Can The Guy Who Helped Waste Millions In Newark Help Save NYC Public Housing?

Approximately 400,000 people live in NYC’s public housing system, struggling to make their homes in crime-ridden developments with often squalid conditions. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) needs billions just to maintain its already poor conditions. So why is NYCHA’s new Vice President of Development a guy who was involved with wasting millions of tax dollars on a boondoggle in Newark, New Jersey?

Bill Crawley is the former CEO of a controversial Newark non-profit disbanded in 2011 amid allegations of millions of dollars in graft and a pay-to-play scandal that sent Newark’s deputy mayor to federal prison.

Crawley was appointed VP of Development for NYCHA in June of this year, and leads the team that will work on NextGeneration NYCHA, the agency’s preservation and development plan tasked with ensuring the troubled agency has a viable future for its residents. His annual salary is $157,000.

Crawley is to play an integral role in the de Blasio administration’s 10-year affordable housing plan to build 80,000 affordable apartments and preserve another 120,000, and comes at a crucial time for the country’s largest public housing authority. NYCHA is selling a stake in some of its apartments to help offset $6 billion in unmet capital needs, while violent crime in its housing developments has soared.

NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye has credited Crawley with playing a key role in transforming downtown Newark while he was CEO of the Newark Downtown Core Redevelopment Corporation, a non-profit set up by the Newark Housing Authority to develop the downtown area. It also had close ties to Cory Booker’s administration.

Ken Boehm, head of the National Legal and Policy Center, a right-leaning political corruption watchdog group, said he was puzzled as to why the city would hire the key player in a development scheme where “so much money disappeared” to oversee development for the country’s largest public housing authority.

“Millions of dollars were spent on a plan for all sorts of improvements and the whole thing fell apart and the public never was given a detailed explanation about what happened to the money.”

The Newark redevelopment, Boehm said, “was so poorly done. Money was spent but nothing was built.”

The parking lot next to the Prudential Center that was supposed to be built into a park (Google Maps)

After Booker’s election as mayor, the NDCRC, along with the Newark Housing Authority, was tasked to create parks, develop a hotel, and redesign downtown city streets. As CEO of NDCRC, Crawley commanded a salary of close to $165,000 to oversee a multimillion-dollar budget.

A third project, to turn a blighted parking lot next to the Prudential Center into Triangle Park, never happened, although around $12 million was spent, mostly on land purchases, Crawley told the New Jersey Star-Ledger in 2011.

“We shouldn’t just build a park without considering the possibility of creating wealth opportunities for Newarkers,” he said. “It was about growing the city, and to that end we decided to do a market feasibility of the park.”

But Keith Kinard, director of the Newark Housing Authority, who had called for NDCRC’s dissolution, told the paper “It’s clear the land’s not cheap, but the organization appeared to be top-heavy especially in light of the work that remained … and the lack of really any timetable for park completion.”

Citing New Jersey’s open-government law, the Newark Housing Authority did not make Kinard immediately available for comment.

State prosecutors also issued the NDCRC subpoenas in 2007, but the investigation was seemingly dropped.

Municipal corruption and Newark have a history, Boehm said, and while no one at the NDCRC was ever investigated, he said all players should have been after the non-profit folded, a view shared by New Jersey State Senator Ronald Rice, a Democrat.

“We never got the park and don’t know where the money is,” Rice said. “A lot of lawyers probably got paid.”

Rice told Gothamist that he is still waiting for an investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office into the NDCRC and others involved in the redevelopment plan. He wants to know who got the contracts and why, and how they were chosen as the right ones for the job.

Rice said a lack of transparency plagued the redevelopment process throughout, and involved handing out lucrative contracts to companies with ties to Mayor Booker’s administration, even though Booker told reporters in 2007, “We can say unequivocally those days are gone.”

One beneficiary of the NDCRC was Nicholas Mazzocchi, owner of a demolition company that received millions in contract money from the non-profit.

As part of a wider pay-to-play system, Mazzocchi’s contributions to charities and PACs tied to Mayor Cory Booker yielded lucrative contracts.

During the corruption trial of Newark Deputy Mayor Ron Salahuddin, The Star-Ledger reported that Mazzocchi donated $5,000 to Newark Now in 2006, a charity Booker set up in 2003.

Months later, Mazzocchi’s company was awarded a $1.3 million demolition contract by the Newark Downtown Core Redevelopment Corp for work around the Prudential Arena.

According to the New York Post, Mazzocchi’s company “raked in $4.7 million from the nonprofit in 2007 and 2008.”

As owner of the state’s largest wrecking company, Mazzocchi who became a state witness after being caught by the feds on a bribery rap, told jurors during the corruption trial of former Newark Deputy Mayor Ronald Salahuddin that his “road to success was paved with bribes and political contributions.”

“In these municipalities they can control whatever they want,” Mazzocchi testified. “They can throw all the bids out and re-bid it until their favorite son gets the job.”

“The whole development process was so mismanaged and so questionable, everyone should have been investigated including that group and the people who ran it,” he added.

The Newark City Housing Authority declined to say why the NDCRC was dissolved in 2011, but a former insider who played a key role in the redevelopment of downtown Newark said the NHA dissolved the non-profit over demands that the NDCRC “transfer millions” to the city agency to help them with a legal case against the New Jersey Devils over outstanding rent.

The insider, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of “Newark politics,” said allegations against the NDCRC by the NHA amount to “fingerpointing.”

Boehm, the head of the watchdog group, remains skeptical.

“Given the problems plaguing the redevelopment of downtown Newark, the New York City Housing Authority should look very closely at anyone in that development. Maybe they did. I don’t know. At the same time, if they didn’t look, they may be in for a surprise,” he said.

“Huge sums of money were appropriated. Contracts were signed and yet in the end what did the public get? Not very much.”

Officials in the de Blasio administration say that Crawley submitted a DOI background questionnaire. A spokesperson for NYCHA declined to comment on Crawley’s background in Newark.

At a City Council oversight hearing last month, Crawley sat next to the Director of City Planning Carl Weisbrod and Vicki Been, Commissioner for the Department of Housing and Development.

When asked by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito about NYCHA’s commitment to preserving existing affordable housing, Crawley said that developing a preservation plan was the agency’s “primary focus,” adding that he would ensure the “intelligent deployment of capital” that the agency receives.

Gerard Flynn is an investigative reporter living in New York.

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