Torres, Council chair on public housing, mum on Olatoye's future in wake of lead poisoning crisis at NYCHA


New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham) has appeared to be publicly receding from demanding reform and accountability at the Municipal agency over which he has discretion and authority to supervise. As chair of the Council committee on public housing, Councilmember Torres exerts oversight, at his sole discretion, in respect of the New York City Housing Authority, an agency facing turmoil over a habitability crisis on many fronts, most notably on the reported lead poisoning of child-aged tenants.

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Recent reports by the Reuters news service and public radio station WNYC 93.9 FM have noted that children in some New York City neighborhoods tested positive for elevated blood lead levels at rates that matched or exceed rates in lead water crisis-ravaged Flint, MI. As reported by Progress Queens, these latest reports follow reports published at least a year ago by Progress Queens, The New York Times, and The New York Daily News that have collectively raised concerns about the exposure to lead in drinking water and paint in public housing developments and public schools.

In a report published by The New York Post on Wednesday, Councilmember Torres, one of eight candidates seeking to become the next City Council speaker, was not quoted amongst the cacophany of criticism facing Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York) and NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye over reports that CEO Olatoye falsely certified that NYCHA was conducting lead inspections. It has been reported that Mayor de Blasio was aware in 2016 that the false certifications were made, but Mayor de Blasio never made public, until recently, the existence of the fraud, his knowledge of the fraud, or that NYCHA residents were being exposed, or were at risk of being exposed, to lead.

On Friday, The New York Post published a late report, noting that NYCHA CEO was mounting a public relations offensive to save her job in advance of a reported oversight hearing scheduled for next week for which Councilmember Torres has yet to indicate his sentiment. For that report, Councilmember Torres was similarly absent. For this report, Councilmember Torres' communications director, Raymond Rodriguez, did not answer a request for an interview made by Progress Queens.

As reported by Progress Queens, some NYCHA managers faced resignation or demotion in the wake of revelations of the lead poisoning crisis.

Since Mayor de Blasio has defended NYCHA CEO Olatoye from calls for her resignation, he has, at the same time, not raised any questions about the possibility that private landlords may be responsible for exposing children to lead. According to information obtained by Progress Queens, Councilmember Torres may be muting his response to the lead poisoning crisis so that he doesn't add to the public pressure that is demanding that NYCHA CEO Olatoye resign from her post. Councilmember Torres' muted response would serve the political interests of Mayor de Blasio, who does not want to see his administration face further legal scrutiny and political embarassment. Earning the gratitude of Mayor de Blasio over a critical issue would benefit Councilmember Torres, who is lobbying his colleagues and other political leaders, including Mayor de Blasio, to become the next City Council speaker.

Officials, who had knowledge of the risks that exposure of lead posed to residents but who took no action to mitigate those risks, have faced efforts to hold officials accountable for the dangerous consequences for inaction. In the lead-contaminated water crisis that has faced residents of Flint, MI, for example, criminal charges were filed against three officials for decisions that contributed to the water crisis and for precautions not taken, according to a report broadcast by the CNN cable news network.

NYCHA is already the reported target of a Federal investigation by a committee of prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district over the physical condition standards of its public housing developments.

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