nycha

New NYCHA Monitor’s Strange Political Bedfellows

Bart Schwartz
Bart Schwartz Photo: Business Wire

Federal officials have picked their monitor to oversee the embattled New York City Housing Authority, THE CITY has learned: a former prosecutor with ties to Governor Andrew Cuomo, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, and controversial activist Lenora Fulani.

Bart Schwartz, head of the private investigations firm Guidepost Solutions and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York’s Southern District, has been selected as the NYCHA monitor by the federal government, two sources familiar with the selection told THE CITY. The move stems from the Feds’ recently announced settlement with the city aimed at kick-starting reforms in the nation’s biggest municipal housing authority.

Schwartz chairs a children’s theater group founded by Fulani, a two-time fringe-party candidate for president who is long-known for her strange-bedfellows politics and divisive past comments about Jews and Israel.

More recently, Fulani has organized protests attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to fix NYCHA by turning over management of thousands of public housing apartments to private companies. Fulani has stoked the theory that NYCHA ultimately intends to turn over its public property to developers — a claim de Blasio denies.

Schwartz was chosen by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson as part of a settlement to ratchet up oversight of NYCHA. His appointment is set to be ratified by an internal HUD committee next week, with an announcement to follow, the sources told THE CITY.

As the new monitor for the housing agency, Schwartz will tackle the most important element of the deal announced last month between Berman, Carson, and de Blasio aimed at addressing NYCHA’s failure to provide decent housing for many of its 400,000 tenants.

The system’s aging 325 developments are beset by woes ranging from lead and mold contamination to broken elevators.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Fulani said she would comment on the monitor job once it’s announced officially. Schwartz did not return calls seeking comment.

Schwartz, who is in his early 70s, worked in the 1980s under then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Giuliani. In recent years, he’s served as a federal monitor in high-profile cases involving General Motors and Deutsche Bank.

In 2016, Cuomo tapped Schwartz to examine all state grants awarded in the economic stimulus program known as Buffalo Billions. His appointment followed the criminal charges filed against several recipients of the program in a scandal that ultimately resulted in the conviction of one of Cuomo’s top aides.

The new NYCHA monitor’s résumé also includes key fundraising and oversight roles with the All Stars Project, a nonprofit Fulani founded and helps run that seeks to help underprivileged youth via theater programs that examine real-life issues. Schwartz is on the group’s national board and chairs the board of All Stars’ New York City affiliate.

Schwartz first became involved with the All Stars Project in 2004 — the same year the group produced a play called “Crown Heights” that was blasted by the Anti-Defamation League for erroneously blaming Jews for the racial violence that erupted in that Brooklyn neighborhood in 1991.

The play was co-written by Fulani’s late mentor, Fred Newman, who dismissed criticism of the false depiction of Jewish actions in the play by stating, “I don’t believe in the truth.”

Schwartz was honored by the All Stars in 2012, and joined the board of their New York City affiliate in 2015, according to an October 31 press release by group. He is listed as a major supporter of ASP’s “Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids,” a program that works with the NYPD to improve communication between the department and youth in minority communities. Fulani is listed as Cops & Kids’ current director.

In October, Schwartz was elected to the group’s national board and made chairman of the New York City board. In the last five years, the All Stars have twice operated with budget deficits in 2013 and 2016, tax forms reviewed by THE CITY show.

Fulani and Newman founded All Stars Project in 1981. The group’s website notes that in addition to running Cops & Kids, Fulani is “dean” of a continuing education program called UX, described as a “unique institution of continued development which is free of cost and open to people of all ages and backgrounds.”

The group says it provides programming to 20,000 youths annually in six cities nationwide, and has raised millions of dollars with help from corporate sponsors such as MetLife, JPMorgan Chase bank, and Viacom.

Many of the plays produced by All Stars were co-written by Newman, who died in 2011. In the 1970s, Newman practiced what he called “social therapy,” advising patients to embrace radical political thought as a means of psychological therapy. He also encouraged patients to have sex with their therapists, calling the practice “friendosexuality.” Several former supporters of Newman’s group later labeled it a cult, contending he pressured patients into supporting his political campaigns.

Newman met then-graduate student Fulani in the mid-1970s and the two went on to form or merge with several fringe political parties in New York, including the Independence Party, which would in 2001 endorse Michael Bloomberg in his first campaign for mayor. Over the years, the party threw its support behind an unusual collection of candidates, from the Reverend Al Sharpton to Pat Buchanan.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Fulani made comments about Jews and Israel labeled anti-Semitic by her critics. Among them: her 1989 declaration that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color” to retain control of Israel — a remark she defended 16 years later on NY1.

Then-Mayor Bloomberg — who’d received the support of the Independence Party, the party Fulani ran at the time — called her comments “phenomenally offensive” and “reprehensible.”

In 2007, she repudiated her earlier remarks, stating that she no longer felt that Israel deserved to face sanctions.

More recently, Fulani has organized rallies at NYCHA developments and on the steps of City Hall, blasting de Blasio’s plan to raise funds for much-needed upgrades of NYCHA’s 175,000 aging apartments by increasinglyturning over management of these buildings to the private sector.

In the federal program the mayor is embracing, NYCHA retains ownership of the buildings and the companies manage and maintain them, allowing the Housing Authority to focus resources on other properties. In recent weeks, the mayor announced plans to greatly expand this private management to 62,000 apartments — about one-third of NYCHA’s inventory.

This story was originally published in Intelligencer at nymag.com.