2019 Grammy Nominations: Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Women Lead the Way

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The nominees for the four marquee awards are split between the hip-hop streaming juggernauts and more niche artists. “Scorpion,” “Black Panther: The Album,” “Beerbongs & Bentleys” and Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” all topped the chart and have been fixtures on streaming services.

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Carlile, who has been nominated just once before (in the best Americana album category), sold only 43,000 copies of her nominated album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” in its debut week, when it reached No. 5 on the Billboard chart. The self-titled debut from H.E.R. peaked at No. 47 and does not feature a hit single, while Musgraves — who was also nominated for best solo country performance (“Butterflies”), best country album and best country song (“Space Cowboy”) — has sold barely 100,000 copies of her album of the year contender, “Golden Hour.” Monáe’s “Dirty Computer,” another best album nominee, was also a modest seller.

In recent years, hip-hop and R&B, genres that dominate commercially, have been more prevalent in the major Grammy categories, but that has not always translated to wins: Jay-Z, the most nominated artist at the ceremony in January, came up empty in eight categories this time, and Lamar, who has now been nominated 37 times and won 12, has lost album of the year three times. (Most recently, the pop/R&B singer Bruno Mars took home the big award for his album “24K Magic.”)

“Black Panther: The Album,” which also features the Weeknd and a smattering of West Coast rap, plus elements of African music, could prove a roundabout contender for best album. In the last 40 years, three soundtracks have won in that category — “Saturday Night Fever” in 1979, “The Bodyguard” in 1994 and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” in 2002. (The first-ever Grammy Award for album of the year went to a TV soundtrack: Henry Mancini’s “The Music From Peter Gunn.”)

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H.E.R. Slips Out from the Shadows With Five Grammy Nominations

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H.E.R. — the stage name of the R&B singer who earned a star-making five Grammy nominations Friday morning — stands for “having everything revealed.” In fact, the 21-year-old songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind the project, Gabriella Wilson, is notable for her lack of exposure: For years, she’s played the enigmatic artist, à la the Weeknd’s early rise, hiding her face and insisting on letting the music speak loudest.

Those days may be coming to an end now that H.E.R. sits alongside Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Childish Gambino and Cardi B as top Grammy contenders at the 2019 show in February. The singer will compete for not only best new artist, best R&B performance, best R&B song and best R&B album, but also the big one: album of the year.

[Kendrick Lamar leads nominees and women dominate major categories: see the full story.]

Wilson’s studio debut, “H.E.R.”, was released in October 2017 by MBK/RCA, combining two previously released EPs and six new tracks of throwback R&B that also feel at home on SoundCloud. The collection peaked at No. 47 on the Billboard chart, but made fans of Rihanna and, apparently, the Recording Academy.

On Friday morning, after a tour stop Thursday night in Houston, Wilson spoke to The New York Times about breaking through, the power of playlists and how she learned about her Grammy nominations. Though she sounded surprisingly Zen over the phone, the singer insisted: “I’m really not calm at all.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Congratulations on your nominations. Where were you when you found out the news, and how long did it take to feel real?

I’ve got to tell you the story because it’s actually hilarious. It’s 7 in the morning and I get a call from my tour manager saying, “Everybody needs to come to your room, we need to have a meeting, the tour might be canceled, it’s an emergency.”

He tried to make a big thing, telling everyone the tour might be canceled “because … you’re nominated for five Grammys!” I started bugging out, going crazy and we’re all just celebrating. A few of us started crying. I didn’t know how to take it. It just felt so surreal. Five! Not even just one. It’s such a big deal.

How did you sleep last night knowing the nominations were coming?

I didn’t think about it. I’ve actually been sick for the past few days and kind of down, trying to push through the shows. That was the last thing I was thinking about. But it just made everything better.

[Who got snubbed, and whose nomination was a big surprise? See the round table.]

Mystery and anonymity have been part of your brand up to this point — you perform in big sunglasses and don’t like to discuss your biography. Are you ready for the spotlight that comes with being a five-time Grammy nominee?

