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Public housing mayoral forum gets testy...for Quinn

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 5/31/2013, 11:28 a.m.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn didn't make friends with the crowd by showing up close to...
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Council Speaker Christine Quinn didn't make friends with the crowd by showing up close to 45 minutes late to the Salvation Army Centennial Memorial Temple for the mayoral forum on the state of public housing. And it only went downhill from there.

Even though she stood her ground and showed poise in the face of adversity, Quinn still had an uphill battle with the audience, who jeered and sucked their teeth at almost every statement she made. Some even tried to completely shout over some of her answers (leading to several audience members being escorted out of the building). Her praise of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for "doing a good job" resulted in loud boos of the candidate.

Other than that, things went smoothly at the forum, which was sponsored by the Community Service Society and Teamsters Local 237, with New York Times writer Michael Powell handling moderator duties.

Quinn, along with Democratic candidates Bill Thompson, Sal Albanese, New York City Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, touched on the mismanagement of funds by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Board, the lack of repairs at NYCHA developments, the potential selling of NYCHA land on which to build luxury housing and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's legacy with working-class New Yorkers.

"Michael Bloomberg suddenly got interested in NYCHA recently because he realized that when people looked at his legacy, it would be clear that he did nothing for them," said de Blasio, speaking on Bloomberg's plan to take care of the backlog of repairs on NYCHA properties in his last year in office. "The mayor ignored a half million people for 12 years. NYCHA residents have been put through hell."

Liu spoke of NYCHA claiming not to have the resources to provide services that their residents need. Liu didn't buy that notion and discussed other places NYCHA was able to devote funds to.

"We always hear that we don't have resources for this or that," said Liu. "If NYCHA doesn't have resources, how can it be that it has to pay $200 million a year for city, police and sanitation that nobody else has to pay? If NYCHA doesn't have any money, why were they sitting on $42 million of funding last year that the City Council allocated for city cameras and they did nothing with it?"

Liu said that the annual "budget dance" that Bloomberg and the council speaker engage in (where they threaten cuts to certain programs, and in the end, don't remove any funds) distracts New Yorkers from the "real meat" of the budget, where things need to be re-prioritized.

Thompson looked at not only the backlog of repairs, but also the availability of apartments and the NYCHA board itself.

"It is clear that the 600,000 NYCHA residents have been treated as second-class citizens," said Thompson. "They've been ignored. They've been pushed aside. They've been made to believe that they're invisible. In the middle of the worst housing crisis the city has had, the city and NYCHA have warehoused thousands of units. We need to bring those units back. Repair those units and bring them back online to house residents. We need to get rid of the current board structure. We need to get rid of it today. Let's put an 11-member board in place, and five of those members should be housing authority residents."

While those in attendance praised the answers of the aforementioned candidates--and booed and jeered Quinn when she gave the same answers--Albanese wanted to remind the audience to follow the money when it came to the other candidates.

"I'm not accepting money from developers or lobbyists, by the way," Albanese said. "Unfortunately, public housing residents don't have lobbyists, so they're being neglected and ignored by the state and the city and, of course, the federal level.

"What's important is who's contributing to their campaign," continued Albanese. "Rhetoric is just rhetoric. I'm the only candidate who's not accepting contributions from developers because everywhere I go around the city, people are concerned. Not only in public housing, but in other neighborhoods. Libraries are being sold off. Hospitals are being sold off. I want to make decisions on the merits so when I get there, I won't be handcuffed by the flood of money from developers in this city who are really loading down most of my opponents' campaigns."