parker from Brooklyn. McKee added that he’s not implying any of the senators would suddenly become pro-real estate, or that the donors are doing anything improper, but, he reasoned, it shows that landlords “are going to be walking around in Albany with their checkbooks. There’s always an implied pressure when people give you money and you’re raising money for your reelection.”

For this reason, McKee added that pushing for campaign finance reform is just as important as rent reform. Along with closing the LLC-loophole, which allows limited liability companies, often controlled by landlords, to give nearly limitless contributions, currently, individuals can also contribute up to $65,000 to gubernatorial candidates.

“We really need to reduce that amount as well,” said McKee.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he is in favor of closing the LLC Loophole, despite having received more LLC money than anyone else in Albany. “He knows the optics of that are very bad for him,” McKee said.

Indeed, pushback against Albany corruption and the power sharing arrangements that went unchecked for years until the collapse of the Independent Democratic Conference seemed to motivate voters, with six new senators being opponents of former IDC candidates.

“They ran on this issue,” said McKee. “They’re not going to say, ‘Now we need to be more careful and more moderate.’”

McKee, who has never been shy about criticizing the governor, said he expects Cuomo to continue to portray himself as pro-tenant while also trying to keep his real estate donors for his long-rumored run for president.

“I expect Andrew Cuomo will be working against us,” said McKee. However, he doesn’t expect that Cuomo would try and kill any pro-tenant bill. “If we get stronger rent laws passed in both houses, it’s hard for him to veto it or it looks like he’s a captive of the real estate industry.”

Meanwhile, despite some hotly contested races, Manhattan, with its pro-tenant Democrats, saw nothing in the way of drama. Local State Senator Brad Hoylman didn’t even have an opponent to face. Swing districts were in the Hudson Valley and Long Island.

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