How Mayor Bloomberg Got Hurricane Irene Right

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Mayor Bloomberg. Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The good ones learn. Mayor Michael Bloomberg messed up big time when a blizzard hit the city back in December, and his laissez-faire response seemed to contribute to days of snarled transport systems. But not this August, not with Hurricane (eventually Tropical Storm) Irene. The contrast couldn't have been starker: Instead of being hard to find, as he was during the winter, the mayor was ubiquitous this week, visiting storm shelters and conducting press conferences. Eight months ago he dismissed the hardships of regular New Yorkers; this time he showed he understood that the hurricane would create inconveniences and hazards while doing everything he could to minimize the disruptions by warning of them well in advance.

Was Bloomberg overcompensating for the administration's mistakes during the snowstorm? Yes — and so what? Given the facts and the odds as Irene churned up the East Coast, Bloomberg made the right calls, evacuating low-lying parts of the city and endorsing the transit shutdown. That the storm didn't hit as directly or devastatingly as it could have doesn't change the rightness of the mayor's actions.

One key decision however, was made at the beginning of August: Replacing Stephen Goldsmith as deputy mayor for operations with Caswell Holloway. Goldsmith, the cerebral former mayor of Indianapolis, had blown the response to the blizzard. Holloway, the former commissioner of the city's Department of Environmental Protections, knows the basics of catch basins and staffing levels.

But it was the mayor who was ultimately in charge this week, as he should be in a crisis, and even Bloomberg's tone was a major improvement. He can be peevish in press conferences, and at times this week he had a right to be cranky — as when too many stubborn citizens refused to move out. Yet Bloomberg didn't go beyond stern. Last night around 10 p.m., puffy-eyed and hoarse, the mayor was downright fatherly, telling the city to get some rest and assuring us that everything would be alright. Things weren't perfect Sunday morning. But this week, Bloomberg almost was.