New York City Michael Bloomberg is learning the basic lesson that every big-city mayor has known for decades — urban residents will put up with a lot, but they won’t tolerate bad snow removal and inadequate basic services. If the roads aren’t getting plowed and the trains aren’t running on time, the mayor is a failure, and voters won’t care about his latest urban development initiative or feel-good efforts to combat childhood obesity.
In America, being a mayor or a governor is a lot harder than being a Senator or Representative. Mayors and governors actually have to manage state or local agencies, make significant personnel decisions, and provide timely services like snow removal. Unlike members of Congress and state legislators, they can’t simply pat themselves on the back for coming up with some abstract compromise to move legislation forward or employing some arcane procedural maneuver to block a bill they oppose.
Snow removal is a kind of ultimate test for a mayor. A big snow fall is visible and it effects everyone. If the snow removal response is not done well, people inevitably will start raising uncomfortable questions about things like favoritism, competence, and political patronage. Why was this street plowed before that street? Why wasn’t the city more ready for a storm that had been predicted? Who is running the effort, and did they get their job because they are experienced or because they are somebody’s brother-in-law?
These are questions that the residents of the Big Apple aren’t likely to forget.