Mayor Bloomberg under fire for handling of blizzard

NEW YORK Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:28pm EST

1 of 12. Sheldon Drake helps to push a car on a street still yet to be plowed in the East New York section of the Brooklyn borough of New York, December 29, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent whose reputation was built on competence, may have been defeated this time by a blizzard.

Many New Yorkers, especially from the boroughs outside Manhattan, are outraged that their neighborhoods remain buried under snow two days after the storm dumped 20 inches on the city. Bloomberg, who has consistently ruled out running for the U.S. presidency despite frequent speculation about his political aspirations, is getting hit with the blame.

"This is a mayor who prided himself on his ability as a manager. If we were grading him on his response to the snowstorm, he would get an 'F,'" Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said on Wednesday.

"Bloomberg wants to run for president, yet he can't even handle getting the streets of the Bronx plowed? That is unacceptable."

The loudest complaints came from the outer boroughs -- the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island -- which were once again reminded they are secondary to Manhattan.

"This is crazy. I wasn't able to get to work for two days. My street is still unplowed today. I don't know what the deal is, but they messed up," said Matthew Limongi, a delivery driver from Queens.

Even Bloomberg's allies are critical.

"I've never seen such gross mismanagement and lack of leadership in my lifetime. People are furious," said City Councilman David Greenfield, a longtime supporter.

The clogged streets have impeded emergency response vehicles. A baby died after being delivered in the lobby of a Brooklyn apartment building when paramedics took nine hours to reach the mother.

Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire who finances his own campaigns, rarely admits mistakes but told a news conference on Wednesday that "we didn't do as good a job as we wanted to do."

The city had built a reputation for efficient snow cleanup with its fleet of trash-removal trucks fitted with snow plows that spread salt on the city's 6,000 miles of roads.

But this storm came with 65 mph winds and dumped more than an inch of snow per hour, forcing plows to repeatedly clear the major avenues before they could work on side streets.

"The storm just got ahead of us and we couldn't keep up," Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty told NY1 television.

NEWARK MAYOR SHOVELS

As former President George W. Bush learned with Hurricane Katrina and President Barack Obama did with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, politicians are often judged on how they respond to disaster.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party, has played the blizzard for political gain in his New Jersey city. Using Twitter, he personally responded to distress calls, offering to shovel snow form the doorsteps of disabled people and delivering diapers to a snowed-in new mother.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, basking in national attention for balancing the state budget while emerging as a moderate voice within the Republican Party, has come under fire for staying on vacation after the storm.

Christie and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno remained on holiday throughout the blizzard, leaving Senate President Stephen Sweeney as acting governor.

Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman said their absence left New Jersey "rudderless."

"In the future, I would hope the Governor and Lieutenant Governor will ... better coordinate their schedules in order to put the safety and welfare of our residents first," she said.

(Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr.; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Jackie Frank)