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City leaders face hearing on poor snowstorm response

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amny Photo Credit: Getty Images

In what is expected to be a contentious and heavily attended public hearing Monday, four City Council committees will grill the major players at the helm of the city during the post-Christmas blizzard, questioning them over the botched cleanup and emergency rescue response.

Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) said she’s on a “fact-finding mission” to learn more about equipment failures, the city’s decision not to declare a snow emergency, the alleged slow down by city workers to plow roads and why as many as 720 sanitation workers reportedly called out sick because of the weather.

“It’s my position that [Mayor Michael Bloomberg] should examine the policies of Deputy Mayor [Stephen] Goldsmith, who I believe was penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said James, chairwoman of the council sanitation committee.

Goldsmith, who oversees the city’s sanitation, fire and police agencies, caught flak for tweeting “Good snow work by Sanitation” despite complaints by residents — particularly in the outer boroughs — that their streets were unplowed. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

It was not until more than two days after the snowstorm hit that sanitation officials said 99 percent of the city’s primary streets were cleared. And it wasn’t until a week later when garbage pickup was resumed on a limited basis as some of the trucks were still being used to plow snow.

The city has already acknowledged that unplowed streets lead to 170 trapped ambulances, with at least two reports of deaths believed to have been tied to the slow response.

In the aftermath of the storm, the city’s EMS chief and two sanitation officials in Brooklyn were demoted.

Bloomberg, who was not seen in the city during the brunt of the storm but said he was in contact with City Hall, has admitted that mistakes were made and pledged to improve operations.

Tabloids mocked city officials over their overprepardness for this past weekend’s 2-inch snowfall. And NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” lampooned Hizzoner over the weekend, with cast member Fred Armisen as Bloomberg making light of the Sanitation Department’s hobbled response.

“They’re not plowing yet, they’re playing cards,” said Armisen, channeling the mayor. “That’s in their contract.”

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City officials on the hot seat at today's hearing:

Stephen Goldsmith, deputy mayor for operations: Hired last spring to bring innovation to city government, Goldsmith, who oversees several agencies, including the Sanitation Department, was criticized for being at his Washington, D.C., house at the time of the blizzard and prematurely tweeting a congratulatory message about the clean-up crews.

John Doherty, commissioner of the Department of Sanitation: He graded workers’ cleanup efforts an “A-plus,” despite residents complaining of unplowed streets days after the storm and the mountainous pile up of garbage that followed.

Salvatore Cassano, commissioner of the New York City Fire Department: He demoted the head of the Emergency Medical Services after ambulances had a delayed response during the storm.

Joseph Bruno, commissioner of the Office of Emergency Management: In charge of coordinating the city’s response, he said he did not fully activate the emergency command center until hours after the storm hit.

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The 4-1-1 for the hearing on the city's blizzard response:

Who: The City Council is hosting the hearing. While the public can attend, they cannot speak. However, from Jan. 18-24, hearings will be held throughout the boroughs to obtain public testimony.

When: 11 a.m. Monday.

Where: Emigrant Savings Bank, 49-51 Chambers St. in Manhattan.

Where to watch: It will be carried live on NY1 or online at council.nyc.gov/live.

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