Mayor de Blasio’s go-to guy at NYCHA has cultivated a toxic work environment that has helped drive away high-level women staffers when the city’s public housing authority needs them the most, several current and former employees told the Daily News.
NYCHA’s general manager Vito Mustaciuolo belittles and undermines women at the agency, often screaming and swearing at them without provocation, according to accounts from seven current and former authority employees. They said he’s made at least five subordinates cry following one of his demeaning outbursts.
“What the f--- is going on?” Mustaciuolo screamed at one employee after barging into her office when she made an incidental decision without consulting him, according to the staffer, who agreed to tell her story to The News but requested anonymity. “You listen to me,” she said he told her. “You need to leave. I don’t want you in the building.”
The staffer said she reported the outburst to superiors, who agreed Mustaciuolo was out of line but made clear to her that he was too important to NYCHA to discipline. She said they were supposed to report it to Human Resources but didn’t.
After Mustaciuolo found out another subordinate was upset that her direct boss was demoted, she said that one of his senior staffers told her to “get in line” with the decision and that she should consider her family.
“(The) words were along the lines of, ‘You have a baby. And a husband,’” the former staffer said of the conversation. “This felt like a threat that I would lose my job if I didn’t agree with Vito’s decision.”
Mustaciuolo has been known to snarl at other women employees.
“Who are you to ask questions?” Mustaciuolo spat at a different senior NYCHA official during another nasty confrontation this winter, after she asked him to clarify an aspect of a project, according to the official. She said Mustaciuolo then told her that he expects “deferential” treatment.
“F--- Vito. I am not doing this shit anymore,” the now-former NYCHA staffer texted a colleague after the dispute, according to screenshots provided to The News. “I’m quitting. I’m done with this place.” When her friend asked her to get lunch, she added. “I can’t walk out – I’m too angry, frustrated and tearing up.” She told another pal later: “Vito is an a--hole and dead to me.”
A fourth woman employee said she complained to NYCHA chief of staff Arden Sokolow about Mustaciuolo “constantly screaming” at her. She said Sokolow told her, “You just have to find a way to keep him happy.” Sokolow declined to comment through NYCHA.
Since de Blasio made Mustaciuolo NYCHA’s general manager in February 2018, at least 18 high-level authority staffers have quit or been forced out. Fourteen were women.
They included officials overseeing lead-based paint compliance, real estate, intergovernmental affairs, public private partnerships and the “healthy homes” unit, which supervises efforts to address environmental hazards.
Mustaciuolo’s brash and often unprofessional management style is at least partially to blame for the exodus, according to current and former staffers.
Current and former NYCHA employees say he regularly yells and berates staffers. Veteran city officials described his behavior as far beyond that of a tough boss, and is often verbally abusive.
“I could say the tenants were dirty if I were black, but I can’t,” bristled Mustaciuolo, who is white, according to the now-former NYCHA employee present for the remark. On another occasion, she heard him tell a black tenant association president, “Oh girl, you know I’m going to whoop you.”
He also frequently talks over and condescends to women workers, including one he nicknamed “sweet pea,” according to multiple former staffers. He likes to send angry, late-night emails warning employees to “get on the team,” they said.
“He’s totally a misogynist,” another former employee said.
None of the former NYCHA staffers who spoke to The News filed Equal Employment Opportunity or human rights complaints against Mustaciuolo. None of them filed discrimination lawsuits either, fearing retribution, they said.
They say Mustaciuolo has also given false or misleading information to the public — and the mayor — about conditions at the troubled housing agency. He often circumvents senior NYCHA officials and makes promises to de Blasio without speaking to top officials first, several said.
He told the mayor in a June 2018 meeting that the city could test about 130,000 units for lead in just a couple years using x-ray technology – knowing the target was nearly impossible to meet, five former NYCHA employees said. Several senior team members weren’t consulted before the powwow and when they expressed concern over the target, Mustaciuolo said, “Oh, I already told the mayor we’re going to do it,” according to two of the ex-staffers.
The projection was recently blasted by NYCHA’s new federal monitor as “unnecessarily optimistic.”
He is known to “skip town” to avoid the line of fire at Council hearings, and pretended he needed to travel to Albany instead of facing lawmakers at least once, former staffers said. During a March 14 hearing, he admitted that he ordered a NYCHA spokeswoman to lie to a Daily News reporter.
But Mustaciuolo has still enjoyed a close relationship with elected officials – and de Blasio in particular.
“NYCHA houses 400,000 people -- it’s the size of a major American city and I want to give Vito a huge amount of credit for the changes that he’s already made,” de Blasio said at a news conference last month.
They’ve known each other since de Blasio’s time in the City Council. The mayor frequently calls him directly five former NYCHA employees said.
De Blasio’s office said they will investigate the allegations against Mustaciuolo but praised his work at NYCHA.
“Vito Mustaciuolo has done an extraordinary job addressing a number of major challenges at NYCHA. He has made a big difference in the lives of the 400,000 New Yorkers who live in public housing," de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said. "Nonetheless, we take these allegations seriously and a full and objective investigation will begin immediately.”
Late Tuesday, as this article was being prepared for publication, two women who’ve worked with Mustaciuolo in the past contacted The News, stating that he had called them to tell them about the pending article. One of them, an official with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, declined to speak on the record. But Throggs Neck Houses tenant association president Monique Johnson defended Mustaciuolo for helping her resolve issues at the development quickly.
“Vito is a very good person,” Johnson said. “He’s very mild mannered.”
Johnson denied Mustaciuolo asked her to call The News and wouldn’t say how she got the reporter’s phone number.
As NYCHA general manager, Mustaciuolo is the “principal administrator” and responsible for overseeing maintenance of all 325 developments — essentially the super for more than 400,000 New Yorkers who live in public housing.
Mustaciuolo majored in marketing at Pace University and graduated with a bachelor of business administration in 1982. He’s worked in city government since 1984, serving in a variety of operational positions at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for more than two decades.
But his new role at NYCHA has propelled him into the spotlight at a time when the public housing authority faces increased scrutiny from city, state and federal officials. Greg Russ, the NYCHA chairman and Mustaciuolo’s new boss, started this month. He’s taking the reins with holes in NYCHA’s leadership.
As of Aug. 12, there were five vacant positions in the highest levels of NYCHA, with another nine roles filled by temporary “acting” officials, according to authority records.
There were no temporarily filled roles in July 2017, and five vacancies. Nine months after Mustaciuolo started in November 2018, there were nine vacancies and seven other positions covered by “acting” officials.