Why tenants should vote against a constitutional convention
By Michael McKee
Every twenty years, the New York State Constitution mandates a statewide vote on whether to convene a convention to consider amending it. On Nov. 7 New Yorkers will vote yes or no. This measure, on the back of the ballot, is more important than anything on the front.
Tenants Political Action Committee debated this question at length, and despite many arguments in favor, we voted unanimously to oppose con-con in 2017.
This was not a decision we took lightly. With a state government that is a model of dysfunction and gridlock, it is tempting to try an end run around the governor and state legislature to attempt necessary reforms they have refused to enact despite the stunning number of politicians who have been convicted of corruption and gone to prison.
Many New Yorkers of good will believe that a constitutional convention could force such reforms into being, and indeed that is a theoretical outcome. But the risk of a negative result for tenants and other constituencies that do not have access to piles of cash is very real.
One negative is that delegates are chosen based on the 63 state senate districts. Because Andrew Cuomo allowed the State Senate Republicans to draw hyper-partisan district lines to preserve their shrinking majority, this could result in Republican delegates to a convention having a majority.
There is every reason to believe that the very politicians we now criticize for refusing to enact progressive reforms would control the convention. Current and former elected officials, and even lobbyists, are eligible to run, and legislators could use their superior name recognition and campaign funds to outgun grass roots candidates. Anyone who understands how Albany really works sees the probable composition of a convention as inclined to do the bidding of special interests.
Beyond the potential to water down critical protections for poor people, workers, civil rights, and wilderness protection, there is one “reform” of special importance to tenants: allowing special interests to place legislation directly on the ballot by petition. Many states allow this already. New York does not.
It is not hard to imagine the real estate lobby initiating a statewide referendum to terminate rent control laws, which only exist in New York City and the downstate suburbs. In fact, this is exactly how Massachusetts ended rent controls in 1994, passing a statewide referendum 52 to 48 percent. Only three cities in the eastern part of the state had rent control – Boston, Cambridge and Brookline – and the landlords’ multi-million-dollar media campaign in central and western Massachusetts made much of the fact that the mayor of Cambridge lived in a rent-controlled apartment.
The analogy with New York is clear. New York City landlords would spend any amount to get rid of rent regulations via statewide ballot initiative. And if they failed the first time, they would keep trying.
Some progressive groups take the position that this would be a good change in New York. They should consider the downside. Ballot initiatives are easier to mount by groups with superior resources, and easier for them to win for the same reason. A colleague in California told me, “Every time we face a ballot initiative, the landlords start with an $8 million budget and we struggle to raise $80,000.”
We think there is a better way: in the last year, thousands of New Yorkers have become involved in organizations that work to raise political awareness and seek to hold politicians accountable, with a focus on swing districts and turncoat Democrats. The energy coming out of these efforts is inspiring. Let’s harness it to elect better legislators and change our laws at last.
McKee is treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee.

Tenants PAC Announces Endorsements
for New York City Council

Tenants PAC has endorsed the following candidates for the New York City Council in the Tuesday, September 12 Democratic Party primary:


CCD 1              No endorsement

CCD 2              Carlina Rivera

CCD 3              Corey Johnson (has no primary opponent)

CCD 4              Keith Powers

CCD 5              Ben Kallos

CCD 6              Helen Rosenthal

CCD 7              Mark Levine

CCD 8              Diana Ayala (part Bronx)

CCD 9              Bill Perkins

CCD 10            No endorsement


CCD 8              Diana Ayala (part Manhattan)

CCD 11            No endorsement

CCD 12            No endorsement

CCD 13            Marjorie Velazquez

CCD 14            Randy Abreu

CCD 15            No endorsement

CCD 16            No endorsement

CCD 17            No endorsement

CCD 18            Elvin Garcia 


CCD 19            No endorsement

CCD 20            No endorsement

CCD 21            Francisco Moya

CCD 22            No endorsement

CCD 23            No endorsement

CCD 24            No endorsement

CCD 25            Daniel Dromm (no primary opponent)

