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Mayor Bloomberg Admits City Could Have Handled Blizzard Better

By DNAinfo Staff on December 29, 2010 11:48am  | Updated on December 30, 2010 6:22am

By Jill Colvin, Jim Scott and Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg stayed on the defensive Wednesday as outrage across New York continued to mount over the city's sluggish response to a blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow on the Big Apple.

Bloomberg acknowledged that the city's response was not as good as in years past.

"We did not do as good a job as we wanted to do or as the city has a right to expect," the mayor said during a press conference in the South Bronx Wednesday.

"I cannot tell you for sure why it was a lot worse this time than at other times," Bloomberg added.

Residents have been outspoken about the city's slow response to the storm, and many blamed the mayor.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg gives an update on snow removal efforts in the South Bronx Wednesday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg gives an update on snow removal efforts in the South Bronx Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

Anthony Washington, 44, who lives in the Bronx and works as a courier in Manhattan, said he saw the mayor's press conference this morning and thought he was very defensive.

"Bloomberg did an awful job reacting to the situation. Just imagine they are now trying to lay off more workers! I think that’s ludicrous," Washington said.

"I do believe he did a bad job, that’s why he doesn’t belong as mayor. He focuses on finance, and you can’t move the city around without the little people."

Said Halaka, 56, who lives on Upper West Side and works in catering at the Waldorf, said that the city had done a much worse job than last year.

"They prepared themselves last time but this time they really didn’t," Halaka said. "If at least they had the bus stop cleaned up or just had the subway stairs cleaned, it would be better."

Many residents were also still complaining Wednesday about unplowed streets in the outer boroughs.

Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said he expects most streets to be plowed by 7 p.m. Wednesday night, but that 7 a.m Thursday was more likely.

MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the "vast majority" of transit services have also been restored, though he advised riders to expect delays on most routes.

All subway lines are up and running, except the 'N' train and the Franklin Avenue shuttle and approximately 90 percent of the city’s 350 bus routes are working, he said. The 'N' and shuttle are expected to be restored later Wednesday.

Alternate Side Parking and parking meter regulations have been suspended for Wednesday and Thursday to facilitate ongoing snow removal, and will also be suspended Friday through Sunday.

The snowy streets may have contributed to the death of several people in the Brooklyn and Queens after the storm ended Monday.

"My heart goes out to those who experienced trauma and tragedy," Bloomberg said Wednesday. The mayor said he was "dissatisfied" with the way emergency response system performed during and after the blizzard.

"I'm extremely disappointed with the way our emergency response systems performed," Bloomberg added.

The mayor said emergency services were "overwhelmed" with 49,478 calls to 911 on Monday — the sixth biggest call volume in the system's history.

A newborn baby died in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, after it took emergency responders 10 hours to respond to the mother's 911 call on Monday, the Daily News reported.

"This is New York City, and I'm a New Yorker, and this is not the first storm we've ever had," said Florence Simancas, 51, told the News. "Somebody dropped the ball ... big-time."

A Queens woman was forced to wait for three hours for first responders after calling 911 on behalf of her mother who was having trouble breathing on Monday morning, the News reported. Yvonne Freeman, 75, was dead by the time emergency workers were finally able to reach her Corona home.

FDNY Deputy Commissioner Francis X. Gribbon said the backlog stood at 1,350 calls at its highest point, but that only one in three of those calls were placed because of a potentially life-threatening situation.

The backlog has now been cleared, the mayor said.

Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, blamed the recent cuts to Sanitation Department’s workforce for the city’s sluggish response.

The city currently has 2,400 men and women working 12-hour shifts following a series of cuts, he said.

"This is the lowest amount of man power that we ever went into a winter with," Nespoli said. "There’s certain agencies you just don’t cut. We just lost the storm."

Bloomberg denied that budget cuts had anything to do with the lackluster response, saying that the number of plows and boots on the street were the same as in previous storms.

A man clears snow in Harlem on Dec. 27, 2010.
A man clears snow in Harlem on Dec. 27, 2010.
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Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Instead, the mayor placed the blame at least partially on the public for failing to heed orders not to drive or call 911 except in true emergencies.

"Unfortunately, too many people didn’t listen and that overwhelmed the system," the mayor said.

"That’s really been the key difference that we can point to so far between this snow storm and others," he said of the stuck cars and trucks that blocked streets, making it impossible for snow plows to pass.

But Nespoli said that Bloomberg should have called a state of emergency to keep the cars — many of which are still impeding clean up efforts — off the roads.

"The problem was that the public was driving around late Sunday night," he said.

The police had removed more than 1,000 vehicles from the Van Wyck, Gowanus and Cross Bronx expressways alone by Tuesday.

About 50 MTA buses are still stuck in the snow, down from 600 early Tuesday, the mayor said.

Doherty said another problem is that the Sanitation Department has had a great deal of difficulty hiring independent contractors, which it typically uses to supplement its fleet.

"We did not get the independent contractors this time as we did in the past," he said. "This is something that I have not experienced in the past."

The holidays likely contributed to the problem, he said.

The city has now hired 28 giant front-end loaders from private contractors and is using 70 tow trucks on loan from police, Bloomberg said.

It also hired nearly 700 laborers Tuesday to help shovel out bus stops and crosswalks and has hired about 1,200 more to continue Wednesday and Thursday.

Despite the progress, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and others have blasted the city's response to the blizzard as "unacceptable."

"New Yorkers have serious questions about the city's snow emergency policy and response," Quinn said in a statement.

The Council will hold hearings next month to examine the city’s response to the blizzard.

But Bloomberg did manage to find at least one person pleased with the storm and cleanup efforts: Nick Casella, the manager of F&F Hardware & Paint Store in the South Bronx, which has sold ten snowmobiles, almost 200 bags of calcium chloride and hundreds of shovels because of the blizzard.

"It’s been a good thing for us," Casella told reporters before the mayor arrived at his store to update the press.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg's Upper East Side street was clean as a whistle on Tuesday.

Mayor Bloomberg's block at East 79th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues was snow free Wednesday morning.
Mayor Bloomberg's block at East 79th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues was snow free Wednesday morning.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer