Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, October 26, 2012 6:02 pm

Sandy’s a piker

Filed under: Weird — Lex @ 6:02 pm
Tags: ,

It might seem strange to you that there’s a nontrivial chance that a combined hurricane/nor’easter/snowstorm could hit the New York area the day before Halloween. And indeed, even in the era of climatic instability caused by global warming, it is strange … though not unheard-of.

However, things got a lot stranger than that barely seven years ago. It’s a comic strip, but all “dialogue” really happened.


  1. The politics of snowstorms

    “Forty years ago this week, a snowstorm struck New York City, eventually killing 42 people — half of them in Queens — and injuring 288 others. The blizzard prompted a political crisis that became legendary in the annals of municipal politics, nearly brought down the administration of Mayor John V. Lindsay and offered an instructive lesson to elected officials in the politics of snow removal.

    The snowstorm is recounted in Vincent J. Cannato’s “The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York” (Basic Books, 2001). Fifteen inches of snow fell on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1969, defying the predictions of the United States Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service), which had forecast a change to rain by that afternoon. The city’s environmental protection administrator was upstate and unreachable, and nearly 40 percent of the city’s snow removal equipment was defective because of poor maintenance, both factors that hampered the city’s response.
    “For three days, the city was in a state of near paralysis,” wrote Dr. Cannato, an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Not until Wednesday did schools, streets, subways, airports and other infrastructure begin to return to normal operation.

    Even worse, Queens was relegated to the status of a neglected stepchild. For days, the streets were impassable, and residents were all but barricaded inside their homes.

    At one point, Ralph J. Bunche, the diplomat and undersecretary-general for the United Nations, sent Mayor Lindsay a telegram saying that never in his 17 years living in Kew Gardens had he “experienced such neglect in snow removal as now.”

    There were no buses, taxicabs or delivery vehicles, and no trash or garbage collection for days. “As far as getting to the United Nations is concerned, I may as well be in the Alps,” Dr. Bunche wrote. “This is a shameful performance by the great city of New York, which should certainly condone no second-class borough.”

    Mr. Lindsay traveled to Queens, but his visit was not well-received. His limousine could not make its way through Rego Park, and even in a four-wheel-drive truck, he had trouble getting around. In Kew Gardens Hills, the mayor was booed; one woman screamed, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” In Fresh Meadows, a woman told the mayor, “Get away, you bum.”

    Mr. Lindsay’s predecessor, Robert F. Wagner, had spent an enormous amount during the last major blizzard, in 1961, but the Lindsay administration was wary of going over budget. And there were rumors that sanitation workers — still angry about the Lindsay administration’s heavy-handed actions during their strike in 1968 — were deliberately ignoring Queens to sabotage the mayor.

    Dr. Cannato reveals a fascinating episode. During the mayor’s walk through Fresh Meadows, a woman called him “a wonderful man,” prompting the mayor to respond, “And you’re a wonderful woman, not like those fat Jewish broads up there,” pointing to women in a nearby building who had criticized him.

    The comment was recorded on tape, but The New York Times, The Associated Press and WNEW radio declined to run with the story.

    “Had the press used this story, John Lindsay’s political career would have been over,” Dr. Cannato wrote, noting that Al Shanker, the powerful head of the teachers’ union, had already raised concerns about Mr. Lindsay’s views toward Jews.

    In the end, Mr. Lindsay won re-election in the fall of 1969, though his political career — including his switch to the Democratic Party in 1971 and his failed run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 — remained troubled.

    Equally important, perhaps, the terrible snowstorm of 1969 highlighted how the handling of severe weather is a crucial test for politicians. It is a test that mayors in other cities would fail again and again.

    In January 1979, Michael A. Bilandic, Richard J. Daley’s successor as mayor of Chicago, was so inept in handling a blizzard that hit Illinois that it severely tarnished the legendary Daley political machine. Two months later, Jane M. Byrne, running on a reform platform, defeated Mr. Bilandic in the mayoral primary.

    On Christmas Eve 1982, a snowstorm throughout the Denver area overwhelmed the city’s 45 plows. Mayor William H. McNichols Jr., Denver’s mayor since 1968, was ousted the following May by an upstart challenger, Federico F. Peña.

    And then there was Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. of Washington, who somehow survived his mishaps with bad weather. In 1987, Mr. Barry was in southern California attending the Super Bowl — getting a manicure and playing tennis at the Beverly Hills Hilton — when a winter storm buried the District of Columbia. The nation’s capital became the butt of ridicule. In 1996, Mr. Barry — who was elected to a fourth, nonconsecutive term in 1994 after serving a federal sentence on cocaine possession charges — was excoriated by residents after it took nearly a week to clear the streets of snow.

    So far, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has avoided the mishaps that plagued some of his predecessors. In February 2006, when a record storm dumped nearly 27 inches of snow in Central Park, the mayor put the city on a war footing and determined to dig out quickly. The mayor seemed well aware that the politics of snow removal remain potent.


    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, October 26, 2012 6:35 pm @ 6:35 pm

  2. I was thinking the same thing Fred, that was the storm that prompted my father to move our family out of NYC for good!

    Comment by I Agree — Sunday, November 4, 2012 1:26 am @ 1:26 am

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