Thursday, December 30, 2010

Where, Oh Where, Did Our Mayor Go?

The Times, as is customary, has a lengthy and well-researched post-mortem on the city's storm response-and tells its readers that the Bloomberg administration, finally admitting its failure, promises a comprehensive investigation of what went wrong: "On Wednesday, the mayor and his commissioners pledged to get at the truth. Once the streets have been cleared, they said, all aspects of the response will be analyzed, and changes, if necessary, will be made."

By now, almost every one is recognizing that the key non-decision involved the failure to declare a snow emergency: "At 3:55 p.m. on Saturday, the Weather Service issued a blizzard warning, forecasting 11 to 16 inches of snow, with higher amounts in some areas. It warned that strong winds would cause “considerable blowing and drifting of snow” that could take down power lines and tree limbs.
“Extremely dangerous travel conditions developing due to significant snow accumulations,” it said. The city has long had a weapon in its arsenal to consider for such moments: the ability to declare a snow emergency."

This, according to all of the experts, is a powerful tool: "The rationale is straightforward: clearing vehicles from those streets gives plows the best chance to move through them rapidly, keeping emergency services routes open and allowing the plows to move onto secondary streets. Norman Steisel, who was at the forefront of snow removal in the city for a dozen years during the Koch and Dinkins administrations, said the declaration of an emergency from a mayor also helped clarify among the public the confusing array of forecasts often heard on television. “It’s a very strong, powerful public message which has a certain effect,” Mr. Steisel said."

Juan Gonzales compares this nonfeasance to the Giuliani response to the big blizzard in 1996: "Back in 1996, a similar monster storm struck our city. It dumped 20 inches, closed airports, and left drifts 20-feet high. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani not only declared a snow emergency and ordered all nonessential vehicles off the road, he took 3,300 city buses out of service so they wouldn't block sanitation trucks and rescue vehicles. Giuliani also asked then-Gov. George Pataki for help. Pataki dispatched 400 national guardsmen with 100 Humvees that were used as ambulances to transport medical supplies and health workers. If Bloomberg and Goldsmith had done the same, we wouldn't have had hundreds of stuck buses and ambulances blocking main arteries. "Under Rudy, every snowstorm was considered a big deal," one former Giuliani official said. "All commissioners and top staffers were expected to be at the command center and we all worked hard together."

Yet, no emergency was declared was declared: "But the Bloomberg administration decided not to call a snow emergency. One city official briefed on the response to the storm said it was explicitly considered. But ultimately Mr. Doherty and Ms. Sadik-Khan decided against it, said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for Ms. Sadik-Khan."

The Times points out that Deputy Mayor Goldsmiith was not in town: "City officials maintain that they were closely monitoring the updates. But the deputy mayor in charge of overseeing the snow response, Stephen Goldsmith, had left New York for the Washington area. A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg insisted that Mr. Goldsmith was in regular communication with agency chiefs: Mr. Doherty, the sanitation commissioner; Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner; and Joseph F. Bruno, the head of the Office of Emergency Management."

Yet in a 2,364 word article there is no mention of where the mayor might have been from Christmas Eve on-and the first sighting was at 4PM on Sunday: "By 4 p.m. Sunday, several inches of snow had accumulated when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made a plea for help at his first news conference about the escalating storm: he asked people with heavy equipment and other kinds of towing machinery to call the city’s 311 line to register for work. A full day had gone by since the blizzard warning had been issued."

The whereabouts of Mike Bloomberg on Christmas Day in the run up to the blizzard cannot be ignored-and it falls to the NY Daily News to address this issue in its own lengthy review of the storm response: "By 4 p.m., there was a blizzard warning. As Bruno recalls, the weather service said there was a 60% chance the city would get 9 to 14 inches of snow. Once the forecast was upgraded, city agency commissioners and their deputies joined an OEM conference call with the forecasters. Mayor Bloomberg did not participate and officials refused to say if he was in town. They said he was in "regular contact" with city officials over the weekend, a spokesman said."

For nine years the mayor has been hightailing it out of town on weekends to warmer and, we guess, friendlier climes-leaving the city in the hands of underlings. The practice caught up with him over the past weekend-and it's hard to imagine that his absence didn't play a role in the city's incompetent response to the blizzard. We expect the press to follow this lead assiduously-it is not a mere incidental.