23 April 2008

Lancaster, the Scapegoat

Don't misconstrue the title of this post. Patricia Lancaster got exactly what she deserved when Mayor Bloomberg yesterday accepted her resignation/canned her ass as head of the Department of Building. She may have made some inroads in streamlined and organizing an "agency in disarray"—as the New York Times, with agonizing fairness, never ceases to point out—but she approved hundreds of construction projects knowing her agency was not sufficiently staffed to keep proper tabs on the project; coddled developers; looked the other way when building infractions came rolling in; and ignored the complaints and cries of concerned citizens. Under her, the agency's name was taken quite literally. It was the DEPARTMENT OF BUILDING. Lots of building. It was not the Department of Building Supervision and Regulation.

That said, Lancaster is a scapegoat. She was operating just as Bloomberg and his former Machiavelli Dan Doctoroff instructed her to: sign off on as many development projects as possible and "don't sweat the small stuff," as the Voice put it in a recent article. Bloomberg has positioned himself in such a way that he gets off scot free (as he usually does), taking no responsibility for the construction accidents and deaths which are basically his fault. First, he completely distanced himself from the horrific east side crane accident that got the recent ball of DOB criticism rolling. Lancaster took all the heat, and Bloomberg remained at a safe distance, writing poetry and such. Then, when he saw the press, public and politicians weren't going to let up—that the issue wasn't going to blow over—he began to condemn Lancaster.

Gowanus Lounge put it as well as anyone could this morning:

On Monday, Mayor Bloomberg said "I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance." The statement was disingenuous at best and self-servingly cynical at worst. The construction boom and DOB's laissez faire attitude have happened under Mr. Bloomberg's watch and the placement of the agency under former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's purview for most of his administration symbolized the back seat that regulating building took to encouraging development. The city's worst kept secret for much of the last six years has been the fact that DOB was expected not to interfere in major ways with development. If this meant looking the other way while safety, work hour and other regulations were violated with impunity, well, that was a small price for one of the biggest building booms in New York history.

That statement, the oft-quoted "I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance," was weasely, back-stabbing, scapegoating, political double-speak at its worst. It was bottom-of-the-barrel stuff and anyone who's a student of the political art would recognize it as such. You can bet as Lancaster watched Mayor Mike utter that line on television, she was muttering "son of a bitch" under her breath. Bloomberg was plenty satisfied the Lancaster and the DOB—it was doing exactly what he wanted it to do, with as little money as he chose to give it—until its corrupt performance began to impinge on his image as an infallible leader.

Lancaster's departure is a good thing. She's was a feckless puppet of the development cabal. She was no public servant. The problem is her successor will be selected by the same man who chose her.

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