December 30, 2010

NYT Begins Playing Defense for Bloomberg, Union in Snow Response Coverage

Today, New York Post reporters delivered a bombshell story addressing why New York City’s snow cleanup performance has been so poor:

Sanitation Department’s slow snow cleanup was a budget protest

Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts — a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.

Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.

In response to this outrage, the New York Times has swung into frantic action — by scolding Gotham residents for expecting perfection, portraying the mayor as getting a handle on things, and criticizing private snow removal contractors who didn’t drop everything when a late-to-the-problem city called them for help. Meanwhile the Times will only acknowledge that the city will “look into” the slowdown allegations.

Here’s the scolding, via Times reporter Michael Wilson (“Outrage at Unplowed Streets? It’s a New York Tradition”):

It is as much a part of a New York City blizzard as slush and cold and the color white itself: postblizzard outrage over the municipal response to said blizzard. One can imagine the very earliest settlers of New Amsterdam railed at their Dutch leaders after blizzards. The path to my farm is not plowed! It’s been three days! Het sneeuwt!

The Outrage That Followed the blizzard this week is no exception, and actually suggests that the level of outrage is an accurate barometer of the severity of the storm. This was a big one, and so the outrage is pouring forth on the streets of the city — like the salt that should have been more widely used if someone upstairs was doing his job, thinketh the outraged citizen.

To be clear, the sentiment does not appear to be without merit.

… Does the outrage seem to ever do any good? Would that it could melt snow. The city has tweaked its snow-removal plan here and there after postblizzard complaints, only to be stymied again by the next storm, as was the case this powdery, windy week.

Here’s the beginning of the Bloomberg rehabilitation, via a Sam Dolnick City Room blog post (“Bloomberg Says Plows Have Hit Every Street”):

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday that snow plows had been down every street in the city except for those still blocked by stuck cars. He said that tow trucks would have those vehicles clear in the afternoon, and that plows would return to streets still buried.

But, as he did the day before, Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that the city’s response was “inadequate and unacceptable” and said that his office would conduct an extensive review of what went wrong.

Here’s the hit at private contractors, from a long report by three Times reporters, delivered in it final two paragraphs by … (wait for it) … the Sanitation Workers Union’s President:

Still, Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, said the problems late Sunday underscored how the city could not rely on outside contractors to help with snow removal and other jobs in such storms, particularly during a holiday weekend.

“You can never count on the privates, because they don’t have to show up,” he said. “What obligation do they have? The mayor can’t order them out. The commissioner can’t order them out.”

The real problem, mentioned in earlier paragraphs, is that the city didn’t get its requests for private help out quickly enough, and then were apparently surprised when others who needed help got there first. But even that admission includes a couple of shots at the private resources (bolded by me):

“Why did we wait so long?” he asked. “Well, maybe that is something we have to look at, no questions about it.”

There are, though, an array of questions about the system for soliciting private assistance. The city’s list of reliable, proven, untainted businesses has shrunk. Any new volunteers have to be vetted; it can take 12 hours to get them rolling.

Unlike years ago, Mr. Doherty said, the private workers just do not seem “interested in the work anymore.”

“Are we paying enough?” he said. “It may be the reason.”

In fact, it seems that some of the more proven contractors had been signed up by the local airports before the city made its appeal.

Meanwhile, here’s the extent to which the Times has acknowledged the union-slowdown problems the Post noted, contained at the end of the City Room blog post noted earlier:

John J. Doherty, the sanitation commissioner, said he would look into claims that his department’s rank-and-file deliberately slowed down the cleanup work to protest budget cuts.

“We have to look into that,” Mr. Doherty said. “I have not seen that. I’ve seen a lot of dedicated people out there.”

The acid test of the sincerity of Doherty’s “look into” will be if he bothers to confidentially talk to the people who met with councilperson City Councilman Dan Halloran, who spoke with the Post:

… Halloran … was visited yesterday by a group of guilt-ridden sanitation workers who confessed the shameless plot.

Halloran said he met with three plow workers from the Sanitation Department — and two Department of Transportation supervisors who were on loan — at his office after he was flooded with irate calls from constituents.

I’m not expecting much follow-up by the Times on what, if anything, Doherty learns — unless it’s a whitewash.

Cross-posted at


1 Comment

  1. [...] accompanied by fact-free defenses of the indefensible at the New York Times, in BizzyBlog posts here, here, and [...]

    Pingback by BizzyBlog — January 3, 2011 @ 6:32 am

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