Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Change of Pace, Part 2

While I am not in the habit of writing 'light' pieces as a journalist, I believe it's important to acknowledge credit where credit is due. As if to underscore my previous entry about Rudy Giuliani, Bill de Blasio (the new NYC Mayor), deserves praise for his handling of last week's snowstorm. Specifically:
a) The patience he demonstrated while reacting to local reporters as they began circling the waters for blood, like sharks--as they seem predetermined to do whenever there's an event of almost any potential controversy, even in the absence of any;

b) The thoughtful and deliberative way the Mayor explained why schools were kept open, in the face of outright hostility from some reporters;

c) de Blasio's ability to genuinely acknowledge making a mistake with aplomb and humility. 

Humility? Graciously accepting a mistake had been made? This was indeed a stark contrast to our two previous mayors.

Here's what happened: After the storm initially hit, reports from residents of the uber-entitled Upper East Side of Manhattan started making their way to the media saying they didn't receive the "appropriate" level of sanitation services to clear the snow. 

For the record, my parents moved into this area in 1964, where I was raised. I watched it change first gradually, from being a melting pot of mostly working class immigrants--Germans, Hungarians, Irish--until the 1980's when then-Mayor Koch ushered in the first real wave of mega-development. Many of the neighborhood's rent-stabilized buildings were spared for a time, so while the population changed, there was still a mix of the old and new. By the mid-1990s, the singular power of the real estate industry, vacancy decontrol, and Giuliani's philosophy of 'business and development' at all costs, served as a lethal cocktail to any vestiges of the past, obliterating a good chunk of Manhattan's history. It currently contains some of the the nation's wealthiest zip codes.

In response to inquiries about the complaints at his press conference, de Blasio said, "They’re just mistaken. No one was treated differently. We believe in a five-borough approach. That’s in everything we do.... I think people need to be mindful when they hurl those charges. That is not real respectful of the men and women who work so hard for us at Sanitation.... But every neighborhood is being serviced very devotedly by the men and women of Sanitation."

Of course, there's some irony here as outer borough residents have been making these claims for years; even Giuliani--the 'champion' of all things Staten Island--was not exempt from such criticism. Unless it's something akin to a 'snowpocalypse,' usually only some local community paper pays attention. But because this was the Upper East Side--even though it wasn't a giant blizzard and we're really talking about some temporary inconvenience--the media feeding frenzy commenced with its usual abandon.

Here's de Blasio's complete statement later that day: “After hearing concerns about street conditions on the Upper East Side, I headed to the area to survey the streets for myself, and to hear from residents directly. While the overall storm response across the city was well-executed, after inspecting the area and listening to concerns from residents earlier today, I determined more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side. I have instructed the Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation to double-down on cleanup efforts on the Upper East Side, and as a result, 30 vehicles and nearly 40 sanitation workers have been deployed to the area to finish the cleanup. Our crews will remain on the streets around the clock until the roadways are clear in every neighborhood, in every borough, across New York City.”

I also feel Mayor de Blasio deserves credit for describing in detail the criterion that goes into whether or not to keep open the City's public schools. "There are a lot of factors that go into the decision. First and foremost is safety. So I had to be convinced that the situation would be safe. But it’s also really important to remember - it’s our obligation - if we can make the school day work, by law, that’s our obligation," he explained. "If we didn't know if kids could get where they would need to go, they might be at a bus stop for a prolonged period of time and have that kind of exposure–that was a real concern. But when we heard at 10pm last night from the National Weather Service that this snow was tapering off rapidly, we knew what Commissioner Doherty had that he could deploy overnight, we talked to the MTA, we talked to the Department of Education about the school buses' path, et cetera. There was a real consensus on the call that we could get the system to work effectively– meaning kids would not be left in a situation of being outside for prolonged periods of time, and that's what was crucial in making the decision."

It cannot be understated--though it appears to be somewhat ignored within the mainstream narrative--that this is our first mayor with children enrolled in the public school system in decades. You have to go back to Mayor Abe Beam in the mid-1970s, though his children were out of school by the time he was elected.

So when this Mayor discussed the issue, you know it's one with which he is all too familiar. "I, for fourteen years as a public school parent, I thought about these exact issues for my own children," de Blasio said. Prompted by a journalist's question, the Mayor added, "Dante (his son) went to school today. I personally escorted him to school. He was grouching the whole way, but he had three exams today, so I just want to say for the record: Dante would have really liked to stay off for his three exams, but he is doing his three exams as we speak."

The de Blasio team clearly grasped the enormity of the issue, one in which it seems there is not necessarily a 'correct' answer. "By the way, a lot of parents in this town will tell you, that when kids aren't in school it's incredibly disruptive for their lives and they don't necessarily have a safe alternative place to send their child," explained de Blasio. "Let's be clear, I respect that you talked to some parents.... But when we think we can actually get the school day off effectively, and have transportation achieved in a way that will give us good attendance, and that kids will be safe– it's our obligation to keep school open, and that's why we did it."

So, it's refreshing to have a mayor who is open to criticism without automatically becoming combative or defensive. Also, how nice--at least on the surface--to have an executive who appears contemplative when making important decisions, one who seems to take into account varying factors and input before rushing to judgment. And de Blasio is a decent guy--as I know from experience, when we worked together on the Dinkins' reelection campaign in 1993. 

Coming soon: Analysis of certain de Blasio's political and agency appointments.... stay tuned!