Richard’s Publicity Stunted

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First, Richard Roberts, head of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, gets tagged as the man who nixed the popular Nehemiah Houses program in Brooklyn. Then, in May, 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 “Communications Plan” dated March 31, Roberts’ special assistant Rick Lepkowski suggests: “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 the number of inspectors has dwindled from around 650 in the early 1970s to about 250 today.

In an agency wracked by budget cuts, massive staff defections and rumors that the mayor wants to shut HPD down, it was hard for Lepkowski to come up with good news. Much of the document contains exhortations to “Generate positive press coverage” and “Create theme for agency.” Still, there are glimpses of potential new policies.

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.” A Roberts spokesperson had no comment other than to say the memo was an early draft that has been revised numerous times.

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