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April 22, 2019

De Blasio’s claim he didn’t know slumlords’ history strains truth, critics say

February 11, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio talks to the press about the latest crime statistics for the city in Brooklyn on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Jesse Ward for New York Daily News)

Mayor de Blasio’s assertion that he was unaware of the shady history of two landlords doing business with the city for “cluster-site” homeless units strains the truth, critics tell the Daily News.

Landlords Jay and Stuart Podolsky — subjects of a federal probe that prompted the mayor to declare a “pause” on a deal with them after The News broke the story last month — also came under scrutiny in 2013 for reported contributions to de Blasio’s mayoral campaign from two associates of the brothers.

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“I want to caution, I don’t know this family. I don’t know the history of this family,” de Blasio declared when asked about The News’ revelation of the city’s potential $60 million deal with the Podolskys, which would have involved the city financing the purchase of 17 buildings in the Bronx and Brooklyn now being used as “cluster-site” homeless units so the buildings can be converted into permanent, affordable housing.

Critics dismissed the mayor’s disclaimer.

“City officials cannot claim with any credibility to be unaware of the Podolskys and their business practices,” said Joshua Goldfein, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project. “They knew who they were dealing with.”

A city government source told The News the administration was well-aware of the Podolsky brothers’ history before The News brought the issue to light.

“That’s bogus,” said the source of de Blasio’s disclaimer. “HPD [the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development] certainly knew about the Podolskys. The agency doing it knew — not necessarily about the federal investigation — but their track record about running SROs, emptying buildings, their felony convictions – they knew.”

In 2013, the Podolsky’s were the subject of an exhaustive report in New York magazine that named their associates, Alan Lapes and Robert Hess, as contributors to de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign.

The article also detailed how the Podolsky brothers pleaded guilty in 1986 to more than two dozen felonies related to their real estate holdings. It mentioned the family’s indirect connections to de Blasio, who at the time was serving as city public advocate.

Lapes, who was managing Podolsky properties at the time, donated more than $4,950 to de Blasio, who eventually returned the cash. Hess — the now-deceased founder of Housing Solutions USA, a nonprofit that also has close ties to Podolsky — bundled more than $10,000 for the mayor-in-waiting.

De Blasio’s mayoral team routinely distributes email memos with the previous day’s press clippings. Both he and Steven Banks, then-attorney-in-chief for Legal Aid who went on to become de Blasio’s Homeless Services commissioner, would have likely seen the story.

A de Blasio spokeswoman stood by the mayor’s claim he was ignorant of the Podolskys’ past.

“He doesn’t know details about the family. They are not close. They are not friends,” said City Hall spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg. “He doesn’t have encyclopedic knowledge of people mentioned in New York magazine stories five years ago.”

Jennifer March, executive director for the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, said the administration should be “prepared for all questions” about its cluster site conversion plan, but that the overriding principal of the plan is sound.

“From our perspective as child advocates, we don’t want the controversy over the landlords to detract from ideas like this one,” she said. “We’re in desperate need. These families need permanent, affordable housing with services.”

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