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'Deplorable': NYC mayor candidates spend night in public housing

New York City mayoral candidates Anthony Weiner, left, and Christine Quinn, right, with the Rev. Al Sharpton outside the public housing where they spent the night.
New York City mayoral candidates Anthony Weiner, left, and Christine Quinn, right, with the Rev. Al Sharpton outside the public housing where they spent the night.rachelnoerd / twitter

For five mayoral candidates on the campaign trail, this was a night off the beaten track.

Five Democratic contenders awoke Sunday as guests in public housing apartments, where they had spent the night to get a firsthand look at mold and other problems.

Toting sleeping bags, pillows and bouquets for their hosts, the candidates — city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner — arrived Saturday evening to bunk with different families at the Lincoln Houses complex.

Local advocacy groups organized the sleepover to highlight conditions in Lincoln and other complexes run by the New York City Housing Authority. Candidates said they were troubled by what they saw.

"The overall living conditions of the buildings were deplorable," Liu said in a statement Sunday, though he said he'd had a comfortable stay in his hosts' meticulously kept apartment.

NYCHA representatives declined to comment on the event. Organizers said they hoped it would inform the candidates' thinking if one of them wins the mayoralty this fall.

"They're going to have actual, lived experiences, and we're hoping they take that and use it for policy," said Afua Atta-Mensah of the Urban Justice Center, which spearheaded the event with Community Voices Heard and the National Action Network.

About 400,000 people citywide live in developments run by NYCHA, which has taken heat over a backlog of repairs, weekslong power and heat outages in some developments after Superstorm Sandy and a plan to lease land in some complexes for new apartments aimed mostly at richer residents.

The Democratic candidates have called for changes to the housing authority, and some want to replace Chairman John Rhea. Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended Rhea.

NYCHA said earlier this month that it has cut the repair backlog from 423,000 work orders to less than 220,000 and aims to finish all of them by the end of the year. The agency says the leasing plan is its best hope for raising $30 million to $50 million needed for larger-scale work, such as replacing elevators and roofs.

Advocates say residents are waiting too long for the agency to deal with serious mold outbreaks, holes in walls and other significant problems, and the politician-guests emerged sounding similar notes.

"Staying overnight here is a powerful reminder that behind the thousands of backlogged repairs that NYCHA never seems to get to are families living in unacceptable conditions that bring shame to this city," de Blasio said in a statement.

Among the other Democratic, Republican and independent mayoral hopefuls is former federal housing official Adolfo Carrion Jr., a now-unaffiliated former Democrat running on the Independence Party line. His campaign said he'd been unable to attend the overnight event because of a scheduling conflict.