I guess so [laughs]. It’s organically happening and I think I did exactly what I wanted to do, considering the five Grammy nominations. People are focused on the music and that was what was most important to me — people appreciating my art above all things. It was God’s plan and everything worked out in my favor.

Do you think you’ll wear sunglasses to the show?

Probably! [laughs]

How would you describe the H.E.R. project to the people who might be running to Google this morning?

Man, first of all, it’s an EP project, not even a real album yet. It’s me. It’s musical, but also this new R&B sound. Lyrically, it’s real and true to me, and I’ve experienced so much. But it’s true to so many other women. It’s honest.

Like SZA or Lauryn Hill before her, your songs seem to connect with women of your generation. Do you think of yourself as part of a movement with the other women nominated today, from Janelle Monáe and Cardi B to people like Brandi Carlile or Kacey Musgraves?

Absolutely. It’s girl power, you know? The recognition is dope. It’s empowering to see how many talented women there are, especially right now.

As a black woman in a genre like R&B, how have you thought about the way the Grammys recognize your culture and community before today? Obviously there have been a lot of conversations about diversity and inclusion the last few years; do you see these nominations as a step in the right direction?

Absolutely. But number one: We’re taking it. As a black woman, I’ve always had to work hard to earn my respect as a musician — and as a young woman, too. As a writer, in certain sessions or certain rooms people think, “Who’s kid is this? Who’s this little girl?” I’ve had to prove myself. It’s unfortunate sometimes that we have to work twice as hard, but we’re taking it now and we’re empowering each other. The diversity is great, but it’s about that, “I don’t care, I’m going against the grain, it doesn’t matter who’s in the way” mentality.

Is there any pressure that comes with being part of this crop of women at the Grammys, the year after there was backlash over the “step up” comment?

I don’t feel much pressure, honestly. Being nominated for five Grammys with an EP — and nobody knows what I look like — that’s already enough of a statement. A lot of women need to know that they don’t have to conform, they don’t have to take no for an answer.

You also come from a streaming background — building buzz and a fan base on SoundCloud more than, say, the radio. Do you think the industry is catching up to these scenes?

Oh, absolutely. I’m selling out every single one of my shows on this tour — 3,000, 4,000 people a night — with no radio single. I think sometimes we build a stronger base when it comes to streaming. People are singing all the words to every song. That’s how we receive music nowadays — it’s Apple Music, it’s YouTube, Tidal, whatever. It’s playlists. Being put on those playlists is more important than being put on the radio. Some people can have a No. 1, but can’t sell 200 tickets. It’s really powerful to have a strong base that genuinely loves the music and plays it over and over again.

Even though you’re a newcomer to the Grammys, you’ve been training and playing music professionally since you were a child. Were you the type to practice your Grammy performance or acceptance speech into a hairbrush or did you not even let yourself imagine a moment like this?

Hell yeah — I was that kid! I would not be able to sleep at night and I would practice my Grammys speech. That was definitely me. Maybe I spoke it into existence.

Any big plans you’ve had in the back of your mind for the ceremony in February?

Man, I don’t know! I’m making them now. I’m just so excited and overwhelmed. Ask me tomorrow.

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Grammy Nominee Brandi Carlile Has ‘Never Won Anything, Not Even a Karaoke Contest’

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Since 2005, the folk and Americana singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile has quietly put out albums that are well-received by critics and her fairly modest fan base — Barack Obama included — and that was enough for her.

She landed the occasional song on a big soundtrack, and in 2015 she was nominated for her first Grammy, best Americana album. Her LP “The Firewatcher’s Daughter” didn’t win, but it was a big deal nonetheless.

On Friday morning, all of that became prelude as Carlile woke up to find that she had been nominated for six Grammy awards in 2019, including album of the year. She’s the most nominated female artist, and behind just Kendrick Lamar and Drake over all. Her most recent album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” was released in February and will compete against those rap stars — along with Post Malone, Janelle Monáe, Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves and H.E.R. — for the biggest prize of the night, while her empowerment ballad “The Joke” is up for record of the year, song of the year, best American roots performance and best American roots song.

[Kendrick Lamar leads nominees and women dominate major categories: see the full story.]

