The commissioner of the city’s Buildings Department, Patricia Lancaster, resigned this morning after coming under fire for a string of high-profile construction accidents, including last month’s deadly crane collapse.
The surprise resignation ends Lancaster’s tenure on a sour note. Throughout her stint, Lancaster won regular praise from Mayor Bloomberg for whipping a notoriously corrupt agency into shape and overseeing a massive re-writing of the city’s antiquated building code.
But yesterday, Bloomberg — no doubt feeling pressure to hold somebody accountable for the latest round of construction accidents — seemed to break with his standard practice of staunchly standing by his commissioners. “I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance,” Bloomberg was quoted saying.
So far this year, 13 people have died in city construction accidents, compared to 12 in all of 2007.
The mayor met with Lancaster, the first female commissioner at the agency, at Gracie Mansion this morning. A few hours later, City Hall sent out statements from both of them with news of Lancaster’s departure.
“Over the past six years, Patricia has moved the Department of Buildings a long way forward by fighting corruption, strengthening inspections and oversight, increasing the public’s access to information, and bringing increased levels of professionalism and integrity to all levels of her agency,” the mayor said. He also praised her for leading a “comprehensive overhaul of the city’s Byzantine building code, the first in 40 years.”
Lancaster was brought on in 2002 to reform the agency and to oversee a massive building boom that has meant more cranes and construction sites to monitor.
But last week at a City Council hearing she admitted that the site of the Upper East Side crane collapse was mistakenly granted a permit. Plans for the building violated zoning regulations for the area. While Lancaster contended that the accident was not a direct result of that error, some council members said the lapse was unacceptable.
Questions also arose about the department’s oversight and safety inspections after a worker fell from the site of the Trump Soho condo-hotel Site On Spring Street in January.
City Councilman Tony Avella, who has called for Lancaster’s resignation for months, told The Real Deal this morning that Lancaster’s replacement should be someone “with real professional experience” who could “rein in the industry,” he said.
“It has been the wild, Wild West out there and it is the agency’s fault that is has allowed this culture to develop,” Avella said.