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Mayor Bloomberg Calls Snow Cleanup Efforts 'Unacceptable'

By Nicole Bode | December 30, 2010 8:59am | Updated on December 30, 2010 2:31pm

By Nicole Bode

DNAinfo Senior Editor

MANHATTAN – Mayor Michael Bloomberg has joined the chorus of critics who have blasted the city's response to this week's blizzard.

"The response to the snowstorm was inadequate and unacceptable," Bloomberg said at a late-morning press conference in Queens Thursday.

For days, the mayor had defended the city's efforts to clear the 20 inches of snow dumped by the blizzard from city streets, even sarcastically suggesting that people griping about being stuck in their homes should check out a Broadway show.

But on Thursday he struck a more conciliatory tone, saying, "no one is satisfied" with the current situation and adding, "we're not making excuses."

Despite assurances that all city streets would be plowed by 7 a.m., Bloomberg said sanitation trucks were still working to clear the streets and would need more time to finish the job.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg gives an update on snow removal during a stop in Queens.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg gives an update on snow removal during a stop in Queens.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

"We still have work to do," Bloomberg said, as part of his citywide snow assessment tour.

"Shovel the streets!" Chris Gonzalez, 27, of the Bronx shouted at Bloomberg after the mayor had lunch there with City Councilman James Vacca.

The mayor did not appear to hear him. Gonzalez didn't feel Bloomberg was doing enough to clear the streets.

"His feet ain't wet," Gonzalez said.

Plows were still making their way through parts of the outer boroughs that have remained buried under snow for days, and would continue to clear streets as people digging out their cars tossed snow into the roadways.

Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty told reporters Wednesday that he wanted to have all streets plowed by 7 p.m. that night, but that he couldn't guarantee it would be done until 7 a.m. Thursday.

The mayor said that the city's response was "slower than anyone would have liked," but was at a loss to say why. A postmortem on the city's blizzard-clearing efforts was promised after the job was done.

The mayor's handling of the blizzard and its aftermath has drawn sharp criticism across the five boroughs, even drawing a stern tirade from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall at the end of Bloomberg's Thursday press conference.

Marshall took the podium as Bloomberg tried to wrap his press conference and blasted the city's and the MTA's response to the blzzard.

"We still need help," Marshall said regarding snow build-up that is now icy, compressed and much harder to remove. "I'm not tall, but some of these piles are higher than me."

She said that the phones in her office were ringing off the hook with people calling to say they couldn't get out of their homes or to work because the borough's limited transit options were crippled.

Earlier in the day, new details also emerged about a rumored sanitation work protest and flubbed MTA emergency protocols.

Bloomberg and his team have repeatedly denied rumors that Sanitation Department workers were intentionally slowing down the pace of the cleanup efforts as a protest for recent budget cutbacks.

"I don't think it took place," Bloomberg said at Thursday's press conference, adding that his office would look into the claims. "It would be an outrage if it took place."

But Queens City Councilman Dan Halloran told the New York Post that a group of "guilt-ridden" sanitation workers confessed to a widespread plot to leave the city streets a slushy mess.

Some of the stalling tactics included keeping their plows raised higher than usual so that streets would have to be plowed additional times, and refusing to plow streets that weren’t their responsibility, even if they were en route to the streets that are.

"They were told [by supervisors] to take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner," Halloran told the Post. "They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file."

Gov. David Paterson also called for an investigation into the allegations.

"Right now it would be better for there to be an investigation about the allegations that I heard the Councilman making,” Paterson said on his radio show. "This would be a very, very serious breach."

He said that anybody who works in snow removal understands the potential risks to human safety a delay would cause.

"I just think the whole thing would be outrageous if it's actually true," he said, adding that he believes it would be a criminal act. "There are examples of people whose lives were threatened severely because of the inability to leave the vicinity that they were in."

Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, dismissed the charges.

"Believe me. I ain't messing around and none of my workforce is messing around. We know that peoples’ lives are on the line," he said.

Bloomberg's office is also catching heat for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's failure to prepare for this week's blizzard at full emergency capacity, leaving workers scrambling in the following days, according to reports.

MTA brass waited until the blizzard was already in full swing Sunday to declare a Plan 4 emergency plan, instead of getting the jump on the storm by declaring it in advance, the Daily News reported.

One MTA union official told the paper the debacle was evidence of a "systemwide failure."

Bloomberg’s top aides also caught blame for exacerbating the sluggish snowstorm response. Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith, who’s in charge of overseeing the Sanitation Department, was responsible for slashing 100 sanitation supervisors in January, the News reported.

Those are the same demotions that reportedly spawned sanitation worker slowdowns in retaliation, according to reports. Goldsmith wasn’t in New York City during the blizzard, and didn’t come back to the command center until Monday, the News reported.

Goldsmith tried a tact from Newark N.J. Mayor Corey Booker Thursday, taking to Twitter to ask snowed-in New Yorkers to "DM", or direct message, him with their locations.

"If your block hasn't been plowed DM me I'll pass them on," Goldsmith wrote at 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come under fire for the city's sluggish response to Sunday's blizzard.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come under fire for the city's sluggish response to Sunday's blizzard.
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Heather Grossmann/DNAinfo