Carlile took a break from responding to a flood of text messages to speak by phone about her shocking morning. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Who do you think was more surprised and confused this morning: you or fans of Post Malone?

I don’t know, I saw a lot of pictures of Belinda Carlisle and some pretty solid misspellings, so I imagine it was equal doses of shock all the way around.

How did you find out?

[My publicist] called me at 5:30 in the morning and I just stumbled over to my home alarm and started trying to disarm it so I could walk out of the room, because I didn’t want to wake up my baby. Honestly, I didn’t know if I was awake — I was in absolute disbelief. Within 15 minutes, I had about 130 texts.

How would you describe Brandi Carlile, the artist, for those people who are finding out about you for the first time?

Well, I’m 37, I have a wife and two kids, and I’ve been doing this since I was a child. I’ve put in my fair share of miles and time in a van and this is for all intents and purposes, in my opinion, my seventh album and something that I poured my heart and soul into. To see it recognized this way is stunning.

You’ve said that “By the Way, I Forgive You” is about “radical forgiveness” toward all of the people who may have wronged you in various ways throughout your life. But was there anyone you thought of this morning, in a flash of pettiness, like, “Oh, man, I showed you!” Be honest.

Totally — three or four. Actually we were just talking about that and I was like, “I won’t even let their names pass my lips because the gratefulness is the lesson I’m learning most from this day.” I realized all along that I really essentially am a privileged white person in America who’s never had anything other than my dreams come true. Even though I did work really hard, I have perspective on this. And I wouldn’t by any means say I deserve it.

[Who got snubbed, and whose nomination was a big surprise? See the round table.]

Did you have a sense in crafting this record with the producers Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings that it might be a breakout for you? You’ve had commercial success before — a song on “Grey’s Anatomy,” for instance — but this feels like another level.

I thought it might emotionally be a breakout for me. I was reading a Joni Mitchell interview about the emotional state that she was in when she came to believe that it was time for her to write a record like “Blue,” where it wasn’t observational, but personal revelations. I knew it was that for me, and it was the first time I wasn’t hiding behind phrasing and punch lines and jokes.

But in terms of something like this, no, it never even crossed my mind. I’m a chicken farmer. I’ve never won anything, not even a karaoke contest and I’ve been in a lot of them.

You make music in a more traditional mode than someone like Post Malone, who is drenched in Auto-Tune, or Cardi B, who came up on Instagram, and we all know which direction the Grammys biases tend to go. Does any part of you worry about being the more niche, left-field spoiler, like Esperanza Spalding, Beck or Bon Iver?

No. Not at all. At the end of the day, especially right now in this country, people want truth and forgiveness and healing. Those things aren’t coming from me, but anything that alludes to them, I think, draws people in at the moment. That’s what we’re seeing.

Are there artists in the main crop that you’re a fan of?

Every single one of them. I’m obsessed with Kendrick Lamar and Drake. And I cannot stay off Cardi B’s Instagram. My wife has a policy: No Cardi B Instagram in bed because it will wake up the kids.

In “The Joke,” you have this line: “You get discouraged, don’t you, girl? It’s your brother’s world for a while longer.” Where did that come from?

I was in London on Election Day, two Novembers ago, and I woke up just feeling so utterly exposed. For eight years, I’d been so comfortable in my politics because I felt like we had a president that represented my worldview in way that I didn’t need to say or do much. I just remember this sense of shame when I woke up in another country and saw what happened in mine. I started thinking about those words then, before it was ever a song. And I knew that it would awaken a generation of activists and that if it was my brother’s world, it wouldn’t be for long.

After a year in which the Grammys faced a lot of backlash for its gender representation, how does it feel to have a song that’s kind of about those same ideas nominated in all the big categories? Does it feel like an apology from the Academy to womankind?

I think it’s a shift in the collective consciousness — of the voters and the administrators, and it’s a conversation that just kind of took place in the astral plane of sorts. I know I sound like woo-ey old lesbian, but it happened and we’re seeing evidence of it today.

Unlike some other awards shows, the Grammys have not really been a stage for resonant protest in recent years, despite the upheaval in the country. As a gay woman in America in 2018, can you imagine bringing politics to the show in your time onstage?

