Duane decries dysfunction of Albany at town hall

By Patrick Hedlund 

After spending what he admitted was a “despicable” summer in Albany, state Senator Thomas Duane, speaking earlier this month, expressed confidence that votes on same-sex marriage and rent reforms could come as soon as the end of the month, despite the likely political wrangling that would occur when lawmakers returned to session.

At a town hall meeting on Tues., Sept. 1, in Times Square, Duane spent the initial part of the public question-and-answer period apologizing for the “inexcusable” actions of senators on both sides of the aisle.

“I’m not going to talk about the wonderful things I do and how great I am,” said a contrite Duane before the audience of about 75 people, adding that he was “mortified” by the Senate’s actions over the past few months. “There is absolutely no excuse at all. It was terrible and despicable, and every criticism leveled at us is deserved, and I am deeply sorry,” he said.

Legislation Duane has advocated most vocally for — on gay marriage and rent regulation — came tantalizingly close to passing before the coup paralyzed Albany, sending both of the critical issues to the back burner, he explained.

“I think we have the votes — I know we have the votes,” Duane said of the marriage bill. “There are enough votes to pass marriage in the Senate — if people can vote their conscience, if people can vote the way they told me they’re going to vote. In politics, we may be the exception, but generally when someone says you have my vote, you can take it to the bank — because that’s really the only thing we have with each other.”

Duane added, however, that due to rifts caused by the shakeup — some of which have divided members of his own Democratic party — the marriage bill would not make it to the floor on Sept. 10 when the Senate convened for a special session. Some lawmakers’ continued distaste for Governor Paterson would also prevent a vote on marriage, he said, because Paterson “has made this a signature issue, and I think on September 10, they’re not going to want to give him — some of them would not want to give him a victory.”

 The marriage issue still remains ripe enough for advocates to resume their push following strides made by supporters earlier this year, Duane noted.

“The end of September is now the time that we’re working to rev everyone back up again, get it on the floor and get it passed,” he added.

Describing the failure to push through tenant protections as “probably my greatest disappointment,” Duane sounded hopeful that rent regulation legislation would pass in the late-September session. The repeal of vacancy decontrol — a law that currently allows landlords to convert units to market rate once a tenant moves out and the monthly rent has reached $2,000 — does not appear to have enough votes to pass in the current climate, he said.

“My dedication to the cause of tenants and rent regulation has been the reason — I would have to say the biggest reason — that I ran for office to begin with,” Duane noted of his commitment to the issue. He contended that the Senate power struggle originally stemmed from the landlord lobby trying to us its influence in Albany to beat back tenant protections.

“The coup — there’s no doubt in my mind at all that it was about real estate. But they’re not going to win,” he said. “I don’t care how powerful they think they are — [or] people think they are — we are going to come down firmly on the side of tenants and ending vacancy decontrol, and if I have my way, expanding regulation and preserving more affordable housing.”

The attempt to secure middle-school space at the state-owned building at 75 Morton St. should happen “quick, before real estate goes up,” Duane said, adding that now everyone is having children.

“When I was a young gay, we were like, ‘Well the good thing is you don’t have to have kids,’” he joked. “Now, you have to have kids! Gay, lesbian, straight — everyone’s having kids!”

Regarding the redevelopment of St. Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village, Duane said, “Every option having to do with St. Vincent’s was awful,” yet acknowledged the need for a state-of-the-art hospital for the community. He added, “We just tried to make the best of a terrible situation.”