Trump family wedding planner to head New York's federal housing office

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A longtime associate of President Donald Trump's family, who organized golf tournaments on the president's courses and planned his son Eric's wedding, will soon oversee billions of federal dollars as the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's New York and New Jersey office.

Lynne Patton had been working as a senior adviser and director of public engagement at HUD for several months before Ben Carson, the department secretary, recommended her for the new role, a person close to Carson said. Before that, Patton had no experience in housing policy.

The appointment of a Trump family loyalist to a key government post fits a pattern. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, work in White House offices. Dan Scavino Jr., who was the president's caddie, is director of social media. His longtime bodyguard, Keith Schiller, has become such an important White House figure that he hand-delivered the dismissal papers to James Comey, the former FBI director.

Nonetheless, the appointment of Patton elicited incredulous responses in New York.

"Like many things in the Trump universe, we're dealing with things we've never seen before," Mayor Bill de Blasio, who held the same post during the Clinton administration, said in a weekly radio interview on WNYC.

"Folks in that role historically have had substantial background in government or in housing."

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., wrote a letter to the president, demanding Patton's immediate removal. Patton doesn't start the job until July 5.

"This is not The Apprentice; the federal government is not your personal patronage system," Meng wrote.

While the administrator of HUD's Region II office does not have direct control over the agency's budget, the office chief does promote and administer federal policies and direct feedback from New York and New Jersey to headquarters in Washington.

Office administrators also help coordinate federal programmes in their region, which can include public housing, mortgage insurance, block grants and homeless assistance.

Patton succeeds Holly Leicht, who came to the job after working for a parks advocacy group and in the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The New York Daily News, which first reported the appointment, ran a front-page story with a photo of Patton alongside the headline "The Wedding Scammer."

Armstrong Williams, a close friend of Carson's, did not confirm the appointment but did say that Patton had earned the trust of Carson after organising his listening tour in several cities. Williams also said Patton "is a very honest person."

"She never told Dr. Carson that she went to Yale," Williams said, contradicting the Daily News story, which said she had padded her résumé with a Yale law degree she never earned. "She has always been candid that she never completed law school. Always upfront about that."

He added that in the beginning, Carson was wary of working with Patton because she had come to the agency through her relationship with the Trump family. But she earned Carson's trust by preparing his briefings on housing policy and organising his visits to local housing developments.

"Dr. Carson calls her, 'the general' because she can lead an army. She's that tough," Williams said.

Amy Thompson, a HUD spokeswoman, would not confirm the appointment. "HUD has made no nomination, appointment, or announcement," Thompson said in an email.

But it is already making waves.

"To think that the safety net of affordable housing in NYC is going to be at the mercy of a charlatan is alarming," Ritchie Torres, a Bronx councilman and the chairman of New York City Council's Committee on Public Housing.

"If Donald Trump is intent on showing the contempt he has for the social safety net, then the appointment makes sense."

Torres, who grew up in public housing, said Leicht had been a "strong advocate for affordable housing in New York City," and acted as a liaison between local officials and the federal housing department.

"I feel like I'm living in an alternative universe: a family event planner as a leader of housing in New York," he said of Patton.

De Blasio said that he would have to find a way to work with Patton on behalf of the roughly 600,000 New Yorkers who live in New York City Housing Authority buildings, as well as those who receive federal housing assistance.

He said he had spoken to Carson and invited him to visit the city's housing complexes to see firsthand the effect that cuts to the housing authority would have on the people who live there.

Both Carson and Patton had no experience in housing policy or government before being appointed to the agency.

"I think it's great for us to try and strive for normalcy, but I think it would be foolish to expect it," de Blasio said. "We will work with whoever they name the best that we can." But, he added, "I think the real action will be on the ground."

About 4.5 per cent of the housing department's budget goes to the New York City Housing Authority. Morale among some career officials at the city's local office of the federal housing department has been low because of proposed cuts to the agency's budget.

Shola Olatoye, chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority, said in a statement that she looked forward to working closely with Patton to improve and provide housing for residents.

"We hope the new director will continue HUD's commitment to public housing and Section 8 as we strive to provide safe, clean and connected communities for New York City," the statement said.