Buildings Chief Resigns; Big Day in PA

Behind The News
April 22, 2008 1:03:47 PM PDT
I can't help but think what would be happening right now to the Presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg, had he gone ahead with his plans (and he had apparently made plans and wanted to do it) to make a run for the White House as an Independent. He would be answering tough questions not just from reporters here in New York but also national political reporters, who would want to know about his failed Buildings Department Commissioner.

Patricia Lancaster resigned today, after what can only be described as a horrific year for construction and building safety in New York City. No one would ever claim the Buildings Dept. here is an efficient, well-oiled machine. But this year, which is less than four months old, has been tragic and, in so many ways, scandalous.

There've been 13 fatalities at building sites so far this year. The worst of it was last month -- when seven people were killed in a crane collapse on Second Avenue on the East Side. There were 12 construction deaths in all of 2007.

The Times sounded the end of the line for Commissioner Lancaster with a front-page story this morning, headlined, "As Construction Deaths Rise, Building Chief Faces Scrutiny."

Most telling was that Mayor Bloomberg, who usually goes to bat for his folks, was unusually cool about Lancaster. "I don't think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Dept. of Buildings' performance," he said. "Whether somebody could have done a better job -- I'm trying to -- whether they could have done a better job, I just don't know."

I'm just an old country reporter, but this story played on the front page of the New York Times, and then, a few hours later the Buildings Dept. Commissioner resigns -- it doesn't sound like much of a coincidence. Somebody may have known something, don't you think?

To be sure, Ms. Lancaster made some changes in the otherwise out-dated and overworked department. But there remain too few inspectors to adequately keep up with the building boom that has overtaken parts of Manhattan. And so some of them, clearly, cut corners, and passed buildings they shouldn't have, or, in some cases, say they inspected buildings that they did not.

Bloomberg's not running for anything, so this could become just another embarrassing episode in his two-term tenure, to be added to the defeat of congestion pricing, the Olympic bid, and the West Side Stadium. If he had been running for President, I suspect this would have been a national issue for him. But he's not.

We'll have the latest on the resignation, tonight at 11.

There are, of course, others who are running for President, and they're squaring off tonight in Pennsylvania. There are 158 delegates at stake tonight -- the most of any primary state remaining this year.

It is a crucial state for Hillary Clinton to win; and if she does she can legitimately say that she has won the big-population states. She can't get enough delegates to win the nomination, even if she runs the board the rest of the way to the convention in August. But if she wins big tonight, she can prevent Barack Obamba from getting enough delegates to secure the nomination, and that is clearly her aim. The Democrats would then go to their convention locked in a nominating fight. If will make for good political drama, although it's unclear if that will be good politics for the party.

They're expecting close to a record turnout today: If more than 2.3 million of the 4.2 million registered Democrats show up, it would set a modern-day record for the state's primary, eclipsing the 1980 vote totals, when Ted Kennedy narrowly defeated then-President Jimmy Carter.

So many people are expected to come out, that at least one large school district -- whose campuses are being used as polling places - has cancelled classes for the day.

The Obama campaign has put out a memo -- trying to raise the bar for Clinton, saying she should win by a huge margin, given that Pennsylvania is a "tailor-made" state for New York's Senator. "She has family roots in the state, she has the support of the Democratic establishment.... and former Pres. Clinton is fondly remembered."

The Clinton campaign responded with its own memo, saying Obama should be the one who wins big, given that he's spent several times what she spent in the state.

Our political reporter Dave Evans is in Philadelphia for us tonight with the results. We're also in Newark, where there have been nine shootings in the past 24 hours.

And we'll have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join us, tonight at 11.

Oh and two errors of note from yesterday's column. Both were in the story about the increased number of felons in the military. Convicted felons is redundant, and I used the words together a few times. Felons sums it up adequately. Also, what should have been "NO known murderers" among them, turned into, by mistake, "known murderers." I apologize for the error.

BILL RITTER


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