Only a handful of Staten Island families whose houses were damaged by Superstorm Sandy are still waiting for repairs. But the entire island is still waiting for a cogent resiliency plan to guard against future storms, according to Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, who told the Max & Murphy Show on Monday, “the recovery has been the single most infuriating heartbreaking experience of a nearly 30-year career in public service.”
“Mistakes were made early, they were made often, they were repeated, they were compounded. I put the blame at the top of the food chain. There were decisions made by the Bloomberg administration early on that took us down the wrong path. There would decisions made by the de Blasio administration that did not help things,” Oddo said.
The beep, who is nearly two years into his second and final term in borough hall, believes the city erred in allowing the private market to dictate whether or not vulnerable properties would be rebuilt in a more resilient manner. Oddo was a vocal advocate for an aggressive strategy of acquisition for redevelopment, in which the city would buy up large tracts of valuable land and distribute them to developers who would create denser, more resilient housing.
“If you drive my old Council district in Midland Beach, you will see one house raised next to a house that isn’t raised next to a house that’s abandoned next to another house that isn’t raised next to a house that’s raised,” Oddo said, “and it looks like the Lower 9th Ward.”
Oddo, who before winning his current office was the Republican leader in the New York City Council, is one of the most conservative elected officials in the city, and the elected leader of the Whitest, most suburban and most Republican of the boroughs. Yet he also enjoys a cordial relationship with the progressive Democrat mayor, dating back to their days on the Council.
He said, however, that the borough’s needs had been given low priority despite that friendship.
“My theory was the Bloomberg administration was the golden era of being a commissioner. The mayor proudly said, ‘I delegate’ and then he was there for 12 years and a lot of those people stayed because they all thought they were going to land on the gravy train in Bloomberg LLP. … and then Bill de Blasio came in and I think the mayor cares about what the mayor cares about and those are obvious and everything else gets put on the back burner and when you’re Staten Island, you’re all the way in the back.”
Oddo believes police-community relations on the island are in a far better place than in previous years; he says there are misgivings on the island about looming state criminal-justice reforms, but doesn’t point to any increase in disorder or crime despite the reduction in NYPD stops and arrests under de Blasio.
The chief irritant, as it has long been on Staten Island, is development. “Where there is one family on a corner in one house, there are now six families. Where there were two cars there are now thirteen cars. Where there were three kids, there are now 18 kids that are going to go to P.S 11,” Oddo says. “Staten Islanders complain about traffic and overcrowded schools and they look to me as if I’m giving a wink and a nod to the developers and I’m happy.”
Hear the rest of our conversation below:
(With reporting by Xavier Means.)