Partisanship seeps back into post-Sandy talk

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New ...

As a traumatized region limps to Election Day, the usual partisan conflicts seep back into the civic conversation.

Both New York's Democratic U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, sat for a news conference Wednesday alongside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, and his aides, as well as federal officials, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who's a Republican, and Suffolk Deputy County Executive Regina Calcaterra.

Talk turned to a topic Cuomo began pounding even before the floodwaters receded: Rebuilding infrastructure to withstand a changed climate.

"I don't think the federal government has done enough," Schumer chimed in. "I think there are a group of people in Washington right now who just deny the truth." He offered as a long-term goal "to actually do things that prevent the climate from changing and global warming from occurring."

Gillibrand, seeking to win her first six-year term on Tuesday against Republican Wendy Long, followed up. Without naming names, Gillibrand blasted "those in Washington who argue for a cuts-only approach" that would slash aid "for families in desperate need of our help today."

The Sandy catastrophe had Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie embrace in a show of unity of purpose. And for as much as it matters, ex-Democratic, ex-Republican New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Thursday endorsed Obama.

Offstage, however, the lines of comprehensive political battle are forming around the fresh crisis.

Just as certain terrorism experts proved prescient in the wake of 9/11 -- having speculated on the use of hijacked planes as missiles, for example -- studies and warnings about emergency management and vulnerability to "hundred-year" floods now have our attention. Some wonks this week began touting the "D" grade the American Society of Civil Engineers gave to the U.S. infrastructure as a whole.

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Cuomo often likes to stand on what he deems to be nonideological ground. He says he wants attention focused on bracing for extreme weather, "which is not political." But any talk of massive government action -- with costs and resources to be examined -- will prompt conservative commentators and elected officials to warn against a rush to justify "big government."

Other topics thrust into the spotlight by Sandy are already political -- or "politicized" as those inclined toward scolding would call it. Gasoline prices in particular and energy policy in general were in play before post-storm scarcity set in. Utilities are, by necessity, regulated, and their ability to deliver power and at what cost has long had a political edge.

No government issue becomes more emotionally intense than emergency evacuation. You heard elected officials repeat early in the storm how disobeying orders to leave puts first-responders as well as residents in danger. It remains to be seen if authorities next time try somehow to put more force into such orders -- or if doing so would be deemed an infringement on liberty.

As 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina proved long before this, human calamity yields to political slogans as soon as the immediate crisis lets up.

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