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City officials: Mistakes marred NYC's snow response

council hearing

council hearing Photo Credit: Andrew Hinderaker

A meltdown within city agencies and poor communication contributed to the colossal failure to address last month’s monstrous blizzard, officials admitted yesterday – leaving the question of who was in charge at the time still unclear.

“We were essentially a rudderless ship,” City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Queens) told amNewYork in the middle of a heated but temper-controlled seven-hour special City Council hearing Monday.

Questions by the council about who exactly was in control in New York during the post-Christmas blizzard that delivered 20 inches of snow — the sixth-worst in the city — weren’t adequately answered, said Vallone, who has proposed legislation that would require the mayor to say when he’s leaving town and who would therefore be in charge.

The whereabouts of Mayor Michael Bloomberg during the storm have not been made public, and his aides will only say he remained in contact with City Hall. Vallone asked during the hearing whether First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris was in the city, but he didn’t get a straight answer.

“All of the major decisions and major mistakes were made without even consulting the mayor or deputy mayor,” Vallone said at the hearing.

Instead, Deputy Mayor of Operations Stephen Goldsmith and other officials who testified refrained from pointing fingers at one another and instead shared in the mea culpas.

“We owe you and all New Yorkers for that lack of performance our administration’s apology and my personal promise not to let it happen again,” Goldsmith told the council, who called the hearing to learn why city cleanup and emergency rescue response was so sluggish.

Goldsmith, who was at his Washington, D.C., home at the time of the Dec. 26-27 snowstorm, did admit that neither he nor the mayor was consulted about whether to declare a snow emergency — an act that could have helped the city’s coordination efforts and kept people from driving on emergency roads.

In hindsight, the deputy mayor said, not declaring a snow emergency was one of several problems, including a lack of on-the-ground information and a failure to get additional plowing and towing resources.

Monday’s marathon hearing which had officials including the heads of the Sanitation Department and Office of Emergency Management on the hot seat lacked the fireworks that had been expected.

Still, several council members from Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island — places where street plowing was reportedly the slowest — echoed a feeling that their residents were treated as “second-class citizens.”

“We think ‘primary streets’ means streets in Manhattan,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens).


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