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A tale of two blizzard responses

By Rory Lancman

Mayor Mike Bloomberg was in Bermuda when the blizzard of 2010 bore down on New York City, burying forgotten Queens residents under a blanket of snow.

But what’s Mayor Bill de Blasio’s excuse?

Nothing quite tests a New York City mayor’s mettle like a blizzard. A raging snowstorm has the unique ability to pierce through a mayor’s lofty rhetoric or grand vision of government. The snow either gets plowed out of the way or it doesn’t; the rest is just commentary.

A snowstorm got Lindsay. A snowstorm got Bloomberg. And a snowstorm just got de Blasio. Unfortunately, in all three cases that meant it really got my constituents.

Late Sunday night, a full 24 hours after Winter Storm Jonas spit out its last snowflake on New York City, I toured streets throughout the neighborhoods in my central/eastern Queens district. Too many hadn’t yet been introduced to a snowplow, or had a fleeting acquaintance so long past that it left no remaining impression. Our streets were blanketed in snow and people were trapped in their homes, unable to get to school, work or doctor’s appointments.

In a truly cruel technological twist, the city’s online, real-time snowplow tracker, PlowNYC, showed many streets as having been recently plowed when clearly they hadn’t been plowed at all. Really, what inspires greater confidence in your government than standing atop a snow mound in the middle of an unplowed street and looking at a city app telling you that the street was plowed a few hours ago?

This is just one manifestation of the city’s failure to fulfil one of its most basic responsibilities, but in the investigatory hearing to come (and boy does there need to be an investigatory hearing), we need to explore if PlowNYC’s detached optimism was as much cause as symptom. For example, was the city relying on PlowNYC’s flawed data to make decisions about where to deploy resources, diverting snowplows from streets that it mistakenly believed were already plowed?

Another problem seems to be a lack of front loading snowplows for our narrower streets. Residents all over my district looked around like British infantrymen wondering “where was the R.A.F.” in the Battle of Dunkirk, asking themselves “where are the front loaders?” But, unlike the unfairly maligned Royal Air Force, it seems our front loaders were really missing in action. Is this the result of an over-reliance on outside contractors?

The bottom line: the city knows how to remember Queens in a snowstorm when it wants to. My constituents want to know why during the blizzard just past, this city administration chose to forget.

Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) represents Council District 24 in the New York City Council.

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