Bill De Blasio’s Snow Job

New York City’s new Mayor, Bill de Blasio, is getting criticized again. This time, it’s not about daintily eating pizza with a fork, it’s about something of deeper concern to every Big Apple voter — snow removal.

New York City got clobbered by a snow storm this week, and the snow removal efforts were . . . uneven. The Upper East Side evidently got the short side of the plow, leaving the streets still snow-covered and slushy. People reported slipping and falling on the icy streets. Businesses say that they lost sales due to the plowing failure. A tractor-trailer got stuck on one of Manhattan’s streets, causing a traffic jam. Stuck taxis needed to appeal to pedestrians to push them free. Some residents of the tony Upper East Side even wondered if de Blasio’s class warfare rhetoric during the recent mayoral campaign had affected decisions on where plows would be sent.

This kind of reaction isn’t hard to understand. When you live or own a business in a city and pay your taxes, you expect the basics to be handled. That means things like prompt trash removal, dependable water, sewer, and electrical service, and — when you get hit with a winter storm — efficient and capable snow removal. These are bedrock requirements that all voters use to measure the competence of their city government. If you experience an embarrassing fall on long-unplowed streets, or are late for work because of a snow-related traffic jam, you’re going to be using the Mayor’s name in sentences that include an obscenity or two . . . and you’re not going to forget it, either.

After first saying that the City crews did a great job on snow removal, de Blasio heard the criticism and later admitted that the plowing effort will need to be improved. He’ll learn, or he won’t last long. All of the income equality speeches in the world aren’t going to make up for the failure to master the basics and get the snow plows running on time.

Snow Removal 101

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.