By Erin Durkin
September 29, 2013
Mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio toured Sandy-ravaged Far Rockaway neighborhoods Sunday and pushed to use federal storm aid to tackle the inequality that has been the theme of his campaign.
“We would give anything to go back a year ago in time and change what happened. We would have loved to have never heard the word Sandy. But we did experience Sandy, and now with these new resources from the federal government we have to use it as a moment to not just right the wrongs of Sandy but start righting some greater wrongs,” de Blasio said. “Because the Rockaways have been ignored for decades.”
He pledged that to the extent allowed by federal law, he’d use federal storm aid to create living wage jobs for people in storm-hit neighborhoods, and to build affordable housing cheap enough for those displaced by the storm to afford.
He spoke at a town hall of Rockaway residents hosted by the union-backed Alliance for a Just Rebuilding after visiting the site of shuttered Peninsula Hospital and the home of a family still badly damaged from the storm.
“I’m not looking at this as a bandaid,” he said. “I’m looking at this as a new beginning.”
De Blasio acknowledged he wasn’t versed on the legal ins and outs of rules governing the use of billions in storm aid, so hope to create living wage jobs was “an aspirational point.”
De Blasio also joined the growing chorus slamming major hikes set to happen in federal flood insurance rates – where homeowners will be slammed with massive premiums if they don’t pay to raise their homes.
“It’s the ultimate unfunded mandate,” he said. “It’s hitting families right over the head like a two by four, and a huge number of families can’t afford it.”
At his own campaign stop at a Columbus Day parade in Howard Beach, Republican Joe Lhota put more stress on the infrastructure needed to protect against storms – pushing for jetties to be built in Rockaway.
“Unfortunately without building the jetties if we get another storm even half as powerful as Sandy all that erosion would happen again,” he told reporters, including our Vera Chinese.
His campaign later released a blistering statement slamming de Blasio’s Rockaway trip, charging he didn’t do enough in his current office as public advocate to help storm victims and was using the area’s woes for political purposes.
“We’re glad Mr. de Blasio found his way out to the Rockaways today, but his visit in the height of campaign season is insulting to the residents who have suffered during his failed time in office,” said spokeswoman Jessica Proud. “The people of the Rockaways won’t be fooled by his blatant political maneuvering in pursuit of a promotion.”
De Blasio stressed repeatedly during the tour that it was the latest of many visits to the peninsula since the storm.
At the shuttered hospital, he met Camlyn Pretto, 42, who is living in a Harlem homeless shelter after her Far Rockaway apartment was destroyed by the storm and she was booted from another place she found because it turned out to be an illegal basement rental. She said she gets up at 3 a.m. to get her two autistic sons to school back in Far Rockaway. “It’s really hard on me right now,” she said.
The mayoral hopeful then visited the home of Marcia and Rudolph Bennett, who are crowding into the top floor with their two kids while the bottom floor is still too damaged by flood waters. Up until a month ago, they were staying in a Manhattan hotel.
The family has had to dip into their retirement savings and kids’ college funds to pay for repairs to the house that flood insurance hasn’t covered. “All of that is almost gone to get the house to where it is today,” said Rudolph Bennett.
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