With the mayor giving speeches out of town, Gov. Cuomo came to the Bronx Monday to visit a bug-infested city Housing Authority apartment that left him quietly furious.
“It is just shocking that in New York State we would have people subjected to these conditions,” he said after leaving the Jackson Houses apartment. “This situation we have seen is as upsetting and disturbing as I’ve seen anywhere, and I’ve been in public housing across this country.”
Cuomo said he’s ready to declare an emergency that could result in an independent monitor to circumvent NYCHA’s slow-moving bureaucracy and speed up repairs of decrepit conditions in the authority’s 178,000 apartments.
And he announced State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker — who also surveyed Jackson Houses apartments Monday — will open an investigation into health and safety hazards at NYCHA developments citywide.
The day unfolded as a series of public declarations from the governor and Mayor de Blasio presenting alternative narratives about who was doing the most for public housing tenants.
Minutes after the governor’s 11 a.m. apartment visit, de Blasio’s top aides announced a 1:30 p.m. news conference to defend their out-of-town boss and discuss “the state’s new interest in helping” NYCHA.
Minutes before that press conference began, Cuomo issued a not-terribly-subtle press release of his own, stating, "The facts here are important and not to be confused by the political blather.”
The NYCHA apartment the governor visited was alarming in its squalor but by no means an anomaly for the troubled agency.
Tenant Jeffrey Blyther, 42, greeted the governor sitting in his motorized wheelchair in the kitchen. As Cuomo opened one cabinet after another, roaches scattered across boxes and cans of food.
Blyther said repeat visits by the exterminator do nothing, and at times the NYCHA worker who showed up was not licensed to do the job.
“Anything to help the situation. I know I’m not the only person in New York City dealing with this but when is it going to change?” Blyther asked.
In a bathroom, the governor shook his head at paint peeling off every wall and dropping chips off the ceiling to the floor. Blyther’s grandson Jessie is 14 months old, an age at which he crawls on floors where paint chips fall.
“Look at all these cockroach eggs,” Cuomo said, pointing below the sink. “This is unbelievable. The ceiling is collapsing and it’s infested with cockroaches everywhere.”
“It’s much worse than anyone would even imagine,” he said.
Thousands of NYCHA apartments have lead paint, and the authority has recently admitted it failed to properly inspect and abate this toxic substance for years.
Though his presence at the Jackson Houses came as de Blasio was in Texas in route to Washington, D.C., Cuomo only indirectly swiped at the mayor.
De Blasio has been widely criticized for announcing a $200 million fixup of NYCHA boilers that he said couldn’t start until July and wouldn’t be finished for at least three years.
“You can’t tell the tenants of the New York City Housing Authority I’m going to replace your boiler in three years,” Cuomo said.
City Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) was less diplomatic, stating flatly, “As you know our mayor is out of town. But the mayor has been out of town when it comes to the management of public housing.”