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Bloomberg owns up to NYC's blizzard blunders

A sanitation department plow truck gets stuck on

A sanitation department plow truck gets stuck on West 16th St. in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, Tuesday. (Dec. 29, 2010) Credit: AP

Beaten by Mother Nature, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the blame Wednesday for the city's inadequate response to the blizzard, which left large swathes of the five boroughs crippled for three days with unplowed streets, hobbled mass transit and a compromised emergency response system.

"We did not do as good a job as we wanted to do or as the city has a right to expect," said Bloomberg at a news conference in the Bronx. "We are an administration built on accountability. When it works, it works and we take credit, and when it doesn't work we stand up there and say, 'OK, we did it,' and try to find out what went wrong."

Bloomberg said City Hall would be conducting an after-action assessment when the plowing was completed.

But, rattling off fresh statistics showing large improvements in the percentage of streets cleared around the city, Bloomberg said he expected by Thursday all 6,300 miles of roadway would be plowed at least once. He acknowledged large parts of south Brooklyn, western Queens and Staten Island were still unplowed, which he attributed to difficult road access, stalled cars, trucks and buses.

Even Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who vented his anger early in the week over the dismal state of the borough's unplowed streets, thought the city was on the verge of getting ahead of things by Thursday. "No question, progress is being made," Markowitz told Newsday.

Officials said that as of noon Wednesday 100 percent of primary streets, 93 percent of secondary and 79 percent of tertiary roads had been plowed at least once.

However, city public advocate Bill DiBlasio, in Brooklyn Wednesday, said that near Fort Hamilton Parkway, many side streets remained unplowed.

Bloomberg wasn't sure why the Department of Sanitation got overwhelmed.

"We had the same plan with the same equipment and the same well-trained and managed staff we had every other time and it worked better the other . . . [times]," the mayor admitted.

The mayor promised a closer look at the city's 911 system, which logged tens of thousands of calls during the storm - including nearly 50,000 in a day, one of the highest totals on record. Emergency officials said they couldn't reach every call immediately, including a Brooklyn woman in labor whose baby later died. At least 200 ambulances got stuck on unplowed streets or were blocked by abandoned cars, city officials said.

DiBlasio said while Bloomberg likes to delegate responsibility, the storm appeared to be a situation where he should have taken charge earlier. DiBlasio said he's requesting information from Bloomberg, and the City Council would hold hearings on the blizzard next month.

The blizzard response was the second embarrassing issue for Bloomberg in recent weeks, tarnishing his image as a cool, efficient manager, said Baruch College political science professor Doug Muzzio. The first occurred earlier this month, said Muzzio, when prosecutors accused four consultants of bilking the CityTime automated city payroll system out of $80 million, a situation that precipitated the resignation of the head of the city's office of payroll administration.

"Clearly, there was inadequacy in the [blizzard] response," said Muzzio. "Clearly they were caught off guard."

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