Rosenthal: Albany Toiler

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In the aftermath of the State Senate coup that shut down Albany this summer, the State Legislature is attempting a return to normalcy by installing stable leadership and trying to pass a few laws. With both chambers likely to meet again this fall to deal with the state’s $2.1 billion budget deficit, many are hoping the legislature can tackle some bigger issues as well. West Side Spirit spoke with Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal to discuss her tenants’ rights legislation, new rules on school governance and why bills on animal cruelty are important to New Yorkers.

Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Photo by Andrew Schwartz

West Side Spirit: State Sen. Pedro Espada, who led the June 8 coup and month-long stalemate, is now the majority leader and has defended landlords. How has this affected the tenant rights laws you were pushing for?
Linda Rosenthal:
We really have great hopes going into this session that all of these pro-tenant rights bills will pass both houses. In fact, that’s how some of the Democratic senators got elected. You know, when Sen. Espada got named the head of the Housing Committee, I wasn’t happy with that, but I didn’t realize that would be sort of an omen for where these tenant bills were going, which was nowhere.

WSS: You introduced legislation that would end landlords’ ability to convert rent-controlled apartments into market-rate units. Given Sen. Espada’s opposition to these types of bills, is there any room for compromise?
Rosenthal:
He has thousands and thousands of tenants in his district [in The Bronx]. I mean, you’re elected to represent the interests of your district and you’re also elected to be your statewide voice. So I think the best way to represent your district is to hear concerns and try to address them. But there are others that really care a lot about this issue, so there’s always room for compromise in bills. If I said there wasn’t any room, then nothing would pass. Rarely are bills written that satisfy everyone, so I guess that’s the nature of lawmaking.

WSS: You supported mayoral control of the city school system. What do you think of the new parent training academy?
Rosenthal:
Parents want the best for their kids, and we need to give them the tools to advocate for the best programs and the best system within the schools. The more they know, the more educated their advocacy will be. A lot of parents come in and say, “I don’t like the teacher, and the curriculum is too hard.” But once they actually have in-depth knowledge, they can make more informed demands and I think it will be better for the system.

WSS: Same-sex marriage is again being pushed in Albany. Do you think this is something that will pass?
Rosenthal:
I’m very hopeful. It’s very dismaying that all of these other states are going before New York State, because we like to pride ourselves in being leaders in so many areas. Plus, we have such a huge lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender population, yet if they want to get married they have to go to Connecticut or Massachusetts or Iowa. So we’re clearly not serving their interests.

I think a part of it is because of the demographics in the Senate. People 25 and under who’ve been brought up knowing gay people say, “So what?” I think once the Senate age goes down a bit, it won’t be such a struggle to convince people that people who are gay or lesbian are just like everyone else. I think there will be a big push between September or maybe next year, but I hope we do it before next year. It’s getting kind of embarrassing.

WSS: You’ve become known for introducing laws on animal cruelty.
Rosenthal:
All the cats and dogs are talking to me. I didn’t know it was a priority when I got to Albany, but you know, you learn many things when you’re in office, and one of them was how important animals are to people. They’re their companions, they’re their best friends often and they serve a purpose. Constituents who care about animal issues are among the most—what’s the word—they send the most emails, they are the most focused and they actually do demand a lot from their representatives. How we treat animals is also sometimes reflective of how we treat each other. I’m trying to make a kinder, gentler society. I also find gaps in the law where animals are not protected and unfortunately, there are cruel, abusive people out there.

WSS: Are you a pet owner?
Rosenthal:
Of course! I have a cat who I got at the ASPCA about 14 years ago. Her name is Olivia because she has big green eyes, and I call her Livi, and she’s not happy when I go to Albany.

Transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Correction added

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