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Mayoral candidates spend a night in public housing

From left to right: John Liu, Rev. Al

From left to right: John Liu, Rev. Al Sharpton, Anthony Weiner and Christine Quinn speak to the media after spending Saturday evening as guests in apartments in an East Harlem housing complex. (July 21, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

Five Democratic mayoral candidates experienced firsthand what it's like to live with mold, roaches and no air conditioning after spending Saturday night in an East Harlem public housing complex.

The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network and other activist groups arranged for the candidates to stay with residents so they could get a close-up look at what critics have described as poor living conditions at New York City-run residences.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn described black mold growing in her host family's bathroom that threatened to spread into the kitchen.

"They're very soon, I would argue, going to have the same kind of black mold right over where they prepare their food," Quinn said at a daybreak news conference Sunday at the complex attended by the five candidates. "There is no real sense at all of when this is going to get fixed for them."

The news conference, which besides Quinn included former Rep. Anthony Weiner, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Comptroller Bill Thompson -- capped their 12-hour visit to the Lincoln Houses at Madison Avenue and East 132nd Street.

Sharpton and other critics have said the living conditions are unacceptable and a result of inefficient management of the New York City Housing Authority.

Authority officials Sunday declined to comment.

A night spent in the projects by the candidates "will not solve the problem," Sharpton said, but will bring needed attention to living conditions in city public housing.

"One night will take the issue out of the margins," he said.

Some tenants said they noticed a flurry of repairs before the candidates arrived. Tenants also said they noticed a larger police presence than usual around the complex but many still believed the candidates were well-intentioned.

"This doesn't happen all the time, a politician in your house, listening to you," said Reginald Wilson, 38, whose family hosted de Blasio and his daughter, Chiara, 18. "We've got to get somebody to help us, because we don't have the clout."

Thompson's host, Barbara Gamble, 67, whose home had cracked tile that she said the authority mended days before the visit, wants the city to speed up repairs whether or not candidates stay the night.

Thompson noted that Gamble kept an immaculate apartment despite the filthiness beyond her control in the halls and elsewhere in her building.

Weiner said he had trouble falling asleep in his host family's apartment. There was no air conditioning to ward off the heat.

He said he believed any of the five contenders for mayor would make public housing reform a priority and residents were ready for improvements.

"The one remarkable take-away for me is despite all the things you've seen described . . . remarkable optimism exists," Weiner said. "People want to make things better."

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