For those who love to criticize Bill de Blasio — which is to say, the majority of New Yorkers, even the ones who voted for him — this weekend was a godsend.
As a blackout hit parts of Manhattan’s West Side on Saturday night, leaving over 70,000 people in the dark, canceling Broadway shows, and grinding some subway trains to a halt, de Blasio was campaigning in Iowa, the state he has made a home base for his beyond-quixotic presidential campaign. As the scope of the power outage became clear, de Blasio elected to return to New York, but had to drive hours to Chicago to find a direct flight. By the time he arrived back in the city he’s in charge of, the crisis was over.
As the New York Times reported, other elected officials, including mayoral hopeful Corey Johnson and de Blasio nemesis Andrew Cuomo, were happy to fill the leadership void created by de Blasio’s absence.
Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, gave frequent updates on Twitter regarding the scope of the blackout. Mr. Johnson had been in Long Island when the blackout started, but returned to the city after the news broke.
A news conference held in the Upper West Side was attended by numerous elected officials, including the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer; the public advocate, Jumaane D. Williams; and the Manhattan borough president, Gale A. Brewer.
From Albany, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo deployed 200 state troopers and 50 light towers to the blackout area, and directed the Public Service Commission to investigate the cause of the power failure. By night’s end, Mr. Cuomo was in the city, touring the substation believed to be the cause of the problems, with the Con Edison chief executive, John McAvoy.
“Mayors are important,” Cuomo, who has tried to minimize de Blasio’s importance at every turn, told CNN. “Situations like this come up and you have to be on site, I believe that. I’m governor of New York, I have been for eight years. I can count the number of times I leave the state, basically on my fingers.”
The New York Post, an avowed de Blasio foe, took the opportunity to gleefully call for his removal on Monday, labeling the mayor’s non-presence over the weekend as “the moment that perfectly captured his distracted, ego-driven failure of a mayoralty.” Some New Yorkers used Twitter to express similar sentiments.
To be fair to de Blasio, the blackout only lasted only about five hours, and initial reports that only 20,000 people were affected by it make his initial decision not to abandon his midwestern jaunt at least somewhat understandable. Michael Bloomberg’s decampment to Bermuda ahead of a destructive 2010 snowstorm ranks far higher on the “mayor mishandles natural disaster/act of God” scale. As ever, the mayor can point to genuine accomplishments in office, as well as a solid economy and a low crime rate, as evidence that his tenure has been a success.
But de Blasio’s reputation for arrogance, his reportedly waning interest in the day-to-day responsibilities of being mayor, and his focus on a presidential run that seemingly nobody on Earth thinks is a good idea except him makes even mild missteps potent fodder for critics.
If he’s worried about backlash over this from Democratic voters, though, there is one upside: It’s hard to imagine his unfavorability rating dropping that much lower than it already is.