In the music I can. I’ve been twice and seen Kendrick Lamar just completely — literally — set the place on fire. I find those the most inspiring performances by far. Because it reflects a time for me in music when musicians were activists and activists were musicians during the Vietnam War. I don’t know if it’s because of the devastation we’re seeing in the landscape of American politics and the Supreme Court, but I think for the first time, the music matters again like it did then. And the people that are leading the charge, in my opinion, are African-Americans, women and artists pushing the envelope outside of the boundaries of genre.

Does your daughter know yet about the nominations, or care?

I told her this morning and she didn’t give a [expletive]. She’s like, “Can I watch ‘Paw Patrol’?”

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David Pecker, Chief of National Enquirer’s Publisher, Is Said to Get Immunity in Trump Inquiry

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Federal prosecutors determined that in American Media’s work with Mr. Cohen — and for Mr. Trump’s candidacy, according to Mr. Cohen — the company operated in more of a supportive political function for Mr. Trump, The Times reported in July.

And when the authorities subpoenaed the company in April, its executives decided against fighting it, agreeing to cooperate where warranted, and where they deemed officials were not violating First Amendment rights.

The company’s cooperation has provided prosecutors with a second line of access to communications about the effort to protect Mr. Trump’s secrets involving women during the campaign, on top of the information provided by Mr. Cohen.

Though several people familiar with American Media’s operations have said that the company keeps a strict records policy that ensures that emails are deleted regularly, it is not clear that the same held for encrypted communications or recordings. Dylan Howard, the company’s chief content officer, who is also said to be cooperating, was known to have a recording device in his office, according to people familiar with his operations. American Media would not comment.

In court documents filed on Tuesday, federal prosecutors cited “encrypted” communications among Mr. Pecker, Mr. Howard and Mr. Cohen regarding the payoff to Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film actress known as Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a brief affair with Mr. Trump.

Among the records prosecutors subpoenaed last spring were communications between Mr. Pecker and Mr. Howard. According to the court documents made public this week, Mr. Pecker and Mr. Howard had been in touch with Mr. Cohen about both Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who said she had a 10-month affair with Mr. Trump that began in 2006, and Ms. Clifford.

In June 2016, when Ms. McDougal approached American Media, whose tabloids include The National Enquirer, about selling her story, both Mr. Pecker and Mr. Howard provided Mr. Cohen a heads-up, prosecutors said.

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Julie Yip-Williams, Writer of Candid Blog on Cancer, Dies at 42

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Her older sister, Lyna Yip, who arrived in the United States with two of her uncles ahead of her parents, sister and brother, also had surgery to remove cataracts but emerged with better vision. The family settled in Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles. Ms. Yip-Williams’s father became a wholesale vegetable buyer and her mother a manicurist.

Ms. Yip-Williams received a bachelor’s degree in English and Asian Studies from Williams College in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard Law School.

She joined the law firm Cleary Gottlieb in New York in 2002 and specialized there in corporate governance and mergers and acquisitions.

Reflecting on her acceptances to Williams and Harvard Law and then being hired by Cleary, she said at a fund-raising event sponsored by the law firm in 2014, “I never felt like I belonged in any of these fine institutions: a poor immigrant girl who wasn’t that smart but was willing to work hard, rubbing elbows with America’s elite.”

Besides her husband, who is also a lawyer, she is survived by her daughters, parents, brother and sister.

In a blog entry written last July, she addressed her daughters, telling them about the instructions she had left (from “who your dentist is” to “when your school tuition needs to be paid”) and the videos she would make (“about all the ins and outs of the apartment”).

But she also had blunter, yet inspiring, things to say, about loss and the unfairness of life.

“You will be deprived of a mother,” she wrote. “As your mother, I wish I could protect you from the pain. But also as your mother, I want you to feel the pain, to live it, embrace it, and then learn from it. Be stronger people because of it, for you will know that you carry my strength within you. Be more compassionate people because of it; empathize with those who suffer in their own ways.”

And, she wrote, “Rejoice in life and all of its beauty because of it; live with special zest and zeal for me.”

