Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is a Republican. Mayor de Blasio is a Democrat. Both men find themselves at the center of crises, which collectively involve thousands of children likely brain-damaged from exposure to lead.
If de Blasio was a Republican, Democrats would be calling for his political head.
In April 2014, at the onset of the Flint water crisis, there were approximately 100,000 residents of Flint, Mich. At all times since 2012, there have been at least 400,000 tenants of the New York City Housing Authority.
In the past eight months, former NYCHA chairwoman Shola Olatoye resigned in disgrace, and the City’s Department of Health admitted that since 2012 at least 820 children living in public housing tested with lead levels above five micrograms per deciliter, which the Centers for Disease Control essentially classifies as lead poisoning.
When it became public that Olatoye signed false documents regarding NYCHA’s lead inspections to receive federal funding, de Blasio claimed no children were hurt as a result. When it became clear he was wrong, de Blasio downplayed the number of kids poisoned on his watch. When it became undeniable that more than 800 children were in fact poisoned, de Blasio asserted the poisoning might have happened somewhere other than their homes.
In stark contrast, Democrats’ narrative regarding Flint had consistently been that children were poisoned by a Republican governor. But when it comes to New York City, most Democrats, locally and nationally, have avoided speaking out on de Blasio’s role in what will ultimately and historically be viewed as a larger crisis.
When Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were campaigning to become my party’s nominee for president in 2016, Snyder was their proverbial punching bag. On Jan. 16, 2016, Sanders called for Snyder to resign: “There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. [Snyder] should resign.” On March 6, 2016, Clinton echoed Sanders’ sentiments: “Amen to that … The governor should resign or be recalled, and we should support the efforts of citizens attempting to achieve that.”
On Nov. 7, 2017, de Blasio was re-elected to a second term. Two weeks later, he admitted he knew one year earlier that NYCHA was falsifying documents regarding lead-based paint inspections.
Sanders could have called for de Blasio’s resignation, as he did with Snyder. Instead, he personally swore in de Blasio for his second term on Jan. 1, 2018.
Gov. Cuomo, who has feuded with de Blasio for half a decade, has not uttered the word “resignation.” Cuomo’s challenger, Cynthia Nixon, who toured NYCHA housing in March stated: “I wasn’t prepared for what a health crisis this is … They need more money.” She has not, however, commented on de Blasio’s role; she has certainly not called for his resignation; and she has placed more blame publicly on Cuomo than the man who waited until after being reelected to acknowledge the NYCHA crisis he knew about previously.
Cuomo may be a savvy veteran of politics and Nixon a savvier newcomer, but their responses to the NYCHA crisis have been geared far more toward benefiting their respective campaigns than ensuring that no more children are lead-poisoned in New York City’s public housing.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic candidate in New York’s 14th Congressional District who beat incumbent Joe Crowley, said: “These communities have been so ignored … What other leaders or what other choices does this community have? For me, I just feel like it’s a responsibility to show up for this community.”
She has not, however, distanced herself from the mayor, nor has she publicly sought to hold him accountable for his role in the public-housing scandal, despite the fact that many residents in her district have been directly affected by it. She certainly has not called for him to resign.
In fact, for all of the political wrangling within the Democratic Party between old and new guard, neither wing seems to have an interest in demanding de Blasio take personal responsibility for the lead-poisoning crisis.
Sorry, Sen. Sanders: We should not be swearing him in, we should be ushering him out.
Our party’s duplicity and hypocrisy only puts more kids in danger.
Corey M. Stern is lead counsel for plaintiffs in the Flint, Mich., lead-poisoning litigation and represents 150 NYCHA plaintiffs.
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