By Ken Kowald
Now, to show that this native Manhattanite can give some digs on both sides of the Hudson, I shall proceed to our imperious new mayor. And, yes, I mean, imperious, on the basis of his early actions. You can look it up.
Of course, Bill de Blasio, as a politician, joins the vast ranks of the imperious on every level of society. So, while he might believe he is unique, in this respect he is not.
My first unsettling feelings about this were his initial reactions to our now-historical snowstorms. Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn was cleared; Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side was not. A great to-do about that, in this Tale of Two Cities.
Was this a message of some kind? If so, what was it? Was one place Paris and the other London? It’s a Dickens of a problem.
Then, in praising those who do the job of keeping the city running, he left out even a nod to the longest-serving city Sanitation commissioner, John Doherty. Curious, wasn’t it? Doherty was planning to take a deserved retirement when Mike Bloomberg left, but Bill urged him to stay on at least for awhile. But, thanking him in public? No way!
Now, you know I have a horse in this race. My father worked for the Sanitation Department for a quarter century and, as far as I know, he and the men he worked with — no women in those days, that I know of — worked well and hard. I have a soft spot for these people and not without reason. Believe me, I never met one who was imperious and I feel sure Doherty isn’t either.
Then came that call in the middle of the night to the top communications officer in the Police Department, about a Brooklyn minister who had been taken to a precinct late at night. His car had a defect and was spotted by the police and, when the officers checked, they found the bishop had a suspended license and had not shown up in court to answer some warrants.
No pressure, here, of course. The mayor was just responding to calls from others about the holding of the clergyman. And, folks, we were assured, the whole matter was properly resolved before Bill called. So, no damage, right?
Wrong! The very appearance of discrimination on the part of the mayor, for one of his earliest supporters, sends a message to the police and others in this administration: Don’t mess with the friends of the boss.
And then we come to the school (not) closing business. The decision was made, the mayor said, on the basis of misinformation from the National Weather Bureau. City Hall, Bill said, believed the storm would not be as great as it was. To prove it, while kids and parents were braving the streets and sidewalks, the new city schools chancellor, all smiles, assured us it was a beautiful day. This from a person with an outstanding educational record.
About more than 40 percent of students made it to school. How many teachers made it? We may never know. This is not like the old days, when many teachers lived within walking or subway/bus rides to their schools. Many use cars these days. Where could they have parked when they got to school?
Now, Bill’s comments about being misled by the feds were a bit strange. The day before the snowstorm, my dentist, with whom I had an appointment on the day of the storm, decided in advance to close his office and cancel my visit because of the oncoming weather. He is in a fairly large office complex, with plenty of outside and inside parking. Did he, somehow, have better knowledge of the weather than the mayor? A day in advance?
And, if you watched local news during that time, you could see the scrawls showing not only individual schools prepared to close the next day, but whole school districts opting out. Those weather reports, to Elaine and me, seemed pretty grim. Not, however, to those in City Hall, it would appear.
But, go fight City Hall!
Now, I will not quarrel with the decision to keep the schools open, but I do quarrel with the inability to say something like, “Look, we have to make decisions here about many things. You may not agree with them, and I honor your disagreement, but those are the facts. We will thank you for praising us, when possible, and we will take the punches when you think we are wrong.”
That might not have pleased everyone, but at least it would be taking responsibility, instead of trying to shift the blame.
I will quarrel, however, with that middle of the night call about someone in police custody. That, to me, is out of line. Let’s hope the imperiousness of it is an aberration. We shall see.
De Blasio says Fiorella LaGuardia is one of his heroes. The Little Flower was a great mayor, so the choice is a good one.
Bill may remember that LaGuardia once said, “When I make a mistake, it’s a beaut!”
Was LaGuardia imperious? Of course, but he could rise above that.
De Blasio is a young man. It should never be too late to learn, especially for someone who received such a large mandate last year. He has about 45 months more to show what he can do. It is in the best interests of all of us to wish him well.
I certainly do.
Finally, I would warn Bill about possible “friends.” One of those who surfaced to defend Bill’s school day decision was Rudi Giuliani. And here I thought he was in Iowa rounding up votes for 2016.
There is an old phrase. How does it go? “With friends like these ….”
Watch out, Bill.