De Blasio gets defensive at NYCHA press conference
Alternating between defensiveness and anger, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday tried to paint a rosy picture of the imposition of a federal monitor on the city agency that for decades has mismanaged the upkeep of public housing.
During a nearly hour-long press conference, Hizzoner also characterized examples of deception and dishonesty by NYCHA officials and employees to hide deplorable conditions at NYCHA as mere “allegations,” and presumptuously insisted that tenants of the run-down housing projects would not want to blame anyone for the deplorable conditions.
“I don’t think [NYCHA tenants] want to see someone to blame. I think they want to see people are going to fix the problem,” de Blasio said when asked about responsibility for the years of horrid conditions in public housing.
“As to the question of apology, I want to offer a joint apology, and you can find out if the other people involved want to be a part of it,” he said, citing a generation of leaders in federal and state government he says didn’t provide enough funding.
“I think the city government owes them an apology. My administration and I will offer an apology, but the administrations before me should also offer an apology too,” he added. “So you want an apology? I apologize and I want to hear everyone else apologize.”
While the mayor’s tone was measured through the majority of the press conference, he grew testy at times — including when he refused to let Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen answer a question about her role in the fiasco.
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It’s still not clear what Glen knew when about the fact that NYCHA had gone four years without conducting required annual inspections of apartments for lead paint.
“I’m going to step in for a second… I’m sorry, I’m running this press conference,” he interjected. “We are not here to rehash each and every step of the past.”
When a New York Times reporter suggested the mayor had been forced to sign the decree by the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office, rather than agreeing to it willingly, Hizzoner blew up.
“It was not forced, it was a decision, my friend. Seriously my friend, you represent a rather prestigious journalistic entity. Do not put words in someone’s mouth. That’s really not cool,” the mayor said. “I was not forced for a minute. I had the choice if I wanted to do something different to do something different. So really try and respect the truth.”
The city’s other option would have been to see the case go to trial, which could have similarly yielded a federal monitor and other conditions being imposed by the court.
The mayor argued that it was important to work collaboratively with the feds rather than fight against them.
He also talked tough about figuring out which NYCHA officials deceived their superiors and federal officials about the true state of affairs, and about taking steps in the near future to clear them out.
But at least for that moment on Monday, de Blasio refused to change his assessment of how effectively the crisis was handled.
He still backs former NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye, who departed in April after it was revealed that she has falsely certified to the feds that the lead inspections had been taking place.
He insists the city acted decisively when that deception became known in mid-2016, even though the lack of inspections was kept hidden from the public for more than a year.
And the mayor wouldn’t take back his claim from November 2017, after a report by the city’s Department of Investigation highlighted many of the same problems, that no harm had been done to “any child because of the mistakes that were made.”
The federal complaint released Monday pointed to a minimum of 19 cases of elevated blood lead levels in kids living in NYCHA apartments since 2010 — and likely dozens if not hundreds more — but the mayor said those were allegations that the city hadn’t yet confirmed.
“Based on the information I had at the time, what I said I absolutely believed to be accurate,” he said. “I’m not changing that statement until I have facts otherwise.”
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