What's going on here would be humorous, if it weren't so
much a part of a tapestry of preventable tragedy.
For over a year now, our rag has pointed at problems in the way City Agencies police construction contracts. Our special Corruption Issue mentions many of the problems, but even that issue is not long enough to touch on all the ways Inspectors are hampered in assuring that everything is done on the "up and up" by a contractor who has friends in City Hall.
But it looks like it isn't just City Hall that has dirty hands in this area. Back on July 27 of this year, in Issue 27, we wrote a bit about what the Spotlight's quest had taught us. To wit: "We learned that most politicians and appointed officials may talk a good game, but when asked to investigate an area that may force them to clash heads with a strong City Hall, they become meek and backbone-less. Or, if the rumor is true, when it looks like an investigation could embarrass politicians from both political parties the investigators become very adept at avoiding any investigation." Again, in Issue 8, published on October 1, 1998, we wrote: "Checking political contributions against IG's list of dirty contractors can raise some concern . . ."
Okay, enough about us. On to those who should stay in our thoughts, the people harmed through political greed or corruption, and those in power who refuse to force an investigation to prevent future disasters. The dozen construction workers injured, and Daniel Eduardo who died in the floor collapse, should be in our thoughts. As should the 3 workers hurt AT THE EXACT SAME SITE, when a second story floor fell on another unit.
(By Dan Morrison, Newsday, 11/27/99: "On Aug. 10, 58 Middleton St., another building at the project, was the scene of a similar collapse Ostreicher was cited for ‘failure to carry out construction operations in a safe and lawful manner.' Work resumed a day later, after the violation was corrected, officials said.")
When asked how that site should have been handled after the first collapse, the past head of Building Department inspections in Brooklyn, Mr. Joseph Trivisonno, stated,: "I would have had an independent architect or engineer sit on the site and make sure they were following the plans."
(This developer, with friends at City Hall, received new permits to resume construction WITHIN 24 HOURS OF THAT COLLAPSE! Ask any honest, but non-connected contractor if 24 hours is the standard wait to receive new permits and to begin work again after being cited for an accident as serious as a collapsed floor. Then wait until he stops laughing to receive your answer!)
Add to your thoughts/prayers, the fireman killed in the Vandalia Houses fire. Because you should remember that the inspection records for that sprinkler system had somehow "disappeared" from NYCHA's safekeeping. (Again, read the Corruption Issue if you want to learn about how NYCHA loses records!)
I may be showing some personal bias by harping on this story. I was a construction worker for more than 2 decades, working as a Steamfitter and as management during those years. So when I read of political influence putting construction worker's lives in danger, I take it personal. But I believe that the misuse of political influence in this city has become frightening. Almost as frightening as the fear I believe reporters show when a story may make City Hall mad. Without their fear, I doubt that things would ever have gotten so far out of hand.
This latest tragedy should be used as the impetus to get our City Council, State Senate and Assembly out of its collective stupor and force them to start paying some attention to their duties, as distasteful as they may find those duties to be.
Lives have been lost; millions of dollars have been spent in VERY questionable purchases, such as the $100,000,000 lease for NYCHA's (long overdue) Long Island City building. Bribery to NYCHA contract inspectors is winked at, due to the fear that City Hall and/or the City Council will be embarrassed by a full investigation. Oil spills are routinely covered up for the same reason. And not one New York politician steps up to the plate to help end this corrupt system.
Well, that's not entirely fair. There should be a Spotlight Hall of Fame for those folks who attempt to get an investigation into NYCHA. Unfortunately, it's a damn short list.
Assembly Member Joan Millman (Assembly District 52, Brooklyn) and Assembly Member Edward C. Sullivan (District 69, Manhattan) are two local politicians who contacted the NY Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, and asked him to investigate the charges against NYCHA. So they rate a Spotlight thank you! And I ask that any of you that reside in Ms. Millman's and Mr. Sullivan's areas to remember them come election time.
Unfortunately, we have to report that Mr. Spitzer's office refused to intervene. Even though we pointed to the lack of confidence that all NYCHA employees seem to express towards the Dept. of Investigation (DOI) and their underlings at the NYCHA's Inspector General's office, Mr. Spitzer's office decided to leave everything in DOI's hands! Further, when I contacted the person in that office who was supposedly handling the NYCHA charges at the time, Mr. Loren Weiner, he kept telling me that they were still working on it MONTHS after they had already informed Assembly Member Sullivan that they had washed their hands of it.
I finally received a copy of the letter from Spitzer to Mr. Sullivan confirming that hand-washing. Click here to view the Attorney General's office reply to Mr. Sullivan. Click here to view the letter from the AG's office to the Dept. of Investigation--DOI. Finally, click here to view the apology note to me, from Loren Weiner, Confidential Aide, Intergovernmental Relations at the AG's office. Please note that the letter to Assembly Member Sullivan, explaining that the AG turned everything over to DOI, is dated April 22, 1999. For the 5 months following that decision, up until Mr. Weiner's apology note of September 9, 1999, Mr. Weiner spoke with me many times. Each time, I was told that the AG's office was still working on the NYCHA charges. In reality, the AG's office was just lieing to another voter. No big deal in present day NY, or so it seems. )
Mr. Archie Spigner, head of the City Council's committee that covers Housing, has also not been of any help. When the two-week series on the Spotlight and our coverage of NYCHA corruption ran in the Spanish language newspaper, Noticias Del Mundo, Mr. Spigner promised a quick hearing on NYCHA corruption. Those articles ran last May, over 6 months ago. Still no hearing.
And we had an odd communication from City Council Member Ken Fisher. He was another politician pointing to a DOI investigation as a reason for not getting involved. Way back on April 10, 1999, he wrote: "If the investigation has not borne fruit by July 1, I will set up a meeting with you and discuss how to advance the situation at that time."
Since then, although I have written to Mr. Fisher, I have yet to hear from him again.
So Mr. Spigner, Mr. Fisher and Mr. Spitzer seem to be in some sit back and wait mode here, and I firmly believe that doesn't allow them to wash their hands entirely clean of the harmful problems being caused while an impartial (read: NOT DOI!) investigation of political influence and corruption is denied. We'd hope that our readers would all wait until closer to their next elections to decide which levers to pull when these three men are running for office.
In the meantime, I'm hoping that the latest revelations regarding the collapse and tacit murder at the building on Middleton St. in Williamsburg might shake these three fence sitters into remembering that they have a duty to the firemen's widows, the construction worker's families and, of course, their constituents. That duty includes creating an atmosphere in which contract inspectors don't have to worry that by honestly doing their jobs they will risk ending their careers. And now they have the example of Joseph Trivisonno, the former commissioner of buildings for Brooklyn, who was forced into retirement last year after 27 years with the Buildings Department. Published reports have linked a withholding of the NYC Building's Dept. funds by Bruce Teitelbaum, currently running Mr. Giuliani's "possible" Senate Campaign, with Mr. Trivisonno's retirement. These reports also point out the money contributed by various friends/relatives of the owner of Industrial Enterprises Ltd., Mr. Chaim Ostreicher. Mr. Trivisonno was reluctant to turn his back on problems he found on work done by Industrial Enterprises Ltd., the contractor on the Williamsburg job. So, he was forced out of his job, plain and simple!
As to the rest of our local politicians,
I guess they just don't give a damn!
© 1999 Public Housing Spotlight and John Ballinger. All rights reserved.
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