CCD 26            No endorsement

CCD 27            Daneek Miller (no primary opponent)

CCD 28            Hettie Powell

CCD 29            No endorsement

CCD 30            No endorsement

CCD 31            Donovan Richards (no primary opponent)

CCD 32            No endorsement 


CCD 33            Steve Levin (no primary opponent)

CCD 34            Antonio Reynoso

CCD 35            Ede Fox

CCD 36            No endorsement

CCD 37            No endorsement

CCD 38            Carlos Menchaca

CCD 39            Brad Lander (no primary opponent)

CCD 40            Brian Cunningham

CCD 41            Alicka Ampry-Samuel

CCD 42            No endorsement

CCD 43            Khader El-Yateem

CCD 44             No endorsement

CCD 45            Jumaane Williams

CCD 46            No endorsement

CCD 47            No endorsement

CCD 48            No endorsement

Staten Island:

CCD 49            Deborah Rose

CCD 50            No endorsement

CCD 51            No endorsement

While the State Legislature has wrongly taken away the City Council’s authority over the rent laws that directly affect NYC residents, the Council can enact other laws to protect renters and preserve our threatened affordable housing stock.

In deciding on endorsements, Tenants PAC considered incumbent City Council members based on their record in office. For some incumbents and all non-incumbent candidates, Tenants PAC based endorsement decisions on answers to our questionnaire for candidates and interviews with candidates.


July 25, 2017

Contact Michael McKee, 917-669-2977

New York, N.Y. - Tenants PAC, New York's leading organization supporting pro-tenant candidates for public office, today announced their endorsements for citywide and borough-wide offices, endorsing Mayor Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Tenants PAC endorsed de Blasio four years ago in a multiple-candidate Democratic primary.

"We believe that Mayor de Blasio will be able to build on the successes of his first term and make significant gains in other areas where more effort is required," said Michael McKee, Treasurer of Tenants PAC. "In his first term, Mayor de Blasio has done some excellent things, including the partial rent freeze for rent-stabilized tenants for two years in a row, a first in the 45+ year history of the Rent Guidelines Board. He has also smartly publicized the rent freeze and the SCRIE and DRIE programs, which now have the highest enrollments in their history; with the City Council, he has greatly increased funding for eviction prevention; and supported the right to counsel in housing court.

"However, there are clear areas where the Mayor has been less successful. His highly-touted affordable housing plan has focused on production rather than preservation, produced units that will not be affordable for too many low and moderate-income New Yorkers, and will unleash the forces of gentrification and displacement in marginal neighborhoods which will see an influx of market-rate housing.

"The mayor's unfortunate proposal for the new 421-a tax subsidy, which was made even worse by Albany, will cost the City far more than the old program while barely increasing the requirement to build affordable apartments, and failing to offer basic protections for many tenants. Above all, the mayor has failed to use his bully pulpit to push for repeal of Vacancy Deregulation and other loopholes in the rent laws that have cost the city far more affordable apartments than he can ever build. We urge that he focus on this issue and work to activate and mobilize the millions of tenants into a grass roots force that can overcome the pro-landlord forces in Albany.

"But despite these problems, Bill de Blasio has been the most pro-tenant mayor we have had in a very long time, and we believe that he deserves re-election."

In addition to de Blasio, Tenants PAC endorsed Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for re-election.

"Tenants PAC endorsed Tish James four years ago when she first ran for Public Advocate, and we support her re-election with enthusiasm," said McKee. "Tish James is everything tenants could want in a Public Advocate. She has aggressively pursued bad landlords and stood up for tenants time and again, including devoting considerable resources of her office to defending tenants and tenant associations under attack. She has been fearless in taking on city government and the political establishment when necessary to advance the cause of tenants and working people."

