Fallout from the big Northeastern snowstorm continues to dominate the news. Our air travel system is reeling from ten thousand canceled flights, leaving thousands of passengers stranded for hours, and even days, in airport concourses that stop being fun in a matter of minutes, even under the best of circumstances. Excessive inbound traffic routed by impatient controllers after New York’s airports came back on line left people stuck in planes for hours, due to a shortage of inbound gate space.
Meanwhile, New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg is said to be facing “the beginning of the end of his political career” over the city’s poor response to the blizzard. The roads are choked with snow. A viral video shows irate New Yorkers howling curses at a city crew that accidentally smashed a parked car in the course of rescuing a construction vehicle. The mayor did himself no favors by suggesting snowbound New Yorkers go see a Broadway show. He should have gone for broke by telling them to go see “Spider-Man.”
Former Bloomberg supporters are making ominous promises to “hold him accountable,” as the New York Observer quotes Brooklyn City Council member David Greenfield. He’s the one who thinks Bloomberg’s political career might die of frostbite from the storm.
Queens councilman Eric Ulrich broke out the deadly Marie Antoinette metaphor, calling this a “let them eat cake” moment. It’s been a day since the snow stopped falling, and the Observer reports there are still problems with buses, trains, and unplowed roads. “I supported the mayor for a third term because I thought he was the best choice. I thought he was a good manager. Now I am starting to have doubts. You can’t manage a snowstorm after Christmas? I think people are starting to question his leadership ability,” says Ulrich.
The anger at Bloomberg is a sharp contrast to the applause earned by Newark mayor Cory Booker, who’s been running around with a shovel helping people dig out their cars, and using Twitter to accept requests for assistance. Fox News quotes him as saying he’s “set a record for Diet Coke consumption” over the last few days.
Obviously the contrast between Bloomberg and Booker is a matter of perception. The problems of New York City would not be much improved by having one politician wade through the snow with a St. Bernard’s cask around his neck, and a snow blower gripped in his shivering fingers. The perception is still important, because coupled with New Jersey’s generally superior response to the snowstorm, it has a great effect on public morale.
Morale is important when coping with snow, a weather phenomenon custom-tailored to annoy the heck out of a fast-paced, high-tech society. It leaves people trapped in their homes, staring through frozen windows with mounting frustration as cars remain trapped beneath blankets of unplowed ice, moving only when city vehicles smash into them. People know there was time to get ready for a weather system that was detected days before it struck, and they become highly sensitive to hardships caused by lack of preparation. They naturally respect the guy who puts blue skin in the game by personally shoveling out driveways, and recoil in anger from the one who gives press conferences in front of his mansion.
Even without physical property damage, this storm would cause millions of dollars in economic damage, due to travel restrictions and power losses that choke off the flow of data. The great cities of the United States do not easily come to a full stop. The snowstorm has given us an interesting lesson in the high value of speed. Perhaps some of the anger at Bloomberg will abate when it returns. The remaining months of winter may yet give him a chance to do better.