NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Mayor Bill de Blasio is defending his new pick to run NYCHA, the city’s troubled public housing agency.

Saying he’s unperturbed, Minneapolis resident Gregory Russ will high tail it out of the city on weekends and holidays, reports CBS2’s political reporter Marcia Kramer.

What’s 1,200 miles between friends? That’s de Blasio’s seeming defense in explaining his decision to pick Russ to pick up the pieces at problem-plagued NYCHA.

Besides a whopping $402,000 salary, de Blasio is giving Russ a “hall pass” to be in Minnesota with his family whenever he wants.

CBS2 asked de Blasio about critics who say it sends a bad signal to people who live in NYCHA that he picked someone who is a weekday warrior to deal with their problems.

“It’s an unfair characterization if you look at what CEOs do nowadays,” said de Blasio. “He is going to be responsible for everything that happens in public housing 24/7 every day of the year. He knows it.”

“With the kind of technology we have today, you’re on duty all the time and you can do the job wherever you are,” he said.

In an agency with a lead paint crisis, rats, boilers that quit at inopportune times, will that be enough?

“If something requires his physical presence, I have absolute confidence he will be front and center where he’s needed,” said de Blasio.

The mayor said that after missing two deadlines to find a new public housing boss, he picked Russ because he has devoted his entire life to public housing, working his way up from the bottom.

Russ told CBS2 it’s exactly how he defines himself.

“He’s someone who worked in the business for 46 years in all levels,” said Russ when asked to describe himself.

“I love this program I because it does something that’s really powerful,” he said. “When it gives families a good home, it really helps.”

Speaking from Minneapolis, Russ said he wants to take the time to really learn the agency first before making changes for the long run and the short run.

“My definition of short term is like 90 days to 180 days,” said Russ. “I think there can be things we can start to identity that soon.”

Russ said one of his first priorities will be to see NYCHA apartments first hand and meet with families.

“We have to listen to them,” he said, “because they know their neighborhoods and have clear ideas of what needs to be done.”


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