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In his hour of need, the city's housing commissioner has been touched by angel. Actually, it was just the PR guy.

For Richard Roberts, head of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), 1998 has been the year he has risen from anonymity to ignominy–never alighting on the usual rest stop of notoriety.

First, he gets tagged as the man who pulled the plug on the popular Nehemiah Houses program in Brooklyn. Then, last week, he issues a veritable death warrant to Gotham's community gardens.

So what's an image-conscious commish to do? How about publicizing the fact that Pat Boone's favorite TV melodrama “Touched by an Angel” is doing an episode on housing code inspectors.

In a March 31 “Communications Plan” obtained by City Limits, first published in Newsday, Roberts' special assistant Rick Lepkowski suggests staging the following press event: “Code inspectors attend screening of episode of CBS television series highlighting work. Coordinate with TV publicists. Pitch to daily television columnists.” The event never happened–perhaps because Giuliani has allowed the number of code enforcement inspectors to dwindle from around 650 in the early 1970s to about 250 today.

In an agency that has been wracked by budget cuts, mass staff defections and rumors that the mayor is looking to shut it down, it was hard for Lepkowski to come up with good news. Most of the document contains exhortations to “Generate positive press coverage” and to “Create theme for agency.”

Still, there are a few glimpses of potential new policy. Under the rubric “Summer Events,” Lepkowski suggests: “Mayor and Commissioner Roberts announce code enforcement crackdown on landlords who violate general safety violations–i.e. no lights in vestibules, broken door locks, window guards.” Later, Lepkowski alludes to “HPD efforts to overhaul code enforcement” and the promise of a “final proposal in the fall.”

But there was no indication what those policies might be. A spokesperson for Roberts had no comment other than to say the memo was an early draft and has been revised numerous times.

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