NEW YORK CITY – There’s nothing like a bitter winter storm to put Northeastern pols in the hot seat. And this week’s massive snowfall across much of New England and the northern Mid-Atlantic region seems to have done the trick.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent a second day Tuesday batting back questions about his administration’s response to the Christmas weekend deluge, urging citizens to stay calm while city agencies work to clear the streets.
Bloomberg has taken two cuts, so far, at responding to the storm. First, there was a prickly Monday press conference in which he said the city was doing its best despite “the furious pace of the snowfall.”
“The city is going fine. Broadway shows were full last night,” said Bloomberg, who also took a five-borough tour of the city to survey the government’s response.
On Tuesday, Bloomberg offered a deeper nod to feeling his constituents’ pain, telling reporters, “I’m angry, too,” but “yelling and complaining about it doesn’t help.”
In New Jersey, the line of succession has made Democratic state Senate President Stephen Sweeney the acting governor in Christie and Guadagno’s absence, and a spokesman for Christie insisted that the situation is under control.
“I honestly don’t understand what the big issue is,” said press secretary Michael Drewniak, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Yes, it’s a big storm, but nothing has changed as far as the functions of government.”
That keep-calm-and-carry-on message hasn’t calmed critics on either side of the Hudson, however. The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, jabbed at Christie and his absent lieutenant governor in an editorial beginning: “When the boss is away, you fill in.” “Maybe next year, the state’s two top executives will plan their vacations better so someone from the team is in charge. That’s how this was supposed to work,” the paper continued.
Two mayors of Washington have struggled with the politics of heavy snow: Marion Barry, who was caught out of the city at the Super Bowl in San Diego during blizzard season in 1987, and Adrian Fenty, who drew sharp criticism for his snow removal efforts earlier this year.
The problem for Fenty, said one Democratic strategist involved in DC politics, was that the less than vigorous blizzard response confirmed one of the voters’ major complaints about him: “It was another example of how this guy is ignoring our community.”
“It wasn’t a top-of-mind issue for many voters, but it was one of these issues that was constantly percolating under the surface,” the strategist said. “It just sort of confirmed the impression, particularly in the more poor neighborhoods, that he was ignoring them. Because everyone was hearing about how up in Ward Three [in more affluent Northwest DC] their streets had gotten plowed.”
It’s not clear that either Bloomberg or Christie – or Guadagno – will face Fenty-like consequences for the storm this week; Fenty lost a September primary to incoming mayor Vincent Gray. Bloomberg has said he will not run for another term as mayor and it’s unlikely that snow removal would become an issue for a larger-scale campaign.
Christie, meanwhile, has three years left before he has to run for reelection. The fallout could be greater for Guadagno, who is New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor since the job was created in 2005.
“People are pretty shocked that both would be out of state at the same time,” said Rutgers professor David Redlawsk, who heads the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. “The whole point of the lieutenant governor was to have somebody to step in for the governor who is part of the same team.”Redlawsk pointed out that one of Christie’s signature issues – fighting powerful government employee unions – could look differently amid a major snow cleanup effort.
“Much of what we’re seeing is a combination of the strength of the storm and cutbacks because of the budget crisis,” he said. “Layoffs of municipal employees can’t be helping the situation. Whether that will affect attitudes towards Gov. Christie remains to be seen.”
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat viewed by his party as a rising star, has crisscrossed the city personally to help clear snow and has kept a running, very public log of his efforts on Twitter.
“I’m on it,” Booker tweeted, in response to a user who said their car was covered in snow on Cutler Street.
Another user tweeted, “my mom stuck on 9th ave and 12th that whole block wasn’t plowed,” prompting Booker to respond: “I will get someone to your mom’s street, tell her to stay put.”