There is no more vexing force of nature for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio than snow.
It was only days after the former public advocate took the oath of office that he became embroiled in a fluffy white controversy. First, the mayor was sharply criticized for leading a force of drivers who failed to pre-salt certain key city streets so that when the snow did fall, it stuck. Even the meager amount of snow the city received in January of 2014 made major thoroughfares, like 5th Avenue in Manhattan, nearly impassable. Then, the city’s mayor was criticized for not getting the plows out fast enough. When they did, rumors swirled that the plow teams had orders to avoid areas believed to be occupied by upper-income city residents.
As Mary Katharine Ham noted, none of the major media outlets located in New York City felt the need to descend on the mayor’s office and perform an exhaustive investigation into the claim that the municipal government took political revenge out against a whole neighborhood by shutting down their roadways. No one asked if de Blasio presided over a “culture of intimidation,” despite the fact that there is a conspicuous overlap between the unplowed areas and the portion of the city that heavily supported the mayor’s primary opponent. All was forgiven and forgotten.
Similarly, few in the press fault the city’s mayor for wildly overreacting to a forecast that initially called for wild overreaction. The National Weather Service’s early forecasts were dire. The service’s failure to accurately predict where the storm would hit prompted NWS Mount Holly meteorologist Gary Szatkowski to issue an apology on his Twitter.
“My deepest apologies to many key decision makers and so many members of the general public,” he wrote.
Honestly, it happens. This storm wasn’t even on meteorologists’ radar, if you will, as recently as last Friday. NWS initially estimated that two to three feet of snow could hit the city. Even as of last night, the forecasters at NWS predicted that 18 to 24 inches were not out of the question. It isn’t all that uncommon for snow forecasts to miss the mark as badly as this one did for New York City.
But that does not mean that the public at large will be in that forgiving of a mood. Getting the storm forecast wrong is one thing, but shutting down a city and every major transportation artery ahead of it is quite another.
Even the New York Times observed that de Blasio had taken “unusual” steps ahead of this storm like shutting down the city’s subway systems. It is the first time in the city’s history that the trains had been closed because of a snow event. Indeed, the New York City blizzard of 1888 served as an impetus for the creation of the subway system.
Bus service, too, was suspended. And if you thought you could take a car into town if you needed to, you were mistaken. De Blasio ordered a travel ban on all vehicles, including bicycles, beginning at 11 last night to clear the streets for the 7,000 National Guard troops, 760 plows, and 50,000 pounds of salt that would get to work cleaning up New York City streets.
Even city parks closed at 6 p.m. last night, in case you might be tempted to go out and enjoy the rare snow event with friends and loved ones.
In the end, the city got about 10 inches of snow in Central Park.
Now, De Blasio is in good company. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also ordered a travel ban in place for the entire state, and most of New Jersey was relatively unscathed by the storm. Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned driving on 13 counties around the New York City area.
Some of these acts may have saved lives, but they have also shut down the area surrounding the nation’s largest metropolis and cost millions in lost economic activity. It may not be particularly fair, but each of these politicians who overreacted to this storm will take some heat for their decisions. De Blasio, in particular, will endure quite a bit of second guessing due to his complicated relationship with snow events and the city’s residents.
One thing is certain: This storm was not “historic” for the Big Apple. The only thing that could reasonably be considered “crippling” about this storm were the measures imposed by politicians aimed at keeping the public trapped indoors – for their own good.