In a town where who you are in politics can be defined by who your friends are, E. Troy Washington, the executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority, has strikingly few friends these days. It seems that the city’s two major political factions – headed by Mayor Anthony Russo and City Councilman Dave Roberts – have both decided they aren’t big fans of the executive director.
Even Michael Lenz, a potential mayoral candidate who claims to represent a “third way,” took to the podium at a recent HHA meeting to get in his licks at Washington.
To some extent, the hostile political climate mirrors the environment at the projects, where some residents have undertaken a noisy campaign to oust the executive director. It has become politically incorrect to support him.Washington’s critics say that the upgrades of bathrooms at the projects and of other facilities have been managed poorly. Washington, who has served as executive director for the last two years since being promoted from comptroller, has argued that anytime changes come, feathers are ruffled. He argues that he inherited a messy situation at the housing authority that will take more time to iron out, but that positive steps like the implementation of a joint security force with the Hoboken police have been taken.
For months, people close to the situation have said that it is unlikely Washington would be retained once his contract expires in April. A provision in the contract says that the executive director needs to be notified at least 120 days before his dismissal, so any action is likely to come soon.
But just when it seemed that Washington’s days may in fact be over at the HHA, a new and potentially powerful friend has emerged.
Thanks to the efforts of Carrie Gilliard, the president of the Hoboken Chapter of the NAACP, local members of the storied civil rights group will soon begin contacting board members and urging them to retain the administrator, Gilliard said. There are approximately 100 members in the group, half of whom live in the projects, said Gilliard on Monday.
The involvement of the group comes approximately a month after Washington, who is African-American, made a presentation to NAACP members on plans to turn the agency around after years of problems. In the late 1990s, before Washington’s reign, the agency scored poor marks in nearly every category that HUD evaluates. The buildings and grounds were in poor shape. It took months to turn over vacant apartments and there were widespread rumors of corruption. A HHA Board member was actually arrested for official misconduct, and the federal government threatened to take control of the projects away from the locally appointed-board.
While Washington’s critics maintain that things have gotten only marginally better under Washington, Gilliard doesn’t think so. She points out that Washington’s contract was renewed about six months ago and he was given a raise. “Have things changed that dramatically in that short of a time?” she asked Monday in a phone conversation. “I don’t think so.”
“My concern is that Mr. Washington may be removed without cause,” she added. “He has been there for awhile and he is making changes and they may not be as fast as some would like, but in my conversations with the tenants they feel that he is making improvements. Change is not always embraced and it can be hard.”
Gilliard suggested that instead of trying to tear down the executive director, people ought to try to work with him. When asked for an example of how that might happen, the NAACP officer pointed to a mentoring program that she hoped to help establish with Washington at the HHA.
According to Gilliard, who also serves on the school board, the uproar over the executive director and his job performance is nothing more than “political opportunism.”
“I am concerned because the reason they want to remove him seems like a political situation,” she said. “It looks like political opportunists need someplace to hang their hats and they chose to go after him. I don’t want to see him removed for that kind of a situation.”
When asked who she thought was trying to score political points by attacking Washington, the NAACP president declined to name names.
Gilliard also said that the NAACP’s involvement in this situation had nothing to do with race. Washington, who is black, would have received equal support from the organization were he was white, she said.
“This is about justice,” she said.
Lynda Walker, an outspoken tenant who has led the charge to have Washington removed as executive director, said that she was disappointed that this was an issue that the NAACP had decided to get involved in.
“Where was the NAACP when the tenants were not getting anything done in terms of our new bathrooms?” she asked Wednesday after hearing the news of the group’s involvement. “Where was the NAACP when there were all those apartments open and people who needed homes weren’t getting them? Where was the NAACP when all of this was going on?”
Walker said that she did not think that the NAACP’s involvement really had anything to do with Washington or the residents.
“All of a sudden they are here to make a name for themselves that looks mighty suspicious to me,” she said. “I have heard that Carrie wants to run for office and she knows that I may run for office and she knows my resume. I have a whole lot of evidence of what I have done down here.”
Gilliard said that her political plans had nothing to do with the NAACP’s decision to get involved. Carrie Gilliard declined to say whether she planned to seek a City Council seat.
“The easy way out is to beat up on Troy Washington,” Gilliard said. “And then when he is terminated you get someone worse. It’s like a never-ending cycle. Sometimes it is best to work with what you have.”