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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Cynthia Nixon visits a NYCHA apartment to ‘observe’ and ‘highlight issues’

Visiting a NYCHA apartment is the New York

Visiting a NYCHA apartment is the New York City version of visiting a local factory or coal mine. It was Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon's turn on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

It can seem like everyone in politics is visiting NYCHA these days, and on Wednesday it was Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon’s turn.

Nixon had never been in a NYCHA apartment before, but she accepted Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ invitation on Twitter last week. And so Nixon went from cyberspace to the C train to the Albany Houses in Crown Heights.

The NYCHA visit might be the NYC version of a political photo-op at the local factory or coal mine. Elsewhere, politicians chat with voters over a white picket fence or on a front porch; in NYC they go to a NYCHA complex to see a few of the 175,000 units of subsidized housing that are NYC’s pride and sin. Pride because the towers and complexes are still standing. Sin because they’re always on the verge of falling apart.

The site visits make good visuals and an opportunity for an aspiring politician to parachute in and “observe conditions,” like this is post-Taliban Afghanistan. The visiting politician looking for election or re-election pokes his or her head into elevators, grimaces at the peeling paint over the couch. Then there is the news conference outside the complex, featuring calls for more funding, better management and promises not to leave the people of NYCHA behind. The visiting politician won’t be like the others who find more pressing priorities once in office. Behind the reporters, NYCHA employees finish their cleanup of some NYCHA lawn, much more trash-free than it was before the cameras arrived.

This has been part of the playbook for presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. During last year’s mayoral race, challenger Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican Assembly member from Staten Island, saw what was to be seen. During the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary, candidates, including Bill de Blasio, even spent a night in NYCHA units.

Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been a frequent caller, three times in March alone, perhaps because NYCHA has been a problem for de Blasio, Cuomo’s friend in antagonism. The past year has seen scandals of lead paint testing, too much mold, too few repairs, as well as a winter season in which 80 percent of residents went for at least some time without heat or hot water.

That led to renewed calls for more funding and better management at NYCHA. Though neither the city nor the state is obligated to fund the agency, which gets most of its money from the federal government, a recalcitrant mood in Washington has forced local officials to open the coffers, which both have. It’s budget season in Albany, and de Blasio and Cuomo have squabbled for weeks about exactly who should pay or control what and whose record is better on the subject.

Enter Nixon, who is positioning herself as a progressive challenger. It was only a matter of time before she made her NYCHA visit, perhaps a little different because as a first-time politician it really was a first for her.

Approaching the 13th-floor apartment of Paula Frazier, for example, Nixon carried her coat and bag over her arm and was mostly quiet as the veteran politician Adams took the lead. “What’s happening here?” Adams asked, pointing at spot of wall covered with cardboard and tape, covering a hole from previous repairs, Frazier, 53, said.

Then there was the peeled wallpaper and rusted stove — all too common to NYCHA facilities. “I don’t know what I’m breathing in,” Frazier said.

Outside the complex, Nixon seemed shaken by what she’d experienced: not just Frazier’s overdue repairs but another woman in a wheelchair who had difficulty getting out of the unit, for example; also the unhealthy-seeming atmosphere.

“I wasn’t prepared for what a health crisis this is,” she said, her voice low. “You can feel how unhealthy this is.”

She talked about the need for more funding and said if elected governor she would not get into the kind of “pissing contest” streaming between the mayor and the governor.

Eventually she left the complex grounds, walking with a small entourage and the borough president. Adams said before they left that he had hoped to use the moment “to highlight issues that are important.”

Consider them, once again, highlighted.


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