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Fixing Public Housing: A Day Inside a $32 Billion Problem

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The six brick buildings sit on a hill in West Harlem winding with spacious tree-lined paths. They tower high enough to give many of the 3,000 New Yorkers that reside there enviable views of Manhattan. And on each floor of the 20-story buildings, open terraces bathe residents in light and fresh air.

But inside the apartment units of the Manhattanville Houses, a development with one of the worst maintenance backlogs in the city, living conditions have deteriorated. Leaks, crumbling walls and peeling paint have become the norm.

After years of disinvestment, and amid a pervasive culture of cover-ups it admitted to in federal court in June, the New York City Housing Authority has struggled to keep pace with basic repairs in its 325 developments. The agency faces a daunting backlog of more than 170,000 open work orders for repairs, almost double the number housing officials say they can actually manage.

To see what saving the nation’s largest public housing system really means on the ground, The Times shadowed a Nycha superintendent at the Manhattanville Houses during a recent workday.

John Sotomayor knocked on the door three times and then called out: “Housing!”

Mr. Sotomayor, a superintendent, waited patiently until Thomas Hickman opened the door. Mr. Hickman, 52, a film producer, had submitted several work order requests months ago to replace rotten kitchen cabinets he said had attracted mice.

“They had a family down there,” said Mr. Hickman, who lives in the three bedroom with his wife and bedridden mother-in-law. He said he waited in vain for Nycha to fix the problem: “They said they were coming and they never came.”

But now, in a flurry of activity, carpenters were replacing Mr. Hickman’s cabinets and plasterers had repaired the water-damaged wall behind them.

That sort of work typically takes months, not days.

For the past two months, Mr. Sotomayor has been overseeing a special program meant to speed up repairs and reduce the maintenance backlog at the Manhattanville Houses. The vast majority of open work orders at Nycha apartments require skilled trades workers like painters, plasterers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians.

The financially challenged agency, however, has struggled to hire enough of these workers, leading to interminable wait times for basic repairs. A resident with a damaged wall, for example, will wait an average of about 100 days for a plasterer and three months more for a painter to finish the job.

Under the new program, Nycha has targeted several dozen developments with the most extensive maintenance backlogs and concentrated teams of contractors and temporary skilled trades workers there to rapidly close individual work orders. The goal is to close 50,000 work orders within two years using $20 million the city allocated earlier this year.

Mr. Sotomayor, 54, continued to crisscross the sprawling grounds of the development. A Long Island native, Mr. Sotomayor juggles the daily logistics of directly supervising repairs and ensuring his team meets its performance goals at a time when all eyes are on the troubled agency.

“It’s hard to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks,” Mr. Sotomayor said.

Next up was the home of Muhammed Aklas, who was grappling with leaks in almost every room of his five-bedroom apartment. Mr. Aklas, 62, a retired cook from Bangladesh, lives with his wife on the first floor — a curse in a rundown high rise.

“When something leaks all the way up on the 20th floor, odds are it’ll leak all the way down here,” Mr. Sotomayor said.

Mr. Aklas knew the problem well. “Flooding, flooding, flooding,” he said. “Anybody has a problem and we flood. It is nasty water.”

He and his wife would be moving to a two-bedroom soon, now that their eight children were grown — he hoped to a dryer apartment.

The leaks stem from the building’s troubled piping system, a problem many Nycha buildings share. Properly addressing it requires extensive capital investments the agency currently cannot afford, Cathy Pennington, the executive vice president of operations, said in an interview.

Indeed, the task ahead is enormous. Nycha’s efforts to reduce its maintenance backlogs are dwarfed by the staggering $32 billion the agency says it needs to address the underlying problems in its aging buildings.

“If you don’t get to the capital improvements you’re constantly chasing leaks,” Ms. Pennington said.

Shirley Wright was waiting for Mr. Sotomayor. She had been waiting for more than a year.

That’s how long Ms. Wright, 70, had to fare with a massive hole in her bright yellow shower wall that was left by a worker who replaced her shower head but never returned to cover the basketball-size opening.

Mr. Sotomayor told her that the hole would be fixed that afternoon and that painters were scheduled to fix the damp, peeling paint in her kitchen and hallways later in the day.

