Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow Job!

New York was crippled yesterday by the fifth largest snow storm on record here-but the lingering question is whether the city's response-and that of its chief executive-was an adequate one. The question has some resonance because much of the outer boroughs were simply impassable, and the ability of emergency vehicles to respond was, like the city itself, crippled.

The NY Post went right after this in its editorial: "What a disaster: Ambulances unavailable. Trains stalled for hours. Streets unplowed. Fire trucks stuck in the snow. Buses canceled. These were not mere "inconveniences" -- as Mayor Bloomberg put it at one point -- in the wake of Sunday's widely, and accurately, predicted snowstorm; in some cases, they were potentially life-threatening foul-ups. And to such an extent, you've just got to wonder if the response could have been better.

In its initial online coverage of the storm, the NY Daily News was pointed, almost withering: "Bloomberg said all the Broadway shows are going on and suggested that New Yorkers should venture out to see one. That drew some pointed criticism. "Did he really say that, go see a show? I wonder what city the mayor is reporting from?" asked City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who said he spent between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. shoveling snow in Astoria outside his home, and his dad's and neighbors'. "In that entire time, I haven't seen a single plow - except the one that crashed into a car and has been stuck, since before 6 a.m., at 21st Street and 21st Drive," Vallone said. "In past snow storms, other plows would have come through by now."

Inexplicably, this critical lead was replaced today by a more mild report that left out the critical response from people such as CM Vallone-and the paper filed its more critical reportage in its Local Section where elected officials offered harsh assessments of the city's slow response: "Hours after the snow stopped, countless streets around the city were unplowed - causing a dangerous backlog in emergency responses and drawing outrage. The 911 system was overwhelmed, and sources said it took nearly an hour at the height of the storm for ambulances to respond to strokes and heart attacks. A Brooklyn woman in labor waited four hours for help. More than 100 ambulances were stuck in the snow, the head of the EMT union said."

Senator Carl Kruger lambasted the mayor in this story-a critique that wasn't to be found in any other report: "By afternoon, the condemnation was mounting. State Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) slammed the removal effort as a "colossal failure" that put "countless lives at risk." He compared the blizzard to the 1969 storm that nearly destroyed the career of Mayor John Lindsay. Bloomberg may have had that kind of political fallout in mind as he hastily scheduled photo ops in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens."

Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz also weighed in critically: "Obviously something went astray this time," Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said. "Our side streets in every part of Brooklyn are frankly not touched. Many of our main streets haven't been plowed and salted." And CM Tish James who chairs the Sanitation Committee, stated that she would call a hearing to review the city's response.

The Observer has this: "Kruger also called on City Council Sanitation Committee Chair Letitcia James to hold hearings about reports that FDNY has a backlog of 1,300 911 calls and that even critical calls are facing a three-hour delay. "How many people are going to die today because our streets haven't been cleared?" Sen. Kruger asked. James said that she in fact planned on holding hearings, and similarly slammed the administration's response. "The response has been poor. I live on a major throughfare in Brooklyn and it has been almost impassable," she said. I do note that this is this sixth largest storm in the city's recorded history and I note that the wind gusts are considerable. I understand all of that, but the response is inadequate. There are not enough workers."

Remarkably the News and the Times, editorializing on the storm, were off some where in winter wonderland-with the News leading with a paean to the mayor's sagaciousness: "Those New Yorkers who heeded Mayor Bloomberg's good advice yesterday and stayed home, nestling their feet in fuzzy slippers as they watched the snow blow outside their windows, would have done well to spare a warm thought to those who were not so lucky."

Who were those unlucky ones? The pregnant women who had to find their own way to the hospital? The asthmatic that needed the help of FDNY to get to the emergency room because an ambulance wasn't available? No, according to the News, the folks we need to feel sorry for are the city workers forced to tackle the storm: "Namely, those who ran snowplows and salt spreaders or drove tow trucks to keep the streets clear of disabled vehicles so ambulances and fire trucks and the like could do their lifesaving work. And to those who came out in the bone-chilling cold to restore electricity or clear the sidewalks."

Now we are certainly appreciative of these workers, but to emphasize their "plight," while 911 calls were being left unanswered, is to ignore the little mayoral elephant in the room-which, of course, was the point of the exercise. The News does hit the MTA hard for stranding 400 people on an A Train for seven hours, but hey, our good buddy and News reporter Erin Durkin was one of the strandees, so that deserved the paper's scrutiny. Everyone else, not so much.

The Times, on the other hand, seemed clueless in all of this scandalous torpor. It's front page story was totally anodyne-a home on the range piece where no discouraging word was heard. Its treacly editorial was, like the storm itself, a total whitewash of the city's lackadaisical response and the consequent emergencies that were created: "For all the disruption and danger this blizzard brought, it was hard not to revel in the transformation it caused, waking to a white city, a day when nearly every human agenda was superseded by snow and even the best intentions were drifted over."

You have to wonder about the Times. Has the paper been neutered by the mayor? After all, it has yet to weigh in on CityTime, the biggest scandal in Bloomberg's nine years in office; and now it has little to say about the city's inadequate response to a storm that the it had sufficient lead time to be better prepared for.

Only the Post had the right stuff: "But let's face it: The city had plenty of warning. And yet, agencies -- particularly the Department of Sanitation -- were unable to meet the challenge. That left far too many New Yorkers without critical services -- from buses and subways to EMS crews. The heart of the problem: insufficient plowing. Impassable streets meant canceled bus routes, ambulances unable to get through -- even stuck fire trucks. Some medical calls went unanswered for hours (though high priorities got speedier attention). That's just unacceptable."

We don't know if the mayor left the city in the run up to the storm-but we suspect that he had departed for warmer climes. With a major storm on the horizon, he should have had the foresight to stick around, but even if he didn't his administration's preparedness was woeful-and, once again, in a more equitable world he would be in the running for the Daily News' Knucklehead Award-and on the verge of retiring the trophy.

But we don't live in that world, and are forced to reside in the world of the editorial whitewash. The mayor should be ashamed of his administration's response and apologetic for the danger he put New Yorkers in. That kind of mayor culpa, however, isn't in his lexicon. Instead, courtesy of the Daily News report, we get the following inanity from Bloomberg-and the mayor deserves the last silly word: "Mayor Bloomberg asked New Yorkers not to drive and to call 911 only for life-threatening emergencies. The world has not come to an end," he said. "The city's going on. Many people are taking the day off. Most stores are open. There's no reason for anybody to panic."