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Mayor Michael Bloomberg Digging Out his Reputation After Storm

By DNAinfo Staff on January 3, 2011 7:12am

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

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg has built his reputation running New York City with the same results-focused demeanor that helped him become a billionaire CEO.

But as the city finally finishes digging out from the post-Christmas blizzard, which earned the mayor's office, the MTA and the Sanitation Department the derision of the city, some observers say Bloomberg’s reputation has suffered what may be a lasting blow that could permanently tarnish his legacy.

"It’s bad," said Baruch College professor Doug Muzzio of the recent flood of criticism against the mayor.

Bloomberg's stock is sinking on the heels of the massive CityTime scandal, in which four city contractors were charged with stealing $80 million from the city while assigned to the long-troubled automated payroll system designed — ironically — to prevent fraud.

A snow plow stands parked outside of City Hall Wednesday.
A snow plow stands parked outside of City Hall Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

The two scandals strike at the very heart of what was supposed to be Bloomberg' s greatest strength: his managerial competence.

"It helps shatter the mythology of Mike Bloomberg, super manager," Muzzio said. "This is a two-hammer blow."

Since shortly after the snow stopped falling, critics have blasted the mayor for the sluggish cleanup effort, which left some still buried three days after the storm.

Many have faulted City Hall for failing to declare an emergency, which would have banned non-emergency cars from the road and could have headed off the number of cars and city buses left stranded in the snow, some critics argue.

Critics also blasted the city and the MTA for failing to prepare for the blizzard, including not assembling enough snow-removal machines to cope with the snowfall and falling behind on preemptive tactics needed to keep the city's subways and buses running.

"Someone was sleeping at the switch," Brooklyn State Sen. Karl Kruger told radio host Nachum Segal in an interview last week as part of the litany of critics who blasted Bloomberg on local and national media.

Krueger said the city had more than enough warning from forecasters that a storm was on the way. He also blamed City Hall for making management decisions "in a vacuum, not appreciating the severity or ultimately the results of the action."

"This goes to the heart of what city administration and management is all about," Krueger said.

Bloomberg initally downplayed concerns about his handling of the blizzard's aftermath, but eventually bowed to criticism, calling the city's response both "inadequate and unacceptable."

"Clearly, the response to this storm did not meet our standards, or the standards that New Yorkers have come to expect from us. The long delays in plowing some of the City’s streets should not have happened – and we make no excuses," he said in his weekly radio address Sunday.

A postmortem on the city's blizzard-clearing efforts has been promised in the days to come.

The city is already investigating allegations that disgruntled sanitation workers may have intentionally slowed cleanup efforts to protest recent budget cuts.

Queens City Councilman Dan Halloran came forward last week to reveal a meeting he had with a group of Department of Transportation supervisors and sanitation workers who claim they were ordered by some other sanitation supervisors to delay their work to retaliate against Bloomberg for a round of demotions.

Halloran said the workers were told, "The mayor’s office didn’t care about us,'" so "they wouldn’t care about them (the mayor's office.)"

Halloran criticized the "rogue supervisors" for taking their frustrations out on the city.

But he said Bloomberg also shoulders some of the blame because neither he nor Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty appeared to fully appreciate the extent of the workers' anger or know what was going on on the ground.

"It was a management breakdown, a clear accountability breakdown," he said. "The mayor didn’t know what the real story was…. he didn’t get the information," Halloran said.

Muzzio said Bloomberg's reputation could get a short-term boost if it turns out that sanitation workers did indeed stage a slowdown, since "it provides an excuse that it wasn’t really me, it was those bad workers," he said.

But in the long term, Muzzio said Bloomberg could still be judged responsible for the blizzard cleanup failures.

"But at the same time it talks to his budget management," Muzzio said. "They still should have called an emergency earlier. They made errors that helped lead to this disaster."