Shoddy Construction and the Average New Yorker

The First Essential Scary Truth


August 28, 2005.  It seemed that every TV in every bar in New York City was turned to the coverage of Hurricane Katrina.  The two HD sets in my local were no different.  As I sipped at my pint, the CNN talking heads were showing file footage of the Superdome, where, they said, all those New Orleans residents who had nowhere else to go would be housed while the storm made landfall.


“Alex,” my buddy Nick asked.  “What is the most corrupt business in the US?”


“Politics,” I replied.


“How about the construction trades.”


“That works for me,” I said.


“And what is the most corrupt city in the country,” he continued.


New Orleans,” I said.


“Absolutely,” he nodded.  “If I were a citizen of that city, I’d walk to Lake Charles.  There is no way I’d go into the Superdome.”


And we all know how that played out.


Construction has always been a trade for tough guys, gangsters and those with the stomach for shady, occasionally above the table deals.  From the carting elements, aka the Teamsters, to the building inspectors, low level bureaucratic corruption, kick backs, strong arms and dealing with men with no necks are common place occurrences.  My Old Man was a developer and contractor so I grew up understanding this was just the way business was done.   The scene in the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield movie Back To School where he tells a college professor just how deals get done in the real world was, as they say on The Simpson’s, “funny ‘cause it’s true” for my brothers and I. 


Whatever you want to say about the way the Construction trades conducted their business, it was rare to see homes, buildings and other projects done in a shoddy fashion.  If you had attorneys, cops, the media and government agencies looking too closely at what went on, not only wouldn’t anything get built in a timely fashion but the odds were very good a jail cell would be in the future of the various players being investigated.


Much of that changed as the new millennium dawned.  April 17, 2001 saw Pulte Homes, one of the largest builders in builders in the country, featured on Dateline NBC as a violator of Lemon Laws among other issues of faulty home building. 

More recently, New York City has seen a spate of crane collapses that have further reduced the credibility of New York builders.  Mayor Bloomberg, of course, promises more stringent controls will be placed on builders and developers in the City.  Sure, we all feel safe when the mayor tells us there is nothing more to worry about, problem solved right?


Page 3, New York Daily News, 10/30/08.  Indictments have been handed down against Testwell Laboratories and 12 of the company’s officers.  Testwell, based in the Westchester suburb of Ossining, have been charged with enterprise corruption, grand larceny, falsification of business records and 47 other counts of malfeasance.  The company, which is supposed to test concrete and other elements of new construction projects, has apparently, been falsifying test results.  Among the projects named by the Manhattan DA as compromised by Testwell’s alleged cooking of the books are the new Yankee Stadium, the Freedom Tower, the JKF Air Train, various subway tunnel renovations and the South Ferry Terminal.


So, as I buy tickets to see the Tigers play the Yankees in their new home, I will be wondering in the back of my mind if the place will be able to hold up to the jumping up and down of the tens of thousands of fans that will be with me in possible danger.  Just more existential angst in the life of a city dweller.


My consolation is where the Testwell 12 will end up if convicted; living inside the walls of Ossining’s largest employer: Sing Sing Correctional Institution. 

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