Saturday, July 26, 2008


UP FRONT News July 11, 2008
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
"The paper that can't be bought and can't be sold."


By Tom Weiss

The New York Times has broken an important tenants rights story in today's front page article by David Kocieniewski on the fact that U.S. Congressman has four rent stabilized apartments at the Olinick Organization-owned Lenox Terrace in Harlem. Mr. Kocieniewski also reports that "Vantage Properties, a company established by Olinick's former chief operating officer, has attracted billions in private equity financing by promising investors that it can aggressively convert tens of thousands of rent-stabilized apartments, many in Harlem." Rangel's response during a telephone interview was to say "'Why should I help you embarass me?" and then "abruptly hanging up."

It is however a measure of Mike ("The Knife") McKee's entrenched status as a tenant spokesperson (he is now the dictator of the Tenants Political Action Committee, having in the past led the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, which, in the effort to kill the much needed Flynn-Dearie Rent Protection Act years ago, split off from the New York Metropolitan Council on Housing) that Mr. Kocieniewski contacted him for a comment. McKee, who, according to the article, "was not aware of Mr. Rangel's situation", said, "Whether it's an elected official or not, no one should have four apartments, especially when one is being used as an office." Rangel uses one of the offices as a campaign HQ.

McKee is of course correct. What else could he say? He couldn't really admit that he is one of the people most responsible for that fact that tenants are "protected" by a rent stabilization law that has more holes than some of the best imported Swiss Cheese. And it is apparent that Olinick, Vantage Properties, like the Bush-connected Carlyle Group, et. al., are targeting rent protected tenants, fully aware of the weaknesses of the existing laws.

As far as I am concerned, no matter how many times Mike McKee is quoted in the mainstream and the so-called "alternative" media (a testament to nothing more than his entrenchment, sort of like a tapeworm, in the tenants movement) he does not represent the true interests of those of us who rent our homes. In fact with the "leadership" of politically connected people like Christine Quinn pal McKee, tenants' position has incrementally weakened substantially over the years thanks to loophole-abetted over-development and gentrification.

What is needed is a perhaps UNYTE (Union of New York Tenants)-style group, free of Mike McKee, that is ready to politically organize to get true tenant advocates elected to the mayoralty, to the State Legislature and to the City Council. Four or eight years under a mayor Quinn bode ill for tenants and would make Mike McKee and the developers quite happy.

Such a group would also need to be ready to do some serious lobbying at City Hall and in Albany. It's the only way to get rid of the loopholes. Depending on the courts can lead to for example "owner occupancy" eviction orders (e.g. in favor of avaricious landlord Alistair Ekonomakis at 47 East 3rd Street in Manhattan) and fat fees for the lawyers on both sides.

The Rangel story could develop into a major scandal. Rangel has been one of the main movers is the now battered Clinton juggernaut. Another figure in that juggernaut has been Christine Quinn. Maybe she will have "no comment" on Rangel.

In any event, if Mr. Rangel can be induced to vacate three of those apartments, and if Olnick agrees to maintain the rent structure at "stabilized" levels, maybe some non-politician real working class people can move in. According to The Times story, among Rangel's properties is a villa in the Dominican Republic worth between $250,000 and $500,000. And so, under any circumstances, Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Quinn should not harbor any concerns that Mr. Rangel will wind up in a homeless shelter.

Rangel by the way is still the Chairman of the super-powerful House Ways and Means Committee which has much to say about the distribution of the national wealth. He certainly has his ways and, considering his properties, the means.
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