This morning as I was walking up 3rd Avenue from my high-rise on 91st street to get the crosstown bus on 96th street headed to the west side of Manhattan, I noticed a number of police cars headed east of 3rd Avenue. After I got on the bus and was crossing through the park, a fire engine headed east in the opposite lane. This was an unusual occurrence, so much so that the woman sitting next to me on the bus asked me what was going on. Was there a big fire or something? I said I didn’t know and made no connection to the fire engine and the cop cars and the accident that loomed ahead.
About 9:40 each day, I go to the online edition of the NY Times to see how the stock market is doing. I don’t own any stocks but I am curious to see how the capitalist system is doing. This is what awaited me:
A crane toppled and collapsed onto a high-rise apartment building on East 91st Street on the Upper East Side on Friday morning, tearing off balconies and leaving a swath of damage, in the second Manhattan crane collapse in two months. One person, the operator of the crane’s cab, was killed and at least one other has been pulled from the wreckage, but that person’s condition was not immediately known, a law enforcement official said.
I called my apartment frantically to see if my wife was okay. She rarely walks over to First Avenue, 2 blocks east, unless she is with me en route to a restaurant in the evening but I was still worried. She answered the phone and told me that she was okay. That was a relief.
This has been the second such incident to occur in Manhattan in the last 3 months. In March, a crane collapsed on East 51st street killing four construction workers and injuring a dozen others. It was subsequently revealed that the site had not been inspected properly:
A city crane inspector faces felony criminal charges after he falsely claimed to have inspected a crane 11 days before it collapsed on the East Side, killing seven people and causing a wide swath of destruction, city officials said yesterday.
While the city’s top building official asserted it is “highly unlikely” a real inspection before the collapse would have prevented the tragedy, critics said the allegation was indicative of the Building Department’s lax approach to inspections.
Edward J. Marquette, 46, a crane inspector with the city Department of Buildings, was arrested Wednesday night after “things didn’t add up” with an inspection report he filed on the crane, said Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. Marquette had been sent to inspect the crane in response to a complaint that it had not been properly secured.
“According to our investigation, Marquette made false statements on his route sheet, indicating that he had inspected the crane,” Hearn said. “He has admitted to DOI that he did not inspect the crane on March 4th.”
It is related to the construction industry’s greed and a city government that favors the construction industry, even when liberal municipal politicians raise a stink when such accidents occur. Building inspectors are always taking bribes, going back to 1871 when the NY Times filed a report on ”Disgraceful Corruption in the Department of Buildings.” It described a meeting of 25 architects, ”uptown builders” and house owners who released an 11-point petition charging the department with ”tyranny” for habitually taking bribes. One $1,400 check was sent directly to James McGregory, the agency superintendent, to speed construction of a five-story structure.
I started writing this article about an hour ago. An update on the NY Times online edition provides new information:
According to city records, the company that is building the Azure is the Leon D. DeMatteis Construction Corporation of Elmont, on Long Island. A call to the sales office of 1765 First Associates L.L.C., a subsidiary of DeMatteis, was not immediately returned.
City records show that the building has been the subject of several complaints from residents who have called the city’s 311 hot line. On May 20, a caller complained about the crane, saying that its platform extended across the sidewalk and well into traffic. A Buildings Department inspector responded but determined there was no violation.
DeMatteis, it turns out, is my very own landlord. My building was in the Mitchell-Lama program that provided affordable housing to middle-class New Yorkers and tax abatements to the landlord. After the building satisfied its 20 year obligations to Mitchell-Lama, it was privatized. The tenants conducted an intense struggle with DeMatteis to maintain affordable rents that ultimately failed to achieve its goals. The wife and I feel like we are hanging on at the edge of precipice.
As this December 26, 1991 New York Times article indicates, the DeMatteis corporation is exactly the kind that would prosper in the city today.
New York Cancels Builder’s Contract, Citing Reports on Mob Ties
By SELWYN RAAB
New York City has revoked a $1.2 million contract with a major construction company that officials say concealed and altered reports about possible ties to organized-crime figures.
The contract was awarded in July to the Leon D. DeMatteis Construction Company of Elmont, L.I., to supervise the building of a $67 million jail annex on Rikers Island. But in a decision made public this week, the city said the company had withheld “troubling” information about its business associations and had submitted an altered copy of a report concerning its possible ties to reputed organized-crime figures.
Michael C. Rogers, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Contracts, who revoked the contract, said in an interview that the city would also move to disqualify the DeMatteis company from seeking other municipal contracts.
A spokesman for the company, Martin J. Steadman, called the decision to cancel the contract “assassination by innuendo.” He said the company was considering bringing a lawsuit seeking to restore the contract and “to protect and preserve our reputation.”
Mr. Steadman said Mr. Rogers’s findings were based on allegations that had been previously investigated and rejected by Federal prosecutors in New York and the authorities in New Jersey.
In August the New York City Comptroller, Elizabeth Holtzman, urged Mayor David N. Dinkins to cancel the contract, which had been awarded by the Department of General Services to the DeMatteis company to oversee the design and construction of the 500-bed jail annex.
Ms. Holtzman said the company’s chief executive officer, Frederick DeMatteis, had been the principal owner of the Cedar Park Concrete Corporation. Cedar Park, she noted, had been identified in a Federal trial as a company used by Mafia leaders to rig concrete contracts in the early 1980′s.
