EAST NEW YORK — The six major mayoral candidates accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg of turning his back on the victims of Superstorm Sandy Thursday night, and warned the mold epidemic that has emerged in its wake is now a public health emergency.
Together on stage for the first time, the four Democrats and two Republicans pulled no punches, battering Bloomberg on housing issues at a mayoral forum hosted by the Daily News and the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation at the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York.
"New York City government, from day one, failed the people of this city," said former city Comptroller Bill Thompson, who said the administration failed to provide adequate help to communities ravaged by Sandy in the days and weeks after the storm.
"This is a city that wanted to run a marathon while people were just moving into shelters and unfortunately bodies were still being found," he said, adding that the city continues "to stick their head in the sand" by acting as though the crisis is over.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio likened the response to former President George W. Bush landing on the aircraft carrier and declaring "Mission Accomplished" while the Iraq war was still far from won. And long-shot candidate and media publisher Tom Allon invoked 9/11 and the failure to recognize the public health risk until it was too late.
"It's quite possible that Mayor Bloomberg does not know what mold is," City Comptroller John Liu quipped, to loud applause
Former MTA Chairman and Republican candidate Joe Lhota — making his first appearance on a forum stage — said the city had failed by taking a citywide approach and refusing to change course when things weren't working.
"I think there's no question we are embarking on a public health crisis," he said.
Even City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a close Bloomberg ally, offered criticism, saying that not including mold remediation as part of the city's "rapid repairs" program was a mistake.
The candidates also had harsh words for the beleaguered New York City Housing Authority, slamming the city's management and its chairman John Rhea.
"I would not keep John Rhea as the head of the housing authority," said Quinn, who argued the post should be filled by someone with public housing and finance experience.
Allon was more blunt, dubbing Rhea "the Cathie Black of NYCHA," and called on the other candidates to pressure Bloomberg to oust Rhea now.
de Blasio, however, said the problem was the result of a larger disinterest in public housing by the mayor.
"NYCHA can't work if the mayor doesn't care about the people living there, " he said. "The fish stinks from the head."
Lhota said the agency needs a “change agent," and also suggested that the first floors of NYCHA buildings be converted into stores and restaurants to build community and drive revenue that could then be used to fund repairs.
Bloomberg dismissed the criticism Friday morning, noting the rapid repairs program has helped fix more than 7,000 homes.
“Nobody’s ever done this before. In every other case, in every disaster that I know, you’re on your own,” he said.
During the forum, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson also tweeted out a recent poll that showed the majority of New Yorkers, 65-23, approved of the mayor's Sandy performance.
Thompson later dismissed the findings.
"Go speak to the people in the Rockaways, talk to the people in South Brooklyn, in Coney Island, in Sea Gate," he told DNAinfo.com New York. "I think they would disagree."
NYCHA resident Rossana Delacuadra was among the questioners who pressed the candidates on bad NYCHA conditions. She blames her 6-year-old daughter, Amanda's, asthma on mold that has plagued their Van Dyke Houses apartment for years.
She said she was impressed by the candidates' responses — especially from de Blasio, whom other audience members also said stood out, along with Quinn.
Others said they'd hold their judgment until they took a closer look at the candidates' records.
"Everybody interviews well, but that doesn't mean that they can do the job," said church member and Bed-Stuy resident Angela Moses, 50, who said she'll be curious to see "if they really can bring it from the page to the stage."