DNAinfo: Push to Close Building Safety Loophole After Deutsche Bank Acquittals

 

By Julie Shapiro

LOWER MANHATTAN — Politicians are renewing their call for stricter building and fire codes in the wake of the recent acquittals in the Deutsche Bank fire cases.

Borough President Scott Stringer and State Sen. Daniel Squadron say more than 800 buildings in New York — including the former Deutsche Bank building, which was razed — are exempt from city safety codes because they are owned by the state or federal government.

Those buildings, which include the United Nations and Lower Manhattan's federal courthouses, do not have to allow building and fire safety inspectors inside, nor are they subject to penalties for safety violations, Stringer said.

"It's time we extend basic code protections for all New Yorkers to all of our buildings — so these tragedies become a thing of the past," Stringer said.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron sponsored legislation last year that created a state-city panel to address the loophole. Squadron expects the panel to begin meeting later this year and issue recommendations that would go to the legislature for approval next spring.

"We can't ever undo what happened, but we can learn from it," Squadron said shortly after the last Deutsche not-guilty verdict was announced Tuesday. "This legislation is the first step in saving lives in the future."

After the August 2007 Deutsche Bank fire, three construction supervisors were charged with manslaughter for creating unsafe conditions in the toxic skyscraper that led to the deaths of two firefighters, Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia. 

But the supervisors were all acquitted this week and last week. Subcontractor John Galt Corp., also initially charged with manslaughter, was convicted only of second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor that carries up to a $5,000 fine.

Even in advance of new laws Stringer and Squadron hope to implement, some state agencies have already agreed to follow the city's rules.

The Port Authority, which owns the World Trade Center site, has committed to meet or exceed all city safety codes in the new skyscrapers, a spokesman said.

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Publication date: 
Thursday, July 7, 2011 - 00:00