Of Blizzards And Political Firestorms

Cory Booker, Michael Bloomberg, and Chris Christie have been in the news this week due to the political fallout over their handling of the East Coast blizzard.

This past weekend’s massive East Coast snowstorm has thrust three politicians into the national news, and it hasn’t all been for the good. In New York City, which had one of it’s biggest snowstorms in years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking a lot of heat for what is being perceived as a disorganized response to the storm:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg accepted responsibility Wednesday for the city’s response to a crippling snowstorm, pledging to have every street plowed by morning and then to figure out why his administration’s cleanup efforts were inadequate.

Speaking at a hardware store in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, Mr. Bloomberg said he was “extremely dissatisfied” with the performance of the city’s emergency management system. He said the response was “a lot worse” than after other recent snowstorms and was not as efficient as “the city has a right to expect.”

But he also defended his commissioners, including John J. Doherty, who runs the Sanitation Department. The mayor called him “the best sanitation commissioner this city has ever had, period, bar none.”

Mr. Doherty said he expected to have all of the city’s streets plowed by 7 a.m. Thursday. At midday Wednesday, about one-third of what city officials call “tertiary streets” had not yet been plowed, they said. The worst conditions were in residential areas of South Brooklyn and Staten Island, where the mayor said the topography and narrowness of the streets made plowing more difficult.

Mr. Bloomberg said the city had hired 700 day laborers to help shovel snow on Tuesday and planned to hire 1,200 on Wednesday. “The results have not been what we would like them to be but it was not for lack of effort,” he said.

Most subway and bus services have been restored and fewer than 50 city buses remained stuck in the snow about noon Wednesday, down from a high of about 600. Jay H. Walder, who runs the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the only subway lines still not operating were the N line and the Franklin Avenue shuttle. He said the Metro-North railroad returned to normal service by Wednesday morning and the Long Island Rail Road hoped to resume full service by Wednesday evening.

Across the river in New Jersey, Chris Christe is taking some political heat for the fact that both he and the states Lt. Governor were out of the state when the storm hit:

A Democratic lawmaker is questioning why both Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno are out of state at the same time, leaving Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) as the state’s acting governor during a blizzard that paralyzed the state.

“We clearly made a mistake if we created the office lieutenant governor and wasted money if the lieutenant governor is not going to be here when the governor is out of state,” said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). “It’s being handled very well by Sen. Sweeney, but you have to really question the purpose of the office.”

Christie in on vacation with his family at Disney World in Florida, while Guadagno is with her family in Mexico, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said. Sunday, hours after taking the oath to become acting governor, Sweeney declared a state of emergency.

“It’s a big snow, definitely, but the world is not coming to an end,” said Drewniak. “We are a northeastern state and we get snow – sometimes lots of it like this – and we will get through it just as we always do.”
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Drewniak noted Guadagno is paid in her capacity as secretary of state, not for being Lieutenant governor. She makes $141,000 a year in that cabinet position, which already existed in previous administrations.

Gudango’s absence was actually the more puzzling one here since it was only three years ago that New Jersey voters passed a Constitutional Amendment to create the position, a move that was mostly in response to the fact that the state had been left without an elected Governor twice in the past ten years – first when Christine Todd Whitman resigned to become EPA Director in 2001, and then when James McGreevey resigned in the wake of a scandal involving his gay lover. Guadango not being in the state at the same time that Christie was also absent, regardless of the snow storm, just seemed like a bad move on her part. As it turned out, though, Gudango was out of the state because her father is in the final stages of Stage IV cancer.

Christie has taken heat, most of it from left wing bloggers and pundits, for being on vacation during the storm and the state of emergency that lasted through Monday night, but I’m honestly not sure what his presence would have accomplished. As long as there was someone in charge, and there was, then Christie would have just been sitting in his office reading reports, just like the Acting Governor was. Politically, it seems unlikely that this incident will hurt Christie with New Jersey voters mostly because there’s no evidence that the state’s handling of the storm was below par in any way (it’s worth noting that, in New Jersey the state Dept. of Transportation is principally responsible for snow removal on highways and interstates only, local snow removal is handled at the county and township level).

If there’s one politician, though, who has become something of a media star this week because of the storm, it’s Newark Mayor Cory Booker:

Trapped in Newark after Blizzard 2010? Mayor Cory Booker wants to rescue you – and he’s only a tweet away.

Booker has been tweeting up a storm, personally responding to tweets from citizens stranded by snowed-over streets. For days, Newark’s hero mayor has helped dig out buried cars and snowy roads – and even delivered diapers to a stranded Newark family.

“Highland Ave b/w Bal and Berk not touched yet. My sis can’t get out to get diapers,” Timothy Hester frantically tweeted Booker. Hester lives in Virginia and tweeted the mayor on behalf of his snowbound sister Barbara, who lives in Newark.

The valiant mayor tweeted back, “I’m delivering the diapers now. We will get to her street soon.”

