NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – After missing two deadlines for picking someone to run the city’s beleaguered public housing program – NYCHA – Mayor Bill de Blasio has now chosen a man who many insiders believe could be a major headache in waiting.
CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reports the mayor’s choice doesn’t just want a bigger salary than his boss, he wants to fly home to Minnesota every weekend.
His name is Gregory Russ – the head of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority – and he’s the man de Blasio has settled on to cure NYCHA’s multi-billion-dollar problems.
From lead paint, to rats, to failing boilers – thousands of New York City residents have been forced to live in squalor thanks to the ineffective agency.
“In a national search, Greg Russ stands out as someone with the guts to make big changes and the heart to do right by public housing residents. Greg has shown he can secure residents the repairs they’ve been waiting for and strengthen public housing for the next generation. He’s shown again and again that he can listen to residents, build trust and improve people’s lives. I’m thrilled to welcome him to NYCHA,” the mayor said in a statement Tuesday night. “I want to thank Kathryn Garcia for her leadership these past several months. She helped energize and strengthen NYCHA, push through vital reforms and set in motion plans that will make residents safer and healthier.”
Sources tell CBS2 that while Russ is well regarded in tiny Minneapolis – a population of 422,000 – he’s made a number of stunning “deal breaker” demands to come to New York.
First off, sources say he asked to commute here from Minneapolis, run the problem-plagued agency Monday through Friday, then fly home to Minnesota on weekends and holidays.
How do you build trust with tenants if you’re not here? Asked one expert.
De Blasio has already seen that movie and he knows how it ends – it wasn’t good.
Former New York City Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte traveled from Maine, returned to Maine on weekends and vacations, and became the subject of a scathing Department of Investigation report because of it.
“How much longer are you going to keep him? how much longer will he be in your administration?” Kramer asked the mayor in 2017.
“I believe he’s doing a very good job, I like to see him doing the job, he will make his own decisions,” the mayor argued.
Apparently it wasn’t a good enough job for the Mainer – Ponte resigned.
Former DOI commissioner Mark Peters, who investigated Ponte, was stunned at the possibility that the mayor was going to hire another weekday-only executive.
“I think it presents a lot of problems. NYCHA, like the police department, like the department of corrections, is a 24/7 agency,” Peters said.
“So this winter, on a cold day when the boilers all break, you’re going to want the head of NYCHA to be here on the scene able to direct his or her troops.”
Deal breaker demand number 2?
Sources tell CBS2 Gregory Russ wants nearly $400,000 in salary to cover housing and transportation costs for all those weekend trips to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
By comparison, the mayor makes nearly $259,000. The governor’s salary goes up to $250,000 in 2021. The former NYCHA head, Shola Olatoye, only got $210,000 before resigning amid a plethora of agency scandals.
“It’s a real problem if that person is 1,000 miles away. Yes there are telephones, but there’s no substitute for being around in person,” Peters added.
For all of Russ’ lavish demands, questions must also be raised if the Minnesota administrator can even run an agency this big.
That 422,000-person population in Minneapolis is about the same number of people who currently live in NYCHA housing.