Mr. DeMatteis has acknowledged being a business partner from 1984 to 1988 in the Metro Concrete Company in New York with the son-in-law of Paul Castellano, the former head of the Gambino crime family who was killed outside an East Side restaurant in December 1985.
In a report, Mr. Rogers said that Mr. DeMatteis has never been accused of criminal wrongdoing. But he said that when the company applied for the contract, it did not disclose in a background questionnaire that it had been the subject of law-enforcement investigations.
Mr. Rogers also said that in response to Ms. Holtzman’s objections, the DeMatteis company submitted an altered copy of a report that had been prepared by the office of the New Jersey Attorney General about Mr. DeMatteis’s business dealings with reputed organized-crime figures.
Officials of the company said that the report was mistakenly revised by a lawyer who had represented the company in New Jersey and that there was no attempt by the company to deceive the city.
“The cases in which information was not disclosed here are just too numerous to be explained away,” Mr. Rogers said in his report. “When the totality of circumstances is considered, the picture that is presented is that the DeMatteis Corporation is not a responsible vendor.”
In the late 1980′s the DeMatteis company built a $28 million jail and a $19 million Sanitation Department garage for the city. It has no other current contracts with the city.
The company, one of the largest residential and commercial builders and developers in the New York region, constructed the Museum Tower, a luxury apartment building above the Museum of Modern Art on West 53d Street, and the Confucius Plaza apartments on Chatham Square in lower Manhattan.
Evidently, DeMatteis was not qualified to build an annex to the Rikers Island jailhouse but qualified enough to erect a high-rise 2 blocks from my home, endangering the lives of workers and local residents. An annex should have been built just to house the DeMatteis family and they should have thrown away the key.
It turns out that the crane company involved with the East 91st street accident, owned by one James F. Lomma, has some track record.
The New York Times, September 18, 1999
Crane Secured for Storm Falls, Killing a Worker in Chelsea
By JODI WILGOREN with KEVIN FLYNN
A huge crane collapsed at a Chelsea construction site yesterday morning, killing one worker and injuring three others after the crane operator tried to hoist the boom without releasing special restraints intended to prevent an accident once Hurricane Floyd reached the city, officials said.
The 383-foot red steel crane, which had become a fixture in the bustling neighborhood, buckled under the restraints, tumbled backward and crashed at the corner of 24th Street and the Avenue of the Americas just after 7 A.M., crushing a carpenter who was having breakfast on the sidewalk before heading to work at the site.
The man, Kenneth Preiman, 43, suffered severe head injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene, where the crane knocked over a traffic light and a lamppost and left a hole a foot deep in the sidewalk…
A field supervisor for Laquila/Pinnacle said both the crane operator and the victim worked for the company, which is based in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Laquila/Pinacle has been subcontracted to create the concrete superstructure for the 29-story, $75 million apartment building, which is scheduled to open in the spring. The crane belonged to New York Crane, a subsidiary of Lomma Construction.
The New York Times, March 17, 2008
Fall of Six-Ton Support Caused Crane to Topple
By WILLIAM NEUMAN and CHARLES V. BAGLI
The spectacular collapse of a towering crane on the East Side began when a massive piece of steel designed to secure it to a new high-rise building came loose and pancaked on top of a second support nine stories below, shearing it free and creating a fatal imbalance that sent the 22-story crane toppling across a two-block swath of Turtle Bay, officials said on Sunday.
Officials were focusing their investigation in part on the way the steel piece — called a ”collar” — was being installed, including whether a series of hoists and nylon straps used to hold it temporarily in place were strong enough to sustain its weight, said Patricia J. Lancaster, the buildings commissioner. Building officials estimated the weight at 12,000 pounds.
Meanwhile, work crews and rescuers swarmed over the site of the disaster, on 51st Street and 50th Street just east of Second Avenue. They began to remove portions of the broken crane’s white lattice tower, one leaning against a 19-story building on 51st Street and another, which had broken off and tumbled through the air, lying across a demolished four-story town house on 50th Street.
Four construction workers — a crane operator and three riggers who were helping to ”jump” the crane, or increase its height — were killed. Three people were missing. On Sunday, as hope dwindled, firefighters, including a unit that specializes in building collapses, continued to search for signs of life. ”We’re still calling it a search operation, though with each passing hour, things are getting more grim,” said Nicholas Scoppetta, the fire commissioner.
The crane was owned by New York Crane & Equipment Corporation, but it had apparently been leased to one of the contractors involved in the project.
NY Times, May 31, 2008
Investigators Look at Equipment, Not Crane’s Operators
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
Investigators are focusing on a bad weld as the possible cause of an accident on Friday in which the top of a crane snapped off, crashed into a building across the street and killed two construction workers, the city’s acting buildings commissioner said.
Investigators were also trying to determine whether a crucial part of the crane — the rotating plate that connects the cab and boom at the top to the tower — had been removed from a different construction job a year ago after developing a dangerous crack, another city official said.
Questions about the history and condition of the turntable may turn the focus of the investigation to its owner, New York Crane, which was also the company that owned the crane that collapsed on March 15 on East 51st Street.
That accident occurred under very different circumstances, when sections were being added to increase the crane’s height. Investigators believe that the crew making the crane taller may have made mistakes in the way they supported a huge steel collar high up on the crane. The collar fell, knocking out the cranes supports and causing it to collapse onto nearby buildings.
James F. Lomma, the owner of New York Crane and Equipment, did not return calls left at his office in New Jersey or on his cell phone.