Tax-cutting attorney Joseph B. Vas is taking a victory lap after he got Mayor Wilda Diaz to do in six weeks what the City Council members could not do in more than 12 years: Fulfill her obligation to appoint board members to enforce the Rent Control ordinance.
In the heat of a crowded election campaign, in which the incumbent and three out of five members of the governing body are candidates for mayor, Vas applied pressure to restore affordable housing protections after City Hall allowed one landlord to double rents.
That action came after the City Attorney declared the Rent Control ordinance “invalid” because Diaz and the council failed to appoint anyone to the Rent Leveling Board during her entire 12-years in power.
Without a functioning Rent Leveling Board, there was no way to enforce the ordinance, hear appeals or grant waivers, thus depriving landlords of due process so the council members in April voted unanimously to allow tenants at one building to suffer a doubling of their rents.
Vas capitalized on the issue to rally supporters among the 70 percent of city residents who rent their homes.
In response, Diaz appointed and the City Council confirmed five new members to the heretofore neglected Rent Leveling Board, which was established by an ordinance enacted in 1983.
The new members are Sharon D. Hubberman, Rebecca Minacapelli, Vincent Mackiel, Jenny Alvarez and Luz Ramirez.
Vas is the leading contender in the mayoral election, which has boiled down to a two-way race between Diaz and the 44-year-old attorney whose father she defeated in 2008, after he served at the city’s helm for 18 years.
Although Councilmen Helmin Caba, Joel Pabon Sr and Fernando Irizarry are also running, only Vas has a chance to stop Diaz on the first ballot and avoid a costly runoff election, which would save taxpayers $100,000 according to the Mayor.
That’s because Vas started the race with greater name recognition and the council members have each been identified in prior campaigns as part of the Diaz Team, so any of them would probably mean more of the same kind of leadership that has resulted in myriad problems.
In addition to being the only real agent of change in the race, Vas has also better managed to address those problems as issues in the campaign.
Vas helped nearly 1,000 local homeowners reduce their property taxes by challenging unfair assessments and he has unparalleled qualifications including a law license, an MBA plus work experience in public finance.
Vas cited reports showing 25 cancer-causing chemicals in drinking water then defined steps to fix that. He also proved that most crimes reported to police remain unsolved and proposed corrective actions that he would take as mayor.
Voting started several weeks ago and balloting will conclude on Tuesday, although officials are unsure when results will be known.
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