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Weiner’s declaration of city independence

Mayoral candidate vows to extract Albany from key decisions on the city's affairs

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner lived up to his reputation as a quixotic lawmaker as he unveiled an ambitious roadmap to take power back from Albany.

Through his “City Bill of Rights,” unveiled on a dark blue carboard placard mounted on a wooden stand, Weiner vowed that if elected mayor he would slash the power of the state capital over New York City on a range of issues that have long remained out of the hands of frustrated city lawmakers.

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner at City Hall on Wednesday. Photo: Sebastien Malo

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner at City Hall on Wednesday. Photo: Sebastien Malo

He vowed to attempt to reclaim New York City’s power to make decisions affecting some essential functions of government, including taxation, rent regulation, the MTA and charter school authorization.

His proposal echoed a position he previously staked out in “Keys to the City,” a policy document he introduced before entering the mayoral race in May.

“Every 4th of July we should not only think about the independence of our country, but we should think a little bit about the independence of New York City from the shackles of Albany,” he said next to the steps of City Hall, noting that he had, for effect, carefully chosen the national celebration as his time to pick a fight with Albany.

Weiner singled out giving New York City authority to raise and lower taxes as his day-one priority. Currently, changes in the city’s income, sales and business taxes must first get the nod of the state Legislature.

“It’s a classic example of ‘why should you care’ if you are a representative or a state senator from the suburbs of Buffalo whether or not we lower our taxes for some businesses,” he said.

He also pointed to rent regulation as an area where Albany’s powers need to pull back. Through the Urstadt Law of 1971, the Legislature prohibited the city from adopting rent limitations that are “more stringent or restrictive” than state laws.

Though the law has its share of detractors, countless attempts by the State Assembly to introduce a repeal bill have consistently been torpedoed in Republican-controlled state Senates.

In April, the State Senate’s Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee perpetuated that tradition by voting 5-to-2 against a repeal bill.

Though vocal about his desire to see Albany’s power recede, the candidate was less loquacious about how he would go about implementing his master plan. When pushed on the issue by reporters, Weiner made sure to clarify that his promises were just that, promises.

“It isn’t so much that we guarantee outcome,” he said. “We just guarantee that if given this opportunity, we guarantee accountability.”

On rent regulation, he blamed Republicans senators in Albany and said he would speak out against their positions.

“The Republican Senate likes to keep the control because they raise a boat load of money from real estate interests around the re-authorization of rent regulations,” he said. “We just have to call them on it.”

Returning power over rents to the city is hardly a new idea. Tenants PAC, a lobby group, has long sought the return of the city’s powers over rent control. But Treasurer Michael McKee was skeptical of Weiner’s declaration of independence proposal, saying that in the current context, it amounted to “pie in the sky.”

“Until we get big money out of elections, there’s no chance of transferring control of rent regulation law over to the city,” McKee said, referencing massive contributions by the real estate industry to state legislators.

The Rent Stabilization Association, a leading lobby group for landlords, could not be reached for comment.

Weiner said he had not formally introduced the City Bill of Rights to city or state legislators, but rather planned to use it to shape the conversation during the mayoral race.

He got the ball rolling with strong words, accusing Albany legislators of clinging to “anachronistic” powers in order “to exert control” and “take fund-raising.”

“That’s it,” he said.

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