By Jonathan Lemire
Unveiling the first policy proposals of his comeback campaign, New York City comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer calls for sweeping reforms to the public housing system and delivers 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, was scheduled to announce the wide-ranging housing plans at a news conference Wednesday. They include a critique of the city's plan to lease public housing land to private developers.
"Sweetheart lease deals with private developers shortchange (the New York City Housing Authority) and its residents," writes Spitzer in his policy proposal, which was obtained by The Associated Press ahead of his announcement. He calls for a resident advisory board to review any sales.
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.
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.
"Like stop-and-frisk, this practice unfairly targets people of color without addressing the heart of the problem," Spitzer wrote in the policy proposal, citing the New York Police Department tactic to stop people deemed acting suspiciously. A judge ruled recently that the practice unfairly targeted blacks and Hispanics.
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.
"The reason why we had a third term is that the political establishment, with Scott's support and participation, gave the mayor a third term," Spitzer said during a debate last week.
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.
In the policy statement, Spitzer also 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.
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 plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
The two men square off in their final debate Thursday night. The primary is Sept. 10.