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Rent Control Controversy Could Affect Giuliani's Re-Election Bid

By Jonathan Karl/CNN


NEW YORK (May 13) -- Rent control is a political issue that hits people where they live. State law gives more than two million New Yorkers below-market rents. Now some Republicans have targeted rent control for extinction and that has tenants out for political blood.

There are picket lines, and for weeks now, community meetings in New York City have been jammed with upset tenants. Their anger may affect the political fortunes of all the state's top Republicans, including Mayor Rudy Giuliani, up for re-election this November.


Said one woman, "If Giuliani has this happen, his chances are -- no way." Another man suggested, "I think he could try much more on this issue, especially that he's a Republican."

Some state Republicans leaders want rent control eliminated immediately. Gov. George Pataki wants a compromise: eliminate rent control for the wealthy and end it at apartments where residents either move or die.

Giuliani is a staunch advocate of rent control, but that has not stopped his political foes from using the issue against him. "Rudy Giuliani is not telling us where he stands on tenant protections," says mayoral candidate Ruth Messenger. "He's not telling us what he's willing to sacrifice."

In fact, Giuliani, who usually plays Mr. Tough Guy, disagrees with Pataki's plan to scale back rent control, but he does it politely.


"I think the governor could make some real improvements in his plan that would help a lot," Giuliani says.

Compromise with Pataki may be the most effective way for Giuliani to preserve rent control. Without the governor's support, rent control laws will simply expire on June 16.

The rent control battle gives Giuliani's opponents an issue just as the mayor seems to be coasting toward an easy re-election. Giuliani's approval rating is at an all-time high of 65 percent. But when the issue comes to housing and rents, Giuliani's approval rating slides to just 38 percent.


Like most price controls, rent control doesn't make much sense economically. But since it was instituted as a temporary emergency measure more than 50 years ago, many New Yorkers have come to depend on it. Many fear that if rent control ends, they will lose their homes. They will fight harder over this political issue than any other.

The tenants' chant at some rent control rallies is explicit: "If you won't fight for us, then we won't vote for you."

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