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It was a week of drafts, re-drafts and secretive back door meetings, and still the City Council couldn’t get its new lead paint bill out. The bill, first slated to be unveiled on June 4, has been sliding all around the calendar, with its most recent coming-out date pinned for this Thursday.

But don’t hold your breath.

Since April, advocates, council and entourage have been buzzing about the new bill that Council Speaker Peter Vallone’s office was drafting in a last-minute attempt to comply with a court order to either write a new lead paint law or enforce the stringent one on the books.

Yet all the advocates–and some council members, too–could only stand by helplessly last week as Vallone staffers, members of the landlord coalition Rent Stabilization Association, the landlord lobby, and the Giuliani administration hashed out the details. The result has been a dizzying number of bill drafts, the third of which was circulating on Friday.

“The bill has gone through re-drafts so many times that’s it’s impossible for anyone, except the people drafting it, to say what the content is,” said Jenny Laurie, executive director of Metropolitan Council on Housing.

But both council members and advocates believe, from the details they have seen, that the bill will do too little to protect children at risk of lead paint poisoning, and too much to protect landlords. After the black and Latino caucus blocked the June 4 public hearing, Vallone’s office asked advocates to submit a list of negotiating points. By the following Monday the list was AWOL. “They said they couldn’t find the sheet we had given them,” said Cathleen Breen, legislative advocate for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Since then, advocates, caucus co-chair Guillermo Lineras and other councilmembers have been left in the dark. “The way we get information is to ask [others] what’s going on,” said Albania Almanzar, acting chief of staff to Lineras. “They are including other people–I just don’t know who they are.”

Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for the RSA, refused to characterize the process as clandestine–as he pointed out, all the players know the score. “I don’t get the feeling that it’s secretive,” he said. “What we think is appropriate and what they think is appropriate hasn’t changed in five years.”

For shut-out advocates, the only hope is that other council members will decide to vote the bill down. “My council members are pretty much aroused, but I don’t just want them to vote against it. I want them to change the law,” said Councilmember Stanley Michels, whose own compromise lead bill has been stalled in council for two years. “If they introduce that bill on Thursday, I’m going to be very annoyed.”

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