Hours after denying that the Upper East Side was not neglected during the harsh winter storm that walloped New York City with more than 11 inches of snow, recently inaugurated Mayor Bill de Blasio changed his tune.
"More could have been done" to keep city streets clear of snow, de Blasio said, and he ordered plows to "double down" on cleanup efforts.
The remarks came after a plow-tracking website showed that the Upper East Side — an affluent Manhattan neighborhood — was one of the last sections to be plowed, causing some residents to cry foul.
“He is trying to get us back," Molly Jong Fast, a writer and Upper East Side resident, told the New York Post. "He is very divisive and political."
City officials disputed the claims, explaining that the map showing streets going unplowed was due to a faulty GPS system on a salt spreader — and not a conspiracy.
“The GPS was not working,” Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said at a press conference late Tuesday. “Traffic also created a big problem for us in that area. ... We had the salt spreaders, and everything, out there doing everything as quickly as we could."
But to hear the New York Post tell it, it was a "Tale of Two Cities: Snow Edition." While Upper East Side was snowed in, de Blasio's block in Brooklyn "was plowed by mid-afternoon," the Post reported.
“I can’t believe de Blasio could do this. He is putting everyone in danger,” Barbara Tamerin, who was using ski poles to navigate the snow, told the newspaper. “What is he thinking? We’re supposed to get up to a foot of snow and nobody on the Upper East Side is supposed to blink an eye? I can barely get around and I’m on snowshoes! All of the buses are stuck and can’t go anywhere. He’s crazy. We need Mayor Bloomberg back!”
Bloomberg, de Blasio's predecessor, is a fellow resident.
“By not plowing the Upper East Side, he is saying, ‘I’m not one of them,’" Jong continued. "But we have everyone in this area on the Upper East Side. We have rich people, middle class people, and housing projects. We have it all.”
The snow began falling earlier than expected on Tuesday, the National Weather Service said, causing unexpected delays for public transportation.
Initially Wednesday morning, de Blasio defended the response.
"I think the city handled it very well," de Blasio told NY1. "Look, there’s always going to be isolated incidents and there’s always going to be situations where the snow comes up rapidly, as it did for a few hours there, it really sped up and intensified, sadly right before the evening rush hour. But the minute they had the streets clear — in other words there was not traffic in the way — sanitation did a remarkable job.”
Of course, de Blasio isn't the first mayor to face criticism over alleged slow storm response.
In 2010, a late December blizzard paralyzed travel in the northeast and created a public relations nightmare for Bloomberg. Keith Olbermann, then an MSNBC host, took to Twitter to document impassable roads and abandoned cars littering the city.
Huge swaths of Brooklyn, Queens, SI, Bronx still unplowed. Manhattan up to about a C- Mayor needs to apologize, not boast #blizzard— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) December 28, 2010
The same 2010 storm brought into stark relief the work of then Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who used his Twitter feed to communicate with snowbound constituents and to coordinate plowing them out.
After the storm, de Blasio was also seen on Twitter — shoveling snow.
As clean up continues, use caution and look out for each other. The snow may have stopped but it's extremely cold. pic.twitter.com/kzWk0CZXTt— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) January 22, 2014