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For five mayoral candidates, a sleepover in city housing

By JAVIER C. HERNANDEZ

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:31 a.m. HST, Jul 22, 2013



 

NEW YORK » What do you do when a candidate for mayor of New York City is sleeping on your couch?

Katherine Wilson, a nurse's aide who is unemployed, tiptoed around Bill de Blasio, the New York City public advocate, as he lay in her living room in a Harlem housing project Sunday morning, his 6-foot-5 frame slightly exceeding the length of the couch. She walked into the kitchen, thinking she might quietly whip up a plate of eggs and bacon for him. But the slam of a bathroom door, she said, seemed to startle him awake.

"It was a dream," Wilson said. "I've never had anyone like that in my house before."

The mayoral race took on the air of a reality show this weekend as five Democratic candidates, who came with sleeping bags and travel-size tubes of toothpaste, spent a night with residents of Lincoln Houses, a 3,100-resident complex constructed in 1948.

It was a stark change of scenery for the candidates, some of whom reside in million-dollar homes.

On Saturday night, they slept on floors or sofas, braved rooms without air-conditioning, and endured showers with weak water pressure. They stayed up past midnight watching television shows like "CSI: Miami" and bonded with residents about the New York Yankees and the heat wave.

The candidates emerged at a news conference at dawn, bleary-eyed and cradling cups of coffee. Most of them wore their best casual wear, with Anthony D. Weiner, the former congressman, in red shorts, and John C. Liu, the city comptroller, in a white T-shirt. De Blasio wore a suit, ready for an appearance at church. Looking out on a crowd of cameras, the candidates said they had gained a better understanding of the plight of low-income families.

De Blasio said he was taken aback by the poor condition of Wilson's apartment, where a set of mold-covered cabinets lies on the floor of the kitchen, two years after a flood, despite her repeated requests for repairs. "If this were a condo building just blocks away from here," he said, "it would have been fixed in days."

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said she was startled by the condition of the bathrooms. "If you were in a horror movie, you would be just a couple of minutes away from the black mold overtaking the bathroom," she said in an interview.

Liu, known for his grueling campaign schedules, packed in a late-night tour of the neighborhood after saying good night to his host family around midnight. He wandered around the premises for a few hours, posting pictures on Twitter and talking about the lack of jobs to residents who were playing cards.

"The major complaints were about the fact that they needed jobs," Liu said. "They wanted to work."

While the sleepover made for good publicity, it did not necessarily bring votes. Barbara Gamble, a retired nursing home worker who hosted William C. Thompson Jr., a former city comptroller, said she was still undecided on a candidate. Still, she said, she felt Thompson connected with her when they watched the news and talked about their shared love of Popeyes, the fast-food chain.

After the visit, Thompson said he would work to expedite repairs for residents of public housing. "These are our neighbors," he said. "They should not be ignored. They should not be treated as second-class citizens."

Each candidate was allowed to bring one person along for the sleepover, which was coordinated by the National Action Network, the advocacy group led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. De Blasio brought his 18-year-old daughter, Chiara. Liu brought an aide from the comptroller's office. Quinn was accompanied by a spokeswoman for her campaign. Thompson brought the leader of a union that represents housing workers. Weiner showed up alone.






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