Battlin' For Bella

Richard Goldstein ["Life After Duane," February 16] wrote that I am "up in arms" because City Council candidate Christopher Lynn claimed allegiance to my late mother, Bella Abzug, in a campaign brochure touting his values. Mr. Goldstein suggested that my pique was a product of my support for Aubrey Lees, an opponent of Lynn's in the special election in Council District 3.

Since mother's passing almost one year ago, Aubrey Lees did not invoke her name to boost her campaign. There are only two people I am aware of who have tried to publicly misuse my mother's legacy to enhance their public images. They are Christopher Lynn and Ed Koch, who endorsed Lynn in this election. I have publicly taken both to task for their lack of manners and integrity. Although both claim to have been my mother's allies and working partners on progressive issues, both have actually been diametrically opposed to everything she stood for, with the exception of her support of gay rights. Moreover, even on that issue, both are far more tepid in their support for gay rights than my mother was. They were afraid of and intimidated by mother, because she opposed what they stood for and often won.

My mother was a woman who achieved enormous national and international successes in the advancement of women's rights and human rights. We will not allow anyone to distort or diminish her legacy.

Liz J. Abzug

Taking Liberties

I write in response to Richard Goldstein's "Life After Duane," in which, while reporting on Christine Quinn's role on the Mayor's Task Force on Police/Community Relations, he asserts that the New York Civil Liberties Union's Norman Siegel "spearheaded a minority report that demanded an independent investigator for brutality complaints," and that "he chose not to share it with Quinn." The use of the word "spearheaded" is an interesting one for rendering invisible the two other dissenters (both racial minorities) on the task force, Margaret Fung and myself. Goldstein's suggestion is that Siegel marshaled, if not wrote, the minority report when, in fact, it was a collaborative effort.

As the civil liberties segment of the task force (Siegel is the NYCLU's executive director and Fung and I are board members), the three of us found our views quite at variance with those of the majority, although we helped to inform and contributed substantially to the majority's report, in addition to preparing our own dissenting report.

Curiously, Mr. Goldstein quotes a "source close to the task force" (not Siegel) as saying, "They [the dissenters] were afraid that if they showed it [our minority report] to [Quinn], she would take it right to Giuliani." I don't know who (since Goldstein did not talk to me) knew the motivations of the dissenters. However, your readers should know that I, for one, did not fear Quinn taking it "right to Giuliani." By the time we were preparing our dissent, Quinn was clearly identified with the majority on the task force, who refused to make findings about police practices or draw conclusions about Mayor Giuliani's deception of New Yorkers, which involved his organizing a task force he didn't regularly meet with, fund, or respect, and which he fired in the middle of our task.

Michael Meyers
Executive Director
New York Civil Liberties Union

Richard Goldstein replies: Meyers did not return my phone calls until well after my deadline had passed, so I was unable to interview him. Fung did not return my calls at all. Therefore, there was nothing to contradict the widely held belief that Norman Siegel, who emerged as the spokesperson for the minority report, did, in fact, "spearhead" it.

Rent Guidelines

J.A. Lobbia, in her Towers & Tenements column headlined "Rent in the 21st Century" [February 23], implies that the City Council's only alternatives when rent laws expire next year are to retain them as they exist or to extract more crippling concessions from tenants on top of those imposed from 1993 to 1997. However, the real question is whether the council will exercise its considerable powers to strengthen existing rent and eviction protections.

The 1971 "Urstadt Law" prohibits New York City from enacting any broader rent regulations than provided by the state legislature, but it does not prevent the City Council from using its power to protect the health and safety of residents, which it can do this year and next by taking steps in two areas: eviction protection and code enforcement.

Regarding the former, evictions are expected to exceed 30,000 families when 1998 numbers are released, because of the twin effects of speeding up Housing Court and denying needy families' requests for emergency rent grants under what City Hall has called "the cutting edge of welfare reform." Providing legal representation to all low-income families will prevent tens of thousands of evictions.

As to code enforcement, there are currently 3 million recorded housing code violations, yet city attorneys bring only a few hundred enforcement cases each year. The number of housing inspectors for the whole city is under 300, compared to almost 700 in the 1980s. The council leadership has not agreed to even hold a hearing on Intro. 205, a proposal with wide support (including a majority of councilmembers), which would help thousands of children avoid the tragedy of lead poisoning without requiring exorbitant expense to owners.

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