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May 22, 2019

Ex-NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito tried to oust black NYCHA boss for ‘Spanish manager’: lawsuits

November 28, 2018
Former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is pictured at the NYU School of Law in Manhattan in January 2017. (Anthony DelMundo / New York Daily News)

For former NYCHA supervisor Sibyl Colon, ex-Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s announcement that she’s running for public advocate came as a bit of a shock.

Colon and another former NYCHA worker, Allison Williams, both have pending lawsuits alleging that during a 2015 meeting an angry Mark-Viverito announced that she wanted to replace Williams — who is black — with a “Spanish manager” to run the Mill Brook Houses in the Bronx.

“We are very disappointed that Melissa Mark-Viverito is running for public advocate,” Colon said Tuesday. “We feel that she does not represent all New Yorkers based on her actions and the racist comment made at a meeting in her Bronx office on July 30, 2015. We are very disturbed by this news to say the least.”

That day Colon and Williams were summoned to Mark-Viverito’s Bronx office, along with several top NYCHA managers, to discuss the leadership at Mill Brook Houses, where a significant percentage of the residents are Hispanic.

According to Colon and Williams, Mark-Viverito asked, “How are you handling your Spanish-speaking residents at Mill Brook Houses?” In response, another NYCHA staffer at the meeting said they rely on translators.

Sybil Colon, a former NYCHA supervisor, alleges in a lawsuit that former council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito demanded she bring in a "Spanish manager" to run a development.
Sybil Colon, a former NYCHA supervisor, alleges in a lawsuit that former council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito demanded she bring in a “Spanish manager” to run a development. (Obtained by Daily News)

In response, the witnesses say, Mark-Viverito slammed her hand on a table and exclaimed, “That’s unacceptable.” She then instructed the NYCHA managers that she wanted to replace Williams with a “Spanish manager” to run Mill Brook, they say.

In her lawsuit, Williams said she “experienced traumatic psychological stress and numbness all over her body at the notion of losing her job just because she’s not Latina.”

To date Manhattan Federal Judge Vernon Broderick granted the city’s request to remove Mark-Viverito from Colon’s case, but has kept her in Williams’ case. Attorney Marcel Florestal, who represents both women, says he will move to have Mark-Viverito reinstated in Colon’s case. The city is trying to have her taken out of the Williams lawsuit.

“But for her act, there would be no case,” Florestal said of Mark-Viverito’s comments at the 2015 meeting. “This is all because of her.”

Both cases are active after Judge Broderick rejected NYCHA’s request to throw out the lawsuit entirely, allowing two civil rights claims to go forward against NYCHA in both cases and against NYCHA, the city and Mark-Viverito in the Williams case.

On Tuesday Mark-Viverito- who was a council member and then Speaker before being term-limited out last year – released a brief video announcing her plan to go for the office vacated by Letitia James after her election this month as state Attorney General.

In the video, after she states she’s running for public advocate, a male voice says from off-camera to repeat what she said, but to be “not as intense.” She says “No,” then states, “Every day someone tells me I’m too harsh, too brutally honest, too confrontational. Would they say that to a man? I don’t think so. You know what New Yorkers need? Someone who tells New Yorkers the truth.”

Asked about Colon and Williams assertions about her push for a “Spanish manager,” Mark-Viverito’s press spokeswoman Monica Klein dodged the question and pivoted to the campaign.

“Melissa is running for Public Advocate to speak up for ignored subway riders, protect affordable housing, and fight for our city’s immigrants, women and LGBTQ communities,” she said.

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