NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Unveiling the first policy proposals of his comeback campaign, New York City comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer called Wednesday for sweeping reforms to the public housing system and delivered a sharp rebuke of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion of fingerprinting tenants.
Spitzer, the former governor who resigned in 2008 after admitting to paying for sex with prostitutes, urged more spending on housing repairs and criticized the city’s plan to lease public housing land to private developers.
“If there’s property that’s underutilized, use it, but use it for the folks who live here right now,” Spitzer said during a tour of the Frederick Douglass Houses in Harlem. “Selling off parkland in the middle of housing to the highest bidder, that’s wrong.”
Spitzer also said making sure money for public housing is spent well would be a priority as comptroller.
His Democratic primary opponent for comptroller, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, has also urged the Bloomberg administration to increase community involvement with the so-called infill plan. Housing authority officials believe selling land at eight Manhattan housing developments could provide up to $50 million annually for the cash-strapped agency.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, a photo of Stringer was seen hanging in a hallway of a building in the Douglass Houses.
“The current borough president has done nothing for Douglass Houses,” tenant organizer Carmen Quinones insisted.
“Now when I was governor, when I was attorney general, we cared about public housing,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer has made it central to his campaign that he would expand the reach of the office of comptroller, the city’s financial officer. His initial policy rollout clearly wades beyond the normal boundaries of the office, in particular in his condemnation of Bloomberg’s idea to have residents’ fingerprints be used as the only way to open building doors at housing developments.
Bloomberg’s comments Friday about fingerprinting appeared offhanded, and his spokesman later clarified that the city was not working on a proposal to fingerprint the city’s 400,000 housing authority residents, the majority of whom are black or Latino. Still, Spitzer denounced the idea.
“This is not the Britain of the 1800’s where we have lords and servants. This is New York City. We are an immigrant city where everybody’s equal, we don’t fingerprint people before they get into their homes,” said Spitzer. “Symptomatic of an attitude that says ‘we’ll deal with you differently.'”
Spitzer’s criticism of the fingerprinting suggestion appears to be a subtle twist on a recent campaign theme – to attack Stringer by linking him to contentious Bloomberg ideas.
“This is a consequence of a third term that would not have happened had my opponent not been part of a political establishment that was happy with the status quo, a political establishment that didn’t care about the residents,” said Spitzer. “They cared about keeping their own jobs.”
Stringer supported the change in the city charter that allowed Bloomberg to seek re-election in 2009 but later campaigned for Bloomberg’s opponent. He blasted the fingerprinting suggestion as outrageous.
He chided the housing authority for not spending all of the federal funding it received in capital improvements, as well as more than $40 million given by the City Council and state lawmakers to put security cameras in high-crime areas.
Cameras had been installed at only 11 of the 86 high-crime buildings as of last month, though housing authority officials insist all will be operational by year’s end.
“The establishment has failed NYCHA residents for too long,” Spitzer campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan said in a statement. ‘What they deserve, and the city needs, is an independent voice who will fight to bring them improved safety, higher quality and greater responsiveness.”
Stringer has also been critical of housing authority delays in installing the cameras. His spokeswoman boasted that Stringer began his career as a tenant organizer and said he has served public housing residents throughout his seven years as borough president.
“It’s nice that 20 days before an election, Eliot Spitzer has woken up to the needs of public housing residents,” said Audrey Gelman, Stringer’s spokeswoman.
Quinones said Spitzer’s past should not impact his candidacy for comptroller.
“People need to look past whatever they’re saying because I’m quite sure they’ve all done it, they just haven’t gotten caught,” she said.
As Spitzer finished his walking tour of the Douglass Houses, Quinones stood on her tiptoes and kissed him, leaving a pink lipstick smear on his chin.
“That’s your lipstick, I don’t want any question about this,” the former governor joked.
“We don’t want them to make a big thing out of that one,” Quinones said.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found Spitzer ahead of Stringer, 56 percent to 37 percent. The poll of 579 likely Democratic primary voters had a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points.
The two men square off in their final debate Thursday night. The primary is Sept. 10.
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