New York mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis on Thursday called for an overhaul of the city’s post-Sandy recovery program, calling Build It Back “one of the monumental failures” of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.

Malliotakis, a Republican state assemblywoman from Staten Island, said that if elected she would present a series of corrective measures to the federal government.

“It’s an example of what not to do as Texas prepares to rebuild,” she said in reference to this week’s damage in the Houston area from Hurricane Harvey.

“It’s an example of what not to do as Texas prepares to rebuild,” said New York mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis.(Credit: Nicole Malliotakis for NYC mayor)

Widespread complaints about delays, red tape and management surrounded Build It Back, which de Blasio predecessor Michael Bloomberg launched after Hurricane Sandy struck New York on Oct 29, 2012.

An audit two years ago by city Comptroller Scott Stringer said the city paid out millions for incomplete work, double-billing and undocumented travel costs and paid consultants millions while Sandy applicants waited. It also said the same subcontractors that bungled earlier work remained on the job, working without legally enforceable controls.

“New York City’s response to Sandy was a case study in dysfunction,” Stringer said at the time.

Speaking to reporters Thursday outside a Sandy-battered home on Roma Avenue along the East Shore of Staten Island – and after holding a similar event at Brooklyn’s Gerritsen Beach -- Malliotakis said the city isn’t fully prepared for a Houston-type catastrophe.

“We need to invest in infrastructure. We need to do a number of things,” she said. “We need better sewer systems. These projects like the wetlands projects need to move forward quicker. We need to get the Army Corps of Engineers wall up and running. That’s going to take significant time to do.

“In addition, we need to change insurance laws at the state level.”

De Blasio, who took office in January 2014, will face four challengers, including former City Council member Sal Albanese, in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

Mayoral press officer Melissa Grace defended the administration's record on Build It Back.

“When this mayor took over, not a single family in this program was back on their home,” she said. “While the process hasn't gone as fast as we'd like, 80% of families are now back in their homes. It may be the political season, but we're focused on continuing this critical progress.”

According to statistics provided by the mayor’s office, 97% of homeowners in the Build It Back program citywide have received a reimbursement check or a construction start; and 91% of city-managed construction projects under the program are complete.

Malliotakis said that at the end of last year, the program was running $500 million over its originally estimated cost of $1.7 billion.

“This is the epitome of bad government,” she said.

Roma Avenue homeowners Joseph and Kelly Ancona told of end runs they received from administrators and other personnel who dropped them from the program while Joseph Ancona was battling leukemia.

“One of their people saw me outside the house and said ‘your husband [ticked] off a lot of people in the program,” said Kelly Ancona. “How dare he say that when he’s lying in a bed at Sloan-Kettering.”

Malliotakis’ initiatives would include capping each grant at the assessed value of each home, to spread out limited funding; waiving property taxes and water charges during displacement; limiting the elevation of severely damaged homes because of their high costs; and “take the government out of the construction process” by allowing applicants to choose their contractors.

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Paul Burton

Paul Burton

Paul Burton is the Northeast Regional Editor for The Bond Buyer and the author of the book "Tales from the Newsrooms." He is a sought-after public speaker and has appeared on radio and TV shows, including former CBS News White House correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s public-affairs program, “Full Measure.”