During the Cleanup, a Blizzard of City Politicking

The snow is finally disappearing. Now it’s the apologies that are piling up. Yesterday Mayor Michael Bloomberg embarked on an outerborough contrition tour, where he’s continuing to belatedly admit that the city’s blizzard response was flawed. Yet for all the objective physical problems of the past five days, the snowpocalypse has also been a (groan) perfect storm of politics. Consider:

• The blizzard and the chaotic cleanup hit during the slow news days between Christmas and New Year’s, handing the media a photogenic, populist space-filler.

• The core of Bloomberg’s appeal — and of his self-image — is his supposed genius at management. On the flip side, he’s always been terrible at public empathy. So New Yorkers expect Bloomberg to handle the basics of civic-service delivery with speed and unparalleled competence — and when millions complained about going unplowed for days, Bloomberg responded in character, basically telling everyone to stop whining. That the mayor didn’t seem to know what was really going on in the streets, however, is inexcusable, but it’s related to one of the signature elements of his administration: Bloomberg trusts his commissioners to do their jobs and doesn’t meddle. This time he got burned, in part because one key deputy mayor, Stephen Goldsmith, is new to the city and to his job. (A digression: Bloomberg’s tone-deafness early in the week was aggravating if not surprising, but his words were on target in one respect — the sixth-largest snowfall in city history doesn’t go away overnight, and thousands of EMS, FDNY, NYPD, and DSNY workers have been busting their butts to make things better and to save lives. They seem to have gotten started a little late, but that was the boss’s call.)

• Nine years in, Bloomberg fatigue is building. The mayor’s tearing up of term limits emboldened critics; most recently, his surprise anointing of Cathie Black further roiled a school system that’s been subjected to near constant change for the past decade, and it stoked the feeling that the city is run by and for its Manhattan elites; and the quadrennial boomlet in Bloomberg presidential speculation — no matter how strenuously he denies interest — irritates New Yorkers who’d prefer he mind the local store instead of jetting off to Hong Kong.

• This is one of the things an enormous recession means, in real terms: Fewer and less-experienced city employees to drive plows. Just wait until next year, when the state slashes the city’s budget even further.

• The 2013 mayoral election may seem far away to civilians, but it isn’t for pols like Christine Quinn, Ruben Diaz Jr., and Bill de Blasio. They were right to shout about the delays in clearing the streets, but they’ve also been scoring some easy points with outerborough voters.

Today Bloomberg is sounding remorseful, calling the city’s response “inadequate and unacceptable.” He’ll be facing more storms soon.

During the Cleanup, a Blizzard of City Politicking