After the diaper delivery, Hester displayed his appreciation Twitter-style: “Awesome! Thanks again!” and “#awesomemayorbooker delivers diapers!

Booker also responded to a call for assistance by Newark resident TaJuan Bonds. “I’m stuck on bergen & grumman ave,” tweeted Bonds. Booker tweeted back, “Please DM me your phone number” and sent another tweet when he arrived on the scene: “I’m here now to help.”

Meanwhile, Bonds tweeted an expletive-laced post about the amount of snow he needed to shovel – and despite the fact that Booker had called Bonds’ mother, the agitated citizen tweeted skepticism that Booker would show up.

The Newark mayor was not amused.

“Wow u shud be ashamed of yourself. U tweet vulgarities and then I come out here to help & its ur mom & sis digging. Where r u?” Booker scolded Bonds. The Newark mayor helped the snowed-in family shovel.

Apparently, Bonds and Booker did meet in person. Bonds tweeted “word he really here #can’t front” and soon Booker tweeted for peace. “Thank u for coming to talk with me face 2 face. Ur a good brother, we need 2 be positive in the face of outrageous negativity”.

Perhaps chastened, Bonds responded, “youre correct…I gotta channel my emotions…being stuck in this house not makin money is not fun”. According to his Twitter feed, Bonds had already done quite a bit of shoveling but was still snowbound before the mayor arrived.

Bonds mother and sister were apparently more excited about the mayor’s visit. After Booker called the family, Bonds tweeted, “my lil sister said she bout to change her clothes if da cameras are comin” and “my mother was smilin like jesus christ told her she’s goin’ to heaven”.

Booker responded frankly to citizens’ tweets, even when the news wasn’t so good. “Will garbage be picked up tomorrow?” asked Kyeatta Hendricks. “Sorry no garbage tomorrow,” the mayor replied.

The contrast between Booker and Bloomberg couldn’t be more apparent, and one simply can’t picture the billionaire making his way around New York digging people out (although it doesn’t hurt that Booker is younger, and more fit, than Bloomberg). but Booker actually came to the defense of his fellow Mayor:

People far 2 rough on @mikebloomberg – still fighting 2 clear snow in NWK & we are 1/29th size of NYC

Nonetheless, Booker’s hands-on approach to digging his city out of the snow has garnered international attention. It’s not a gimmick either. Since becoming Mayor, Booker has been active in turning Newark around after decades of being governed by mostly corrupt Mayors, and he’s allied himself with Governor Christie on issues like education reform even though the two of them come from different political parties. And on that note, there has already been talk among New Jersey Democrats of nominating Booker for Governor in 2013, although nobody seems to know if he’s actually interested in running for that office. If he does run, though, Booker may find that just as snowstorms have been the downfall of politicians like New York Mayor John Lindsey, Chicago Mayor Michael Blandic and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Cory Booker could be proof that actively responding to constituents and helping them through a crisis works to a politicians benefits.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    As you know, Bloomberg is a hobbit and can hardly be blamed for not shoveling snow that is often well over his head.

    Plus, dude, he’s a billionaire.

  2. Peter says:

    Criticism of Bloomberg is going to get worse as more horror stories emerge. The You Tube video of the city tow truck destroying a parked SUV is funny, especially as it was a city-owned SUV. What is a lot less funny is the fact that a baby died in Brooklyn after the mother gave birth in an apartment building lobby and it took either nine or eleven hours, depending on what version one believes, for EMT’s and firefighters to arrive.

  3. sam says:

    I was in Massachusetts in 1978 for the great blizzard (Northeastern United States blizzard of 1978. It was something, I can tell you:

    Boston received a record 27.1 inches (69 cm) of snow, as did Providence, Rhode Island with 27.6 inches (70 cm) of snow. The storm killed approximately 100 people in the Northeast and injured around 4,500. The storm also caused over US$520 million (US$1.75 billion in present terms) in damage.

    The Commonwealth of Massachusetts had a system for notifying major employers to send employees home early in the event of heavy storms. Thousands of employees were sent home starting in the early afternoon of February 6, but thousands more were still caught by the storm. Some did not make it home for several days.

    Many people were stranded in their cars along roads and highways throughout the New England region. People perished on Route 128 (parts of which were later designated Interstate 95) outside Boston as snow piled high enough to prevent the exhaust from escaping from their idling vehicles. Route 128 eventually had to be evacuated by cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. More than 3,500 cars were found abandoned and buried in the middle of roads during the clean-up effort. This figure does not include the countless other vehicles buried in driveways, on the sides of streets, and in parking lots. Other transportation links were disrupted and shut down region-wide, stranding public transit commuters in city centers.

    Throughout eastern Massachusetts, automobile traffic was banned for the remainder of the week. Thousands of people walked around the quiet city streets and frozen Charles River, some on cross-country skis.

