Lost in the media bombast about the Albany rape arrest of Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, were the surprising comments of state Democratic chair Denny Farrell, who also heads the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee. In an appearance on NY1 on June 12—a day after the arrest—Farrell tried to parrot the silver line, insisting that he “shouldn’t be making any comments” and that this was now in the hands of the criminal justice system.
But the ever garrulous Farrell, also the longtime boss of the Manhattan Democratic Party, couldn’t stop himself, prodded by the persistent Davidson Goldin. “There are two people that have been horrendously damaged by what occurred,” he wound up adding, “and I am a friend of one of them.” Since Boxley was actually accused in 2001 of raping another assembly staffer—who, unlike the one in the current case, decided not to bring criminal charges—it was not initially clear if Farrell was talking about the other alleged victim, or if he was making Boxley a victim.
Farrell clarified that in a Voice interview: “I meant Michael, but I was remembering that he is innocent until proven guilty. I was trying to say that I shouldn’t be commenting about it because he is my friend. I am not saying they are equal in their guilt. There is no way to have this conversation and not end up having to pick a side.” Farrell contended that if Boxley were ultimately acquitted, he would still be damaged by all the publicity. “I don’t think anyone should be picking sides who are close to them,” he concluded.
Had the chair of the state GOP, Sandy Treadwell, made similar comments about a high-level Republican operative tagged twice with the same charge, New York feminists would be on the rhetorical warpath. But New York NOW president Rita Haley declined to comment directly on the Farrell quote, agreeing only to answer questions in the abstract. “The victim in this situation,” Haley said, “is not the perpetrator. And while we are sympathetic to the fact that it is difficult for men to imagine that someone they like might be a rapist, they need to understand that rape is a crime of control and not of sex.” Asked what response she would have liked to see come from those who worked with Boxley, Haley replied, “To begin with, there should be more of an expression of sympathy toward the actual victims, which are the two women.”
Raising the possibility that Farrell might have been offended by Boxley’s well-publicized bust in the assembly chamber, Haley said: “If there were concerns about racist treatment, those should have been addressed separately from the lumping together of the accused and the victim. To even talk about the two of them in the same breath is something I would not like to see.”
Andrea Parrot, a Cornell University professor who specializes in the study of violence against women, said Farrell’s statement was “inappropriate” and “imprudent,” adding that “it doesn’t acknowledge sensitivity for the trauma that the survivor is experiencing. It is not an inappropriate feeling, but it is an inappropriate statement.” A pivotal player in the selection of Manhattan judges, Farrell may have taken his cue on this from Silver, who was quoted in the Post as saying that the rape incident was “unfortunate for everybody involved.” Voice e-mails to Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, Jerry Nadler, and Carolyn Maloney produced no response, while Virginia Fields told the Voice that she didn’t think Farrell “was trying to equate” the damage to the two, insisting that “he wouldn’t be that insensitive.”
The other outrageous story out of Albany in recent days was Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s single-handed shutdown of the legislative session.
The white-maned horse farmer from Rensselaer County, who won rare downstate praise during the budget battles, killed ethics and Rockefeller drug law reforms, then shoved a damaging eight-year extension of rent regulations down the assembly’s throat and left town. Having started the session back in December 2002 with the racially tinged claim that his counterpart in Washington, Trent Lott, was being “lynched” by opponents of his Dixiecrat comments, the 74-year-old onetime army prizefighter ended it with his own headlined bout with blacks. Bruno stormed out of a seven-hour drug law negotiation with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, leaving behind “rumors,” as the Post put it, that he “almost came to blows” with the 45-year-old Phat farmer.
If the state legislature had the power to affect a million upstate or suburban households in so vital a way, not even Cowboy Joe would dare to operate by fiat, dictating a take-it-or-the-laws-expire bill. But he and the governor, whose anti-city attitude was evident in his budget vetoes, did it at the behest of real estate donors that Common Cause reported gave a combined $1,325,030 to four statewide Republican campaign committees since 1998 (and an additional $60,500 to Bruno personally).
Liz Krueger, the East Side state senator, described Bruno’s sneak attack on the rent laws in a Voice interview. “Everyone believed, and I mean everyone, that at a minimum we had an assembly/senate agreement for a four-year straight extension of the rent laws without any changes. Then at 3:30 on Thursday morning, just as the session was about to end, Bruno began distributing in the senate a new Pataki/Bruno bill. I sent it over to the assembly. No one in the assembly had ever seen it before.
“It was an eight-year extender, and it contained real changes in the law. First of all, it took away all authority for NYC government, whether the mayor or the council, to make any changes in the rent-regulation system. The council has historically passed a lot of legislation affecting tenants rights and how the Rent Guidelines Board operates. Now it can’t—even, arguably, including lead-poisoning laws for rent-regulated apartments.” The council held hearings this week on a lead bill that is opposed by the same real estate interests behind the Pataki/Bruno extender.
Krueger also argued that the new law could “cause serious dislocation in neighborhoods that are gentrifying” because it allows landlords who are charging “preferential rents”—below the rates they could legally impose—to raise them to the legal maximum when they renew leases. Prior to the adoption of this law, landlords who granted preferences, often because they believed that was all they could get for apartments in marginal communities, could only raise rents by the annual percentages permitted by the guidelines board. “Now they can suddenly get huge increases,” says Krueger, which could lead to “speculation in gentrifying neighborhoods.”
What concerns Krueger and other rent-regulation supporters the most, though, is that vacancy decontrol for apartments renting at more than $2,000 has been extended for eight years, twice what she was willing to accept. By Krueger’s calculations, that means that apartments renting at $2,000 when decontrol went into effect in 1997 would be renting at $3,500, with average 4 percent RGB increases, by the time the regulation laws come up again for renewal. Yet the ceiling will still be at $2,000, oblivious to market changes. That will knock thousands of what by then will be middle-income, not luxury, apartments off the rolls, she believes.
Incredibly, the end-of-session Albany madness disappeared from the city’s dailies after one-day coverage last Saturday, with Bruno escaping any focused assessment of his government-by-midnight-edict approach. Swinging cynically from a budget alliance with Silver to a rent and ethics alliance with Pataki, abandoning lobbying disclosure positions he’d previously championed, Bruno was the only one in the three-man room to be on every winning side. In the budget battle, he went with the unions that bankroll him and his majority. Then he did the same for the check-writing real estate interests. Finally, he protected the still-secret lobbyists who bundle gobs of donations from their contract-hustling clients.
All that, and he still got his members home for the first day of summer.
Research assistance: Zoe Alsop, Michael Anstendig, Phineas Lambert, Naomi Lindt, Brittany Schaeffer, and Jessica Silver-Greenberg