"Gale Brewer is an exceptional public servant," McKee stated.  "She's hard-working and effective, and always on the front lines for tenants. As The New York Times said in its endorsement of Gale Brewer in 2013, when Tenants PAC endorsed her in a four-way primary, 'We can't do without her.' We strongly support her re-election."


 Tenants' PAC Announces it's 2017 Endorsement Process:

Click here to download our letter to New York City Council candidates

Click here to download our questionnaire


To candidates for New York City Council: 

Attached is a questionnaire which we invite you to complete. Beginning in June and continuing through July, Tenants Political Action Committee plans to endorse candidates for City Council in selected races in the September 12 primary.

Decisions on endorsements will be based on answers to the questionnaire and on discussion with candidates at interviews with the Tenants PAC board of directors. We will offer an interview to any candidate who (a) submits a completed questionnaire, and (b) is participating in the City’s public financing system. The same goes for endorsements in the November 7 general election.

We are looking for candidates who will lead the fight to reverse the phaseout of our rent and eviction protection laws that began with the New York City Council’s vote for permanent Vacancy Destabilization in 1994. Please note that it was not the Republicans in Albany, but the Democrats in the City Council, led by then-Speaker Peter Vallone, who struck the first blow in the real estate industry’s campaign to end all rent and eviction protection laws. Permanent Vacancy Deregulation passed by a vote of 28 to 18. 

Since 1994 New York City has lost at least 300,000 affordable apartments which have been converted from rent regulated to market rent status, and we lose more every time an apartment becomes vacant. Despite the attempts of the real estate lobby and some politicians to paint this loss as affecting only “rich” tenants in Manhattan, in fact Vacancy Destabilization has nothing to do with any tenants’ income, but only with the fact that the apartment turns over.

(Median income for rent-stabilized households was $40,600 in 2013; median income for rent-controlled households in 2013 was $29,000, according to the 2014 NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey. The U.S. Census Bureau is currently undertaking field work for the 2017 NYC HVS, which will be released in time for the City Council to renew the city rent laws in March 2018.)

Vacancy destabilization has greatly reduced affordable housing options in all five boroughs, and after it was expanded in 1997 by Gov. George Pataki and the state legislature, in the suburban counties of Nassau, Rockland and Westchester. Unfortunately, having done the damage in 1994, later compounded by Albany, the City Council and Mayor lack the legal power to correct it. Only the state legislature can repeal Vacancy Deregulation and close other loopholes in the rent protection laws.

We are also looking for candidates who will oppose over-development and inappropriate development, as well as candidates who will fight to end the misuse of our tax levy funds to subsidize luxury housing, and re-direct these tax subsidies to low-income and moderate-income housing.

In other words, we are looking for City Council candidates who will be visible and vocal advocates for tenants, for preserving our affordable housing stock, for creating new low-income and moderate-income housing, and for preventing over-development and inappropriate development.

With some one million families in New York City living in rent regulated housing, and hundreds of thousands more in other forms of regulated housing, and hundreds of thousands more living in

unregulated housing without basic protections, your campaign will clearly benefit from presenting the strongest vision for addressing our housing crisis and the deepest commitment to renting families.

If you wish to meet with the Tenants PAC board and be considered for an endorsement, please return the completed questionnaire to:

Michael McKee


Tenants Political Action Committee


Please take as much space as needed for each question. Please answer all questions to the best of your ability. Please email the questionnaire as an attachment as a Word file, and please note the suggested format for naming your file. 

The deadline for return of the questionnaire is Friday, July 21, but the earlier you return it, the earlier we can schedule an interview. We will accept late questionnaires and will decide whether to grant interviews to late-submitting candidates based on circumstances. In any case candidates should try to submit the completed questionnaire no later than July 31.

Tenants PAC has already voted to endorse several City Council incumbents who are running for re-election.


For more information:

Michael McKee

Tenants PAC

277 Broadway, Suite 608

New York, New York 10007