New York City Hall falling into disrepair

Property could draw housing fines, councilman says

May 27, 2001|By Joanne Wasserman | Joanne Wasserman,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NEW YORK - Water-damaged ceilings. Exposed wiring. Chipped paint. Corroded woodwork.

City Hall, one of New York's most ornate, beautiful and historic buildings, is clearly getting a little shabby around the edges.

Two water stains and corroded woodwork directly over the entrances mar the 189-year-old building's beauty the moment a visitor walks inside.

An old rug in the visitor's balcony above the City Council chamber, where everyone from tourists to schoolchildren watches government at work, is so badly ripped and buckled that an elderly woman tripped six months ago and broke her ankle, City Hall police acknowledged.

The leather on the balcony's wooden chairs is badly torn, with tape covering the gashes and stuffing falling out of some seats. On some chairs, the wood is chipped and broken.

"City Hall is a landmark; it should be treated like one," said City Councilman John Sabini, a Queens Democrat and chairman of the Landmarks Committee.

"It doesn't have to be a palace, but it shouldn't look shabby, either," he said.

After a $28.6 million, year-long restoration of City Hall Park in 1998, parts of the building look downright dowdy by comparison.

But some rooms - namely the areas where Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani spends most of his time - are in fine shape.

Council officials said the agency in charge of City Hall upkeep plays favorites, lavishing the mayor's side of the building with generous and swift repairs while their side falls into ruin.

"At times we feel like we are poor neighbors," said a council spokesman, who said the Giuliani administration repeatedly was told of the disrepair but had done nothing.

In the council's basement offices, staff members work with exposed, dangling wires and opened ceilings.

Even the office of City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, a Queens Democrat, has chipping paint and water damage.

Said Councilman Bill Perkins, a Manhattan Democrat, after examining the stairwells: "If this was somebody's else's property, violations would be issued. This could the basis for a rent strike."

Water damage to the roof was "a more persistent problem" on the council side of the building but has been corrected, said Denise Collins, a city spokeswoman.

Collins said the gutters have been repaired and that other work would start in two months.

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