“I’m glad it’s getting fixed,” Ms. Wright, a retired special education teacher, told him. “It just took so long.”

Both Mr. Aklas and Ms. Wright offered similar stories: They had reported the conditions for months, but every time they made a work order request, they said, the order would mysteriously get closed without any work getting done, a common complaint among residents.

In fact, a federal investigation found that during the Bloomberg administration, Nycha routinely closed work orders without doing any repairs in order to artificially lower the number of open maintenance requests.

Nycha officials, however, argue that tenants are often not home when workers show up for repairs. At least one tenant refused to let plasterers in for a scheduled repair during The Times’s visit.

Three floors below, Orelis Rodriguez, 55, immediately recognized Mr. Sotomayor when she swung open her door. Mr. Sotomayor had spent the better part of the previous evening in her apartment fixing a toilet flange one of his workers had accidentally broken.

Workers had been scheduled to repair her kitchen cabinets, but soon discovered other issues in the two-bedroom apartment: a broken pipe, disintegrating kitchen walls, peeling paint — and the broken toilet. Mr. Sotomayor said he had expedited her repairs so they would be completed before a chemotherapy appointment she had the following week.

“Housing says they don’t have money and I feel bad for them,” Ms. Rodriguez, originally from the Dominican Republic, said in Spanish. “But I pay my rent.”



Back at his makeshift command center, Mr. Sotomayor added meticulous, handwritten notes to a list detailing the 1,500 backlogged work orders at the Harlem development. In two months, his workers had gone through half of the list, or, as he calls it, “The Bible.” Then he filed some recently finished repair jobs, including a new apartment door that should have been installed a year ago.

A former engineer in the Navy, Mr. Sotomayor is a versatile fixer with a no-nonsense attitude. He has been at Nycha for more than 20 years, first as a maintenance worker and now as a superintendent. Mr. Sotomayor, who spends his spare time repairing and racing old hot rods, said he stopped seeking promotions within the agency a long time ago.

“I don’t like sitting behind a desk playing politics,” he said, his tattoo-covered arms stretched over the plastic folding table. “I prefer to be out on the field.”

He said his guiding principle in reducing the overwhelming number of backlogged repairs was to try to keep tenants happy:

“Tenants are already upset with Housing not addressing their concerns right off the bat. So I try to minimize the visits, do the work and get out.”

But not all residents are satisfied.

Emma Barricelli, the president of the residents’ association at the Manhattanville Houses, said she was grateful Nycha had brought in backup. But the temporary program doesn’t address repairs submitted after late May. And she fears the backlog will grow again once Nycha shifts its temporary workers to other developments in about a month.

“They’ve been doing a hell of a lot of work,” Ms. Barricelli said, behind the desk in her office. “But it’s not fair for the residents.”

Ms. Barricelli, who has lived at the development for more than 50 years, was elected by residents to represent their interests. She knows the workers at the development by name and she has grown increasingly vocal as conditions have rapidly deteriorated.

“She’s keeping me on the hook,” Mr. Sotomayor said with a chuckle.

Another resident, Bryan Thompson, said some of the permanent maintenance workers at the development remained as bad as ever.

A month ago, he said, his upstairs neighbor used a chemical drain opener twice to unclog a shower drain. The powerful acid ate through the pipe, which leaked constantly and stained his shower walls.

He said a maintenance worker showed up twice to assess the damage, then closed the work orders without attempting to repair it.

Mr. Thompson said he repeatedly called 311, Nycha’s borough office and the main headquarters to no avail. It wasn’t until Ms. Barricelli called Nycha for him, he said, that the agency sent a plumber to fix the leak earlier this week.

“I called a couple of people that I knew and they listened,” she said. “But it should have been considered an emergency repair and fixed immediately.”

Nycha has 5,000 fewer employees than it did 10 years ago, which has compounded the self-replicating maintenance woes at its developments. The 71 temporary skilled trades workers hired for the new program are helping, but officials acknowledge they aren’t enough.

“Do we want to hire more? Absolutely, yes we do,” Ms. Pennington said. “Do we have adequate funding to hire additional staff? Absolutely no.”

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