Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"Where the Mayor Is, or Isn't, Is Not Important"

The quotation in our headline comes from the collected wit and wisdom of Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, who treated us with his latest bon mot while making an appearance on NY1 last night-and he couldn't be more wrong! Mike Bloomberg's whereabouts was important on Christmas morning when WCBS radio predicted the city would get 16 inches of snow; and it remained important throughout the day and night when the decision to declare a snow emergency was not made.

It wasn't made because the man who is ostensibly in charge of emergency management, Joe Bruno, choked on his whistle in the mayor's absence. In essence, NYC was like the Headless Horseman from the old Sleepy Hollow story-and as a result of the leadership vacuum, bad things happened. But in the last few days, some folks are trying to transmute this leadership failure into a labor scandal-with alleged sanitation worker slowdowns becoming the main culprit for all the bad that transpired while the city was headless.

Michael Daley at the NY Daily News nails this while lamenting the death of an infant stranded by the snow: "But the primary contributing causes certainly must include the city's failure to clear the streets so the mother could reach the hospital in time. The responsibility for that ultimately rests with the man who so often extols the magic of management, Mayor Bloomberg...Those almost certainly not to blame are the sanitation workers who were out there trying to clear the streets after City Hall's disastrous refusal to declare a snow emergency."

Bob McManus echoes this sentiment in yesterday's NY Post: "It was Fiorello La Guardia, New York's greatest mayor ever, who said there is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up Gotham's garbage. Which, in case you haven't noticed, hasn't been collected for more than a week now -- the current mayor having been brought low by a snowstorm in December. What would the Little Flower have thought? First, that his successor-nine-times-removed has been spending far too much time on ephemera -- lately, the alleged evils of political partisanship -- and not nearly enough on the basics of municipal governance."

And the mayor's lack of leadership-devolving from a rapidly fading interest in the job itself-is compounded by his supercilious attitude and fanciful policy flights: "But when a mayoralty comes to be defined by fanciful notions -- political labels, bike paths, french fries and other irrelevancies -- forgiveness following catastrophe will be a long time coming. Especially when the mayor's reaction to the debacle ranges from surly condescension to bewildered resentment to transparently feigned contrition. Actually, there's scant evidence that Mike Bloomberg even now knows what hit him -- apart from 20-plus inches of snow, of course."

McManus also addresses the issue of the labor slowdown-and underscores the fact that, whatever actually transpired, it was the mayor who lost control of the department: "And the sanitation slowdown. Wildcat strike would be too strong a term -- wild kitten, maybe. But, still, the mayor couldn't cope. The truth is that while Mike Bloomberg was off trash talking Democratic/Republican rancor, he lost control of the New York City Department of Sanitation. Snowstorms are among that department's responsibilities -- and it hasn't been so overmatched by Mother Nature since John V. Lindsay was mayor. There was a spectacular failure of field leadership last week. Supervisors couldn't -- some just wouldn't -- put down spot mutinies all over Brooklyn and Queens. The results were lethal."

Which is why, if there is a federal investigation of this colossal failure as Marcia Kramer at Channel 2 is reporting, it should not be limited to the rank and file workers and their possibly negligent supervisors. But, by all means, keep the DOI away from any of this-the same crack investigatory team that whitewashed the Deutsche Bank fire.
McManus hones in on this angle: "Bloomberg should fire John Doherty, the sanitation commissioner, but he won't -- just as he refused to fire Nick Scopetta as fire commissioner after gross management failures at the FDNY conspired to kill two firefighters at the old Deutsche Bank building three years ago."
We'll give Daley the last word on the importance of where the mayor of the City of New York is, or isn't: "The cause of the failure to clear the streets will be harder to determine. As unlikely as it seems, it is possible a tiny minority of disheartened sanitation supervisors did give less than their all. Even so, the blame ultimately lies with those at the top, not with workers..."