18 March 2008

How Much Are Construction Deaths Worth?

I've found myself disturbed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Building Commissioner Patricia Lancaster's smooth reactions to the deaths caused by the East Side Manhattan crane accident of this past weekend.

The death toll from the accident, in which a huge crane plummeted to the ground and sliced through several buildings, demolishing one, had risen from four to seven yesterday. The additional victims were Santino Gallone and Clifford Canzona, and Odin Torres, who lived in South Florida and was visiting for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
The other victims were Wayne Bleidner, 51, of Pelham, N.Y., the crane’s operator; Anthony C. Mazza, 40, a rigger, of Staten Island; and Brad Cohen, a rigger; and Aaron Stephens. A nylon sling, perhaps dangerously overloaded, is now suspected as the cause of the disaster.

Our City's leader's reaction? Mumblings about how it's tragic, that accidents will happen and construction is a dangerous job. Virtually no intimation that someone, or some department or some system is at fault here. Just lame comments on how investigations are continuing. It's as if Bloomberg were talking about a tornado that ripped through town, not a catastrophe brought on by his heedless advocacy of heedless overdevelopment. This was not a freak accident, as City Hall is characterizing it. It was an inevitability.

If a New York City police officer caused the unwarranted death of a citizen, there would be hue and cry, protests, raging editorials, and politicians on the ropes. Why are these deaths—also caused by the deficient performance of a City-employed official (Lancaster and her criminally ineffective department)—any different? Why are construction deaths shrugged off by City Hall as part and parcel with the the business of running the City? The victims are hardly mentioned and never lamented, aside from pat comments that Mike's and Patty's thoughts are with the families. How does Lancaster imagine she is being respectful of these families' great losses by steadfastly remaining in her post?

The Daily Kos suggests that Bloomberg should attend each funeral and I see nothing amiss in that proposal. The deaths are ultimately the result of his policies. (The way many construction workers gathered to pay their respects to their fallen colleagues reminded me of the way policemen and firemen show similar respect for those in their ranks who have died in the line of duty.)

"That crane came within feet of taking out a 12-story building full of people," one fire commander told The Daily News. Would Bloomberg and Lancaster be more contrite if dozens of people had died instead of "just" seven? Would they change course in their attitude toward rampant construction and City Hall's big bear hug of all developers? Would anything cause Bloomberg to change course? Or is he as blinkered, closed-off and pig-headed as our President?

In a column in the New York Post, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer compared the accident to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a bellwether of the last century the brought on sweeping changes in corrupy citywide labor laws. He invoked the disaster as a way of indicating that vast changes at the DOB are called for in the wake of the crane accident. Will such changes occur? Sadly, tragically, criminally, another crane accident is probably more likely.


NYC Explorer said...

How much are the deaths of fishermen and farmers worth? They have death rates that makes construction work seem like pickin daisies in the park,and no gets upset when they eat "blood food".

Let's get Scott Stringer out working on a constuction site or inspecting one, and then maybe we'd listen to his chatter.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Your comments about fishermen and farmers have weight, but their situation doesn't lessen or discount the deaths of the construction workers. Neither does Stringer's inexperience as a construction worker diminish his observations of the DOB's poor performance. Honestly, must we all be in the building trade to criticize the DOB, contractors or developers? It's ludicrous. By that logic, no one can criticize teachers without being one, criticize politicians without being one.

Anonymous said...

It's funny you mention Stringer in your post. I came across this blog noticing your mention of McHales, my old watering hole. I hope you know that the new tower standing where McHales was would not have been constructed except for Scott Stringer approving it.

These days Stringer seems to descend on accidents just like Virginia Fields used to do, looking for publicity.

At the same time for most large projects, Stringer approves these if they have to go through ULURP. Ever since he became Borough President, he started to rake in the real estate dollars. I can look out my window and see three cranes, all on buildings approved by Stringer.

In other words, he’s a phony. His words of concern are belied by his real estate campaign war chest.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Your words don't surprise me. I wonder if there's any politician left in the City willing to stand up to the powerful Industrial Development Complex.