Friday, January 07, 2011

Marist Poll Snowboards Bloomberg

Following up on our earlier comments about the mayor's insouciance-and his loss of control over the after storm narrative-comes the news that the public is rendering its own verdict. And the numbers don't lie-which might mean that the Bloombergian effort to jettison low level scapegoats will not play well off Broadway.

Here's the NY Daily News on the recently released Marist Poll: "Mayor Bloomberg's approval rating was in free-fall as he tried Thursday to convince the public there won't be a repeat of last week's blizzard blunder. Two mid-level Sanitation Department bosses were yanked from their jobs in an agency shakeup, a day after the chief of the Emergency Medical Service was demoted. Bloomberg admitted City Hall was in the dark about the extent of the crisis. Sources said he didn't know there was a 911 backlog of 1,300 calls until he was asked about it at a press conference."

That's what happens when you leave town with no command structure in place-talk about not having an exit strategy! And the little birdie of an idea that we planted earlier in the week about the mayor needing to inform the city when he flies the coop, well, it has been subject to the ripple effect.

The NY Post editorializes on exactly this theme today: "But where was Waldo, er, Mike, when the snow started falling? As per usual, the mayor stonewalled. "We don't announce, except for the public schedule, where the mayor is," he says. "There's no reason for it. I have a right to a private life, the same as you." Fair enough. But New Yorkers have an unambiguous right to know precisely who is in town, and in charge, during an emergency. Ten days ago, First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris was MIA. And Deputy Mayor for Operations Steven Goldsmith -- presumably the go-to guy in such a situation -- was in Washington and simply stayed there even after blizzard warnings were issued. Bloomberg clearly has no intention of budging on this issue. That's why it's incumbent on the City Council to take the matter out of his hands."

Go Peter Vallone, the council member who is contemplating legislation along these lines-but Speaker Quinn appears to be demurring (at least if her comments on NY1 are any indication). She will need to get with the program because the folks are riled about the mayor's lack of  managerial acumen-and will pounce on any idea for belling the mayoral cat. More from the News on Marist: "A poll taken after the storm showed Bloomberg's approval rating had plunged from 50% to 37% and only one in five New Yorkers think he handled it well."

This could quickly become a limbo contest as the investigations uncover more malfeasance and nonfeasance. Juan Gonzales presages this possibility in his column today: "You could pick snow chains, shovels and common sense. Or you could hire an army of $400,000-a-year computer consultants. In the Bloomberg era, City Hall routinely chooses door No. 2 - and sticks us with the tab. Everyone knows how long it took the mayor to admit snow removal in last month's blizzard was a disaster or that our city's emergency response system became woefully overwhelmed. Now, before any investigation is complete, Bloomberg is rushing to scapegoat lower-level officials instead of holding himself and his top aides accountable."

Which wouldn't be so bad if the consultants Bloomberg hired we be more competent than his emergency mangers: "Then we discovered this week that Bloomberg is planning to spend another $268 million on his hugely expensive modernization of the city's 911 system. The 911 upgrade looks like another CityTime money pit. It has been beset with performance problems, is years behind schedule and already costs more than $2 billion - nearly double its original budget. The latest contract only came to light because Controller John Liu blew the whistle Monday and balked at approving it."

So how bad is this contract? "Under Bloomberg's plan, defense giant Northrop Grumman is supposed to take over management of the project, which a previous contractor, Hewlett Packard, botched. Most of the $286 million expenditure is earmarked for consultant salaries. More than 100 Northrop people would be paid an average of $380,000 annually, a Daily News analysis of contract documents found. The agreement even provides annual 2.5% wage increases. The highest-paid consultant would begin at $454,000, and would increase steadily to $494,000 by the fifth year of the contract, the documents show."

Mike Bloomberg, computer maven extraordinaire, eschews nuts and bolts parts and maintenance for high tech gizmos-and screws up in both areas: "Bloomberg is determined to pay such outlandish salaries at a time when he is cutting city workers and services. The backlog in answering EMS calls during the storm had nothing to do with the new 911 computer system, the mayor said yesterday. All those buses, private cars and ambulances stuck in the snow created the problem. If the city had spent some of that computer consultant cash on snow chains for city ambulances, many of them would not have gotten stuck. "Fire engines and police cars all have chains for their tires, but we have nothing," said Bob Unger, a spokesman for the union of EMS workers. "Our union has raised the issue periodically and it wasn't addressed. The screwups here went far above Peruggia's pay grade."

Indeed they did, and like the Russian people with the czar, New Yorkers are starting to put the blame where it most surely belongs-and as the Post reports, the blame is skewed by boroughs, with Brooklyn and its unshoveled snow, being the most skewered of all: "Bloomberg's popularity also differs by borough. A whopping 55 percent of Manhattan voters approve of Bloomberg’s job performance, followed by 39 percent in the Bronx, 36 percent in Queens and Staten Island and only 24 percent in Brooklyn. Brooklyn and Queens were two of the hardest hit boroughs after 20 inches of snow blanketed the city. Bloomberg came under fire in the days after the blizzard for the city's failure to properly plow and clear streets."

And what's with the NY Times? The paper, still silent on the CityTime scandal, reports on the mayor's alleged renewed vigor in the face of a possible new storm today-but buries the lede about the Marist Poll eight paragraphs into the story: "As a new poll indicated his approval ratings had dropped below 40 percent, Mr. Bloomberg was at times testy but also contrite. He said that sanitation workers would be retrained, without elaborating, and that Brooklyn sanitation districts, where some of the worst problems occurred, would be reconfigured to improve trash collection and snow removal."

But the Times does get the outrage concerning the scapegoating of underlings-particularly the EMS chief: "The mayor’s singling out of E.M.S. drew an irate response from Patrick Bahnken, president of the paramedics’ union, and skepticism from Thomas Von Essen, a former fire commissioner. “That statement is repugnant,” Mr. Bahnken said later. “The audacity to imply that the E.M.T.’s, the paramedics and the emergency medical dispatch personnel were in any way, shape or form responsible for the overwhelming and logistical failures that occurred because of this blizzard is an outrage.” Mr. Von Essen, a fire commissioner in the Giuliani administration, also defended the performance of Mr. Peruggia and E.MS. “He’s an excellent guy who’s been doing this a long time under very difficult circumstances in a department that is being treated as a second-class agency,” Mr. Von Essen said."

As much as some folks would like to scapegoat the workers and low level bosses, no one appears to be buying this-particularly the revolution ready New Yorkers who understand that, when the snow hits the fan, an emergency must be declared and the mayor's whereabouts needs to be known. The News keeps hammering away: "The mayor has refused to say where he was on Christmas Day as the city prepared for the coming storm."

Juan Gonzales deserves the last word: "Better yet, if Bloomberg and his top aides had used basic common sense and declared a snow emergency from the start, sanitation crews would have had better luck clearing the streets. Look at Philadelphia. At noon on Dec. 26, before a single flake had fallen in that city, the National Football League postponed the Eagles-Vikings game that was scheduled for that night. Two hours later, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter declared a snow emergency. Up the turnpike in Newark, Mayor Cory Booker grabbed a shovel and went to work. Here, Bloomberg & Company managed things by BlackBerry and Twitter from wherever they were. Immediately afterward, they went back to doling out the great new patronage of our time: $400,000-a-year consulting contracts."