Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quintessential Leadership

Council Speaker Chris Quinn is stepping up big time on the torpid NYC blizzard response. YNN has the story: "NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn is promising to hold oversight hearings on Jan. 10 to look into the city’s response to the Blizzard of 2010. Quinn had some positive things to say about the way New Yorkers banded together during the storm and praised the work of the Sanitation Department, while admitting there were some significant failures in the overall response."

Good for Quinn! She is filling the leadership void that has been created by the mayor's failure to acknowledge that the city's response basically sucked. Here's part of Quinn's statement: "That said, by all accounts, the collective storm response was not anywhere near up to the standards New Yorkers are accustomed to. This is unacceptable. New Yorkers have serious questions about the City’s snow emergency policy and response. We in the Council will seek forward looking answers on behalf of our constituents.  Therefore, the Council will convene oversight hearings on January 10th at 1pm to examine questions surrounding the City’s response to yesterday’s blizzard."

There can be no pussyfooting around the fact that leadership starts from the top-and for us question 1 is, Did the mayor leave town in the days just prior to the storm? If he did, accustomed as he is to jetting out to Bermuda for a game of golf, he has a lot of explaining to do.

Quinn nails the seriousness of what has just been allowed to transpire on Mike Bloomberg's watch-and her pointed comments are a good sign that she is looking to really get out from under the mayor's shadow: "This hearing acknowledges the reality that many New Yorkers are experiencing, that something went wrong. We will conduct a constructive fact finding effort with the goal of preventing it from happening again. As we convene this hearing we must be mindful that the events of the last two days are a stark reminder of the need to protect core public services from potentially life-threatening budget reductions.”‬

Which raises the question of whether core public safety services have already been compromised. As the WSJ has reported: "New York City's response to the blizzard has been hampered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to reduce the Sanitation Department's workforce as part of citywide budget cuts, the head of the sanitation workers' union charged Monday. 'We are undermanned—we need another 400 workers, Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, said in a telephone interview. "This is a perfect example of why you need the manpower in New York City. We're shorthanded here."

The city denies the accusations of the union but, as the WSJ points out: "Still, the city on Sunday announced it was seeking to hire private heavy-duty equipment to assist the sanitation department with snow removal. It is also seeking "licensed operators of dump trucks, tractor trailers, and roll-on roll-off trucks," the department said in a statement."

All of which leads us to wonder whether the mayor has a good handle on the city's management and budget: "To combat multibillion dollar deficits, Mr. Bloomberg has been aggressively cutting city agency budgets to keep the books balanced. He unveiled last month his latest round of budget cuts, which called for a further reduction—via attrition—of 265 sanitation workers by June 2012."

And let's not forget that, as Adam Lisberg has written, the city is in a huge debt situation because of the capital budget expenditures on projects such as Willets Point: "Maria Doulis, an analyst at the Citizens Budget Commission, studied Bloomberg's last two cuts in long-term spending - 20% in May 2008, 30% in January 2009 - and found they didn't last long. "The reversal of this reduction began just a few months later," Doulis wrote. "Failure to impose fiscal austerity on the infrastructure agenda is evident," she added. Take this year's budget: Bloomberg first proposed spending $9.2 billion on long-term projects. Then he cut it to $6.2 billion. And then he opened up the spigot again to $12.1 billion. Spending will ultimately be much higher than currently planned unless the mayor becomes more determined about establishing priorities." (emphasis added)

Or others more responsible do it for him. So the blizzard response snafu may be a useful cautionary tale for all of those acolytes that have been looking to canonize Mike Bloomberg as the best mayor in the city's history-and we include the mayor's self portrait in this regard. Bloomberg's stewardship of the city has not been all sea shells and balloons by any stretch of even Morticia's imagination-and the media (read: editorial) disgrace in midwifing his third tern usurpation deserves nothing but scorn.

It is time for the deconstruction of the Myth of Mike to begin post haste-and the city council storm hearing could be a good start if the legislature doesn't tip toe through Bloomberg's tulips. An honest appraisal of the mayor's tenure is long overdue.