VIDEO: Bloomberg Praises Occupy Sandy During Surprise Trip to the Rockaways
THE ROCKAWAYS — Mayor Michael Bloomberg thanked Occupy Sandy for their relief work in the Rockaways Thursday during a visit that left some desperate residents seething.
Bloomberg made an unannounced visit to the hard-hit region Thursday, and — in an ironic coincidence for a mayor who has clashed repeatedly with the Occupy movement — his helicopter managed to touch down right behind Occupy Sandy's headquarters at the St. Camillus Church, witnesses said.
Stunned Occupiers gathered in the church quickly scrambled, grabbing sheets of paper and magic markers to scribble signs that read “Rockaways in a public health crisis!" and headed outside to confront the mayor, who last year ordered a violent clearing of Zuccotti Park that led to hundreds of arrests.
But this time the mayor had kinder words for the group.
"Thank you for everything you've done. You guys are great," Bloomberg told a group of protesters that had gathered along with residents later in the afternoon, according to video from the scene.
"We really do appreciate it, all kidding aside. You really are making a difference. Goodbye," he said.
Bloomberg was in the neighborhood for an interview with the editors of The Wave newspaper, which was set to begin publication again Friday for the first time since Hurricane Sandy. Bloomberg and several aides sat down with the wave's editors and City Councilman Eric Ulrich to talk about the recovery efforts, the paper wrote.
After he'd landed in their parking lot, the small group followed him to the paper's office, where they gathered along with a handful of local residents and community organizers who'd heard the mayor was nearby.
Members of the group said that residents were desperate to talk to the mayor and ask him for more help coping with an increasingly desperate situation, including no power, heat or hot water and a growing mold problem, more than a month after the storm.
“They wanted to try to talk to him, to have him hear what was going on," said Jessica Roff, a Sandy organizer who has been volunteering with the relief efforts since the day after the storm.
“It's pretty desperate. It's really cold. It's getting colder. There are a lot of people without heat and hot water," she said. “The health crisis is growing."
But when Bloomberg finally emerged, he swiftly thanked the protesters — and then walked away, prompting anger from both residents and Occupy members, who began to shout.
"Why don't you come and talk to the residents who would like to speak with you, Mr. Mayor? There are lot of resident here," yelled on woman.
"What about the residents? You don't care, right? Go back to Manhattan!" added a man.
The brush-off left some in the group angry.
“That hurt us,” said Christine Donohue, 31, a life-long resident of the Rockaways whose home was completely destroyed by the storm. Since then, she said, she's been living with friends and volunteering in the neighborhood.
Donohue said that she wanted to find out why more federal aid wasn't coming to the area and why there were no plans to build temporary housing nearby.
“I feel like he could have answered a question... If he could have at least acknowledged the questions. Just one...," she said angrily. "It's just like I was talking to the wall.”
“It was rude,” she added. “Help us please.”
Roff said the anger continued after the camera turned off.
"People were pretty aggravated at the mayor. They were pretty aggravated with everybody," she said. "People were frustrated, but not surprised."
Marc La Vorgna, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said that Bloomberg has made "near daily visits to affected neighborhoods to talk to people impacted by the storm," but that that just wasn't part of the plan Thursday.
"We just didn’t have time for an unplanned stop yesterday," he said.
Days after the storm, NY1 captured footage of furious residents in the Rockaways, confronting Bloomberg and demanding help. Since then, Bloomberg has rarely invited reporters to accompany him on his tours.
"We have not been making these public photo ops and likely will continue that practice," La Vorgna said at the time, adding that the precense of reporters and camera crews "Doesn't help anyone who needs help."