NYC mayor: Snowstorm response unacceptable

NEW YORK - December 30, 2010

At an event in Queens where Bloomberg gave an update on the cleanup to reporters, Queens borough President Helen Marshall took the microphone to say her residents need more help. "Where is the plow?" she said.

The city's cleanup efforts, which left streets covered in snow days after the storm had finished, "was slower than anyone would have liked," Bloomberg said.

He added, "Clearly the response to this storm has not met our standard or the standard that New Yorkers have come to expect from us."

The Sanitation Department has plowed every city street at least once, except for those blocks where abandoned cars blocked the way, and 1,600 plows were on the roads, he said. The last of the 600 stuck buses had been cleared, as had most of the abandoned cars, he said.

Asked what was different about the response to this storm as opposed to previous ones, Bloomberg said the approach had been the same.

"We went into this with the same plan, the same training if not better, the same resources if not more. The results were very different," he said. "That's what we're going to take a look at."

He said the city decided on Christmas to have workers come in the next day, when the blizzard hit, and that they had the staffing they needed. He denied that budget concerns kept the city from bringing in more resources.

"The budget had nothing to do with this. We thought we had an adequate number of people, an adequate number amount of equipment, and the right training."

The blizzard struck days before 100 Sanitation Department supervisors in charge of coordinating the plowing fleet were scheduled to be demoted in a budget-cutting move.

The timing of the demotions, scheduled for Jan. 1, ignited speculation that disgruntled supervisors had purposely sabotaged the snow removal effort in an act of revenge.

"I don't think it took place, but we are going to do an investigation to make sure that it didn't," Bloomberg said.

Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said he was also concerned but had seen no sign of a such a move. The heads of the two unions that represent sanitation department supervisors and rank-and-file workers said the rumors were false and insulting.

The stories of a slowdown, though, gained traction after a Republican city council member from Queens, Dan Halloran, said he met with three sanitation workers who had complained that supervisors upset about the pending demotions had "basically been giving them a green light not to do their job."

While no one was explicitly ordered to leave streets unplowed, Halloran said, certain supervisors had made it clear that workers who shirked their duties wouldn't be punished.

"If you miss streets, you're not going to be written up," he said. "You're not going to get checked up on. Take your time. This administration doesn't care. ... The supervisors aren't going to be there. So don't worry about it when you're making the rounds."

Asked whether he thought those supervisors might simply have been demoralized and complaining out loud, rather than ordering a work slowdown, Halloran pointed to the sorry state of the streets for days after the storm.

Joseph Mannion, president of the Sanitation Officers Association, which represents about 1,000 supervisors and has been fighting the pending demotions, called that claim "ludicrous."

"There would never be a coordination to do anything in the snow. It's absolutely a taboo issue," he said. "You never, ever play with people's lives. And that's what they are saying we did."


Associated Press writer David B. Caruso contributed to this report.

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