Snowstorms have become an unexpected political battleground for New York City mayors.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration during his short reign in office has already faced three storms—the most recent taking place on Monday—and all three have served as talking points for the media based on how the city’s sanitation service has responded.
This all comes after storms originally became an issue in 2010, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under fire for slow cleanup after the sixth-largest snowstorm in the city’s history. He also came off callous in the process, citing attendance at Broadway shows as evidence that things were fine when many city streets went unplowed for days. (Then, de Blasio served as public advocate and was among those that criticized Bloomberg.)
It’s no surprise, then, that de Blasio used the first snowstorm shortly after the New Year to showcase his “regular-guy charm,” in a clear attempt to distinguish himself from his predecessor. The city also marshalled its forces to prepare city streets.
On Thursday, less than 24 hours after being sworn in as mayor, Mr. de Blasio met with the sanitation commissioner, John J. Doherty, a temporary holdover from the Bloomberg administration, and declared that the city was “ready for whatever hits us.”
New York City residents were urged to stay off the streets so the Sanitation Department would have “the optimal conditions to work.”
Officials said that 450 salt spreaders had been out since early Thursday morning and 1,700 sanitation trucks had been outfitted with plows. But Mr. Doherty said that even with all the equipment the city had marshaled, his agency faced a daunting job as it worked to clear the streets through the night. He pleaded for patience.
However, things didn’t go as well during a storm that hit three weeks later. Manhattan’s Upper East Side was delayed in getting plowed, leading some to speculate that it was an attempt by the mayor to retaliate against some of the city’s poshest residents for not supporting him during his mayoral run. Staten Island residents were also less than pleased and also complained about unplowed streets
The mayor eventually admitted that things went poorly:
“While the overall storm response across the city was well-executed, after inspecting the area and listening to concerns from residents earlier today, I determined more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I have instructed the commissioner of the Department of Sanitation to double-down on cleanup efforts on the Upper East Side, and as a result, 30 vehicles and nearly 40 sanitation workers have been deployed to the area to finish the cleanup.”
The brou-ha-ha over the storm eventually produced a heated City Council meeting, according to Capital New York where pro- and anti- de Blasio councilors debated the administration’s efforts.
So how did things go with the third storm under de Blasio’s watch?
According to the New York Times, the administration said it had learned from past mistakes and adjusted its response for yesterday’s storm.
Articulated buses rolled out to their routes with chains on their tires. The Sanitation Department monitored street conditions using the Police Department’s surveillance cameras.
And on the Upper East Side, residents could not help but notice that the streets had been promptly cleared.
“The response to the last storm obviously left something to be desired, so we did a review of our efforts, and we’ve come up with some initial changes that we actually were able to implement right away,” Mr. de Blasio said in a news conference at City Hall.
New York’s snow cleanup efforts have become such a hot button topic, in fact, that even the Daily Show devoted a segment to it during Monday’s broadcast. The show also featured a two-part interview with de Blasio.