    Boston and Providence recorded all-time highs for 24-hour and storm snowfall records.Many people were left without heat, water, food, and electricity for over a week after the storm finished. Approximately 10,000 people were forced to temporarily move into emergency shelters. Some 2,500 houses were reported seriously damaged or destroyed and 54 people were killed, many from fallen electric wires. Several people were found dead in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, particularly in the vicinity of the central police station, who may have died trying to seek shelter. Ten-year-old Peter Gosselin, of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, disappeared in the deep snow just feet from his home’s front door but was not found until three weeks later. The majority of the interstate system had to be shut down, with some stretches not reopening to traffic until the following week. Air and rail traffic also had to be shut down until the situation cleared up.
    ….
    A state of emergency was declared by governors in the affected states and the United States National Guard was called out to help clear the roads. Additional troops were flown into Boston to assist. It took six days to clear the roads as cars and trucks buried under the snow needed to be removed before the routes could be opened. The blizzard brought out a feeling of camaraderie, as it affected everyone equally. Neighbors assisted each other, using sleds to transport elderly persons and helping to deliver groceries for those in need. Governor Ella Grasso ordered all roads in Connecticut closed except for emergency travel, effectively shutting down the state for three days; Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts did the same.

    The National Guard sent APCs out onto the major roads to extract folks from their cars. Shelters were set up all over the place, and many, many people didn’t get home for over a week. The roads, primary, secondary, and local were just buried. I recall watching a bulldozer pull a snowplow out of a street where the plow had become stuck. The storm and its effects were horrific, but the governor or the mayor (Kevin White), New England Commies, through and through, handled that situation superbly. I don’t recall any real criticism of them at all.

  4. sam says:

    Ah, the governor was that well-known socialist, Mike Dukakis.

  5. mpw280 says:

    It will get real interesting if the allegations that the unions intentionally slowed snow removal and intentionally snarled traffic through how they removed the snow. This could be the perfect opportunity for NY to dissolve some of its public employee unions, though I doubt that Bloomy will have the balls for that. mpw

  6. An Interested Party says:

    “It will get real interesting if the allegations that the unions intentionally slowed snow removal and intentionally snarled traffic through how they removed the snow.”

    So this is what you depend on in your hatred of unions? Rumors and fantasies? Yeah, real interesting…

  7. Jay Tea says:

    Interested, it’s gotta start somewhere… and I’m feeling exceptionally fair. Let’s hold a thorough investigation, and THEN charge them.

    Just why do we need public sector unions, anyway? It’s worth noting that they now make up the majority of union memberships, having outstripped private-sector union members…

    J.

  8. mpw280 says:

    Hey ip is causing death through a “work action” your cup of tea? You are really in need of meds if you think unions have the right to endanger people because they want to have a work action during a blizzard and it ends up killing people. But hey you can have your union death fantasies as much as I can have ideas that maybe the unions are strangling the city and now causing deaths due to a work action during a blizzard. mpw

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/sanit_filthy_snow_slow_mo_qH57MZwC53QKOJlekSSDJK

    http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/2010/12/new-york-city-streets-are-unplowed-least-sanitation-workers-retir

  9. tom p says:

    >”You are really in need of meds if you think unions have the right to endanger people because they want to have a work action during a blizzard and it ends up killing people. ”

    Hey mpw…

    You are really in need of meds if you think corporations (or city gov’ts)have the right to endanger people because they want their slaves to work during a blizzard and it ends up with people dying….

    Fixed that for you… apparently, the people who actually WORK during a blizzard are not near as important as those who cut a finger while preparing their nice sushi meal in their cozy warm apartment…

    FU mpw, have you ever actually worked? During a blizzard? And if so, at what? Do you even have the faintest clue of what it is like to face death or dismemberment on a daily basis????

    Yah… That’s what I thought.

  10. tom p says:

    And for the record, I have actually SEEN people die on a job site (twice, one each)…

    F*ck all you warm, comfortable, safe, mf’ers… for you these are talking points, for us…. it is life and death. Not somebody else’s, but OUR’S.

  11. matt says:

    I’d also like to point out that there are something like 400 less sanitation workers available to remove the snow this year due to cutbacks. That reduction in numbers might just MIGHT be part of the problem… naw it’s the fact that they are union members yeah that’s the ticket all the times they’ve responded fine in the past with when they were fully staffed were just flukes…

    It’s odd but one thing I have to give Rudy credit for was his effective tackling of snowstorms. He took every storm seriously and had plenty of people on hand to do the jobs that were needed..

  12. Jay Tea says:

    tom p: I was unaware that NYC sanitaiton employees were forced to keep their jobs under duress. That is simply unacceptable. They should have the right to quit should they not care for the job — and the responsibilities thereof.

    All sarcasm aside, they make a HUGE point of talking about how important they are, how they often are critical in matters of life and death. Here, we’re seeing just how true that is — and how little it actually means to them.

    J.