The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, January 13, 2004  

Rent Control in New York . . . And Arguing With Danny O'Donnell

Since starting this blog almost two years ago I've found it interesting, to say nothing of amusing, to learn which topics hit, affect, or touch readers to the degree they will take the time to send me an e-mail about what I have written.

You might be surprised to learn that the post that by far has generated the most e-mail from readers was that which included a passing mention of my search for an online source for purchasing Marimekko sheets. Sure, it sounds strange, but I think it speaks well of Rittenhouse readers. They want to help, simple as that.

As for other hot topics, the few times I've mentioned Noam Chomsky, generally not entirely favorably, I have been inundated with e-mail from his supporters, a reaction that a few other bloggers have told me they have experienced as well.

More recently, a brief reminiscence about my mother's Christmas-season butter cookies generated a modest flood of mail from readers asking for the recipe, which I subsequently provided.

And then there was, or is, the issue of rent control, or rent stabilization, or both, in New York, where I lived before moving to Philadelphia.

As if I hadn't known already, I learned New York's bizarre and Byzantine regulation of rents is a very touchy subject, among New Yorkers of course, both those benefiting from the World War II-era program and those who pay (or in my case, paid) exorbitant rents because of New York's absurd housing laws, but also among readers of varying ideologies around the country.

I know, I'm a liberal Democrat, even a "leftist" some say, meaning that as a "socialist" or "quasi-socialist," whatever that might mean, even if it were true, I am presumed to support tough, even draconian, rent controls, not only in New York but everywhere.

Hardly. Regular and longtime readers of Rittenhouse know this is not the case, as does nearly everyone with whom I worked or socialized while I was living in New York. (Lots of unresolved arguments still hanging back in Gotham.)

I am, believe it not, a capitalist. And I am strongly, vehemently, unabashedly, and unequivocally opposed to any form of rent control, anywhere.

In fact, while living in New York I once became engaged in a heated argument with Daniel "Danny" O'Donnell, brother of television personality Rosie O'Donnell, when he was running in a Democratic primary election for City Council or something like that.

I happened to run into O'Donnell at West End Avenue and West 70th Street when I was living, quite unhappily geographically speaking, on the dreary, dowdy, and dumpy Upper West Side. (Hey, it wasn't my choice; the ex insisted. But I did manage to score us a 30th-floor apartment with views of Midtown, Central Park, the East Side, Uptown, and the GWB, all 425 square feet of it [Two grown men, two English bulldogs.], for the oh-so-reasonable rate of $2,400, and later $2,550, a month. After the breakup I moved to Chelsea, where I paid first $2,900 a month, and then $3,100 a month, on my own, for a substantially larger apartment.)

When I saw O'Donnell doing his meet-and-greet I thought, what the heck, I'll ask him. And I did, cheerfully posing the question, "What is your position on rent control and rent stabilization?" O'Donnell enthusiastically and vociferously responded with words to this effect: I'm for it. It's essential. I think the program should be expanded. Everyone benefits.

Uh, Danny? I know you probably assumed you had me, and my vote, within your grasp, but no. Wrong answer.

And so there we were, me and Danny O'Donnell, at West End Avenue and West 70th Street, arguing about an archaic social welfare program and eventually yelling at each other at the top of our lungs, O'Donnell, in my opinion, failing to score even a single point against my arguments. (So there.)

Anyway, all of that, above, is a roundabout way of linking to "Unstable and Out of Control," by Marian L. Sachs, on the op-ed page of today's New York Times.

Yes, I know, and yes, I see, she owns rental properties in New York. Big deal. Her arguments are sound and worth reading, and I agree with her wholeheartedly.

[Note to Rittenhouse staff: Prepare for the deluge.]

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