The New York Times reported that over the weekend five of the city’s mayoral candidates spent a night in the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem, a public housing complex which shelters 3,100 residents. The “sleepover,” as it was termed, was “coordinated by the National Action Network, the advocacy group led by the Rev. Al Sharpton,” and was intended to give the candidates, “some of whom,” the Times notes, “reside in million-dollar homes,” a greater “understanding of the plight of low-income families.” Which, that’s a good thing, right? Empathy can be hard to come by when you live the kind of elite lifestyle that many of the mayoral candidates do, so maybe, just like the Food Stamp Challenge, this can increase a candidate’s awareness of how less economically fortunate New Yorkers live? I mean, sure! But also, also, if you believe that this is ANYTHING other than a blatant publicity stunt, then I have a bridge that I’d like to sell you.
Perhaps I’m just particularly humorless today, on a day when a lot of Americans are paying an inordinate amount of attention to the birth of an otherwise ordinary baby who is only special insofar as it comes from so much inbreeding that it is almost guaranteed a weak chin and the unfortunate hairline of its father (ok, that’s mean, but seriously, it’s just a stupid baby), but whatever the case, I’m kind of sick of this type of poverty tourism being done in the name of political campaigning. The theory goes that each of the candidates who participated in this sleepover—Anthony Weiner, John Liu, Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, and William C. Thompson—would achieve enlightenment on issues related to poverty and public housing and then, once elected, make everything all better for the rest of time. So what kind of things did the candidates learn during their slumber parties?
Well, after a night where they all “slept on floors or sofas, braved rooms without air-conditioning, and endured showers with weak water pressure…stayed up past midnight watching television shows like “CSI: Miami” and bonded with residents about the Yankees and the heat wave,” this is what they discovered! Quinn “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.’” A horror movie! Sounds terrible. And de Blasio? What did he learn? Well, “he was taken aback by the poor condition of Ms. 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, [de Blasio said] ‘If this were a condo building just blocks away from here, it would have been fixed in days.’” Oh, really? Repairs are a long time coming in public housing? What a total shock. And John Liu? Well, he didn’t have anything to say specifically about the housing situation, but here’s what he learned about the residents: “’The major complaints were about the fact that they needed jobs,’ Mr. Liu said. ‘They wanted to work.’” Hmm. They want to work, do they? Fascinating.