Officials wary of Halloran claims on snow cleanup

By Connor Adams Sheets

Community leaders, elected officials and city workers are raising doubts about City Councilman Dan Halloran’s (R-Whitestone) claim that northeast Queens sanitation supervisors called for a work slowdown during the Dec. 26 blizzard and the storm cleanup.

“There was absolutely, 100 percent, no slowdown,” said a northeast Queens plow driver from the city Sanitation Department, who declined to give his name for fear of repercussions. “I was out there, I saw it. We gave 120 percent.”

Halloran claimed in statements, heated TV appearances and newspaper interviews during the days after the storm that several of the city’s Strongest paid a guilt-ridden visit to his office to confess to participating in a slowdown in response to the Sanitation Department’s plans to demote 100 supervisors.

The city Department of Investigations and federal investigators are looking into whether such a deliberate job action actually took place, and Halloran is refusing to give investigators and reporters the names of the workers he said came forward to report it. His office provided TimesLedger Newspapers with a list of 239 northeast Queens residents who he says contacted him to say that they supported his efforts to look into the issue, many of whom say they saw evidence of the slowdown with their own eyes.

Halloran’s claims were picked up by a number of media outlets, including the New York Post (The TimesLedger and the Post are both owned by News Corp.), which ran a front-page article alleging a coordinated citywide slowdown.

Halloran spokesman Steve Stites dialed down the rhetoric Tuesday when he said the councilman never claimed the slowdown reached beyond northeast Queens, despite numerous rumors and reports to the contrary in the aftermath of the storm, and that the slowdown was probably only due to several supervisors ordering a few dozen workers to raise their plows, slough off and do other things to protest the demotions.

“We’re not saying it was a union action, it was a handful of supervisors who were upset at the administration and they wanted to get back at them for the upcoming demotions,” Stites said. “We don’t know if it happened in Brooklyn, we’re not saying it happened all over the borough, we’re just saying it happened in northeast Queens.”

But politicians and community leaders on both sides of the aisle are speaking up, casting doubt on the possibility that any such event occurred and questioning Halloran’s motivations in promoting such a claim. Two Democratic officials, who refused to be named, even went so far as to say they believe he made up the allegations.

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) did not go so far, but she did say she questions Halloran’s interpretation and presentation of what took place during last month’ blizzard.

“I don’t want to blame him, but I haven’t heard anything else and I’ve even talked to people who are family members of sanitation workers or sanitation workers themselves, and they said snow shoveling and plowing are the pride and joy of their work and so they would never sabotage their job to prove a point,” she said.

Community Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty said he does not believe there was a major organized slowdown, although he did not criticize Halloran directly.

“I didn’t see anything like that,” he said. “I’m not saying it didn’t happen, it’s the extent. There may have been one or two guys who went by with the plows up, but I find it hard to believe it was a big, clandestine plan.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) submitted a Freedom of Information Act inquiry to a number of city agencies that were involved in the response effort, requesting copies of all communication immediately prior to the storm.

“The only people who talked about it went to Halloran’s office? I find that hard to believe,” he said. “There may have been one or two workers who didn’t do their job, but I think by and large the workers did their job to clear the snow.”

Even former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican, has expressed doubts that there was a slowdown.

“If there was a slowdown, and I’m not sure there was, I would doubt it,” he said on MSNBC last week. “Because I know the Sanitation Department, that just doesn’t sound right to me, that there was some deliberate slowdown.”

Stites said the facts will come out when the investigations conclude and that the city will see the shameful actions of the few “bad apples” in the Sanitation Department who took part in the alleged slowdown.

Whitestone resident Frank Fusco said he supports Halloran’s efforts and that he saw Sanitation trucks sitting idle for extended periods while roads were still deep with snow in his neighborhood.

“Was there a slowdown? I don’t know. Were there trucks parked with no one in them? Yes. What were they doing there if they’re not going out to plow? You’re sitting there, what are you waiting for? Francis Lewis was still covered. The side streets were still covered,” he said. “I called Halloran that morning and I think he’s been excellent. He knew what was going on and I think he’s doing a fantastic job in questioning all this.”

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