2012-12-07 / Top Stories

Chasing Legacy, Bloomberg Makes ‘Unusual’ Decisions

Wave Analysis
By Howard Schwach

When The Wave first heard the whispers and then the rumors, editors sloughed off the information as “urban myths” in the wake of the most destructive storm to hit the peninsula in more than 100 years.

The stories, however, persisted and by the end of last week, were verified by trusted sources close to government.

And, the stories all add up to one conclusion: in his drive to keep his legacy as “New York City’s Best Mayor Ever” alive, Michael Bloomberg made decisions that severely impacted the residents of Rockaway.

For example, on Tuesday morning, units of the National Guard were lined up on Cross Bay Boulevard – more than a mile of Humvees, ambulances, engineer units, military police units and soldiers. They were awaiting the word to descend on the peninsula. Local politicians were told that the word to move out had to come from the governor. His office said that it was awaiting an official request from Bloomberg.

That request, however, never came. Bloomberg allegedly told Cuomo that his police and agency heads could handle the problem and that the National Guard was not needed in New York City. It was not until nearly a week later that Bloomberg saw the immensity of the tragedy and allowed the governor to send in troops to assist in the recovery and crowd control.

Then there was the nursing home fiasco.

Four days before Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, workers in the nursing homes and adult homes in Rockaway were making plans to evacuate, gathering medical records and medication and packing them up.

Then, administrators got the word from city health officials. Acting on the recommendation of DOH staff and his advisors, Bloomberg strongly recommended that the nursing and adult homes stay put and ride out the storm in their facilities.

Nursing home administrators took the mayor’s recommendation as a firm order. The stayed on and were inundated with water. Bloomberg’s order had calamitous consequences.

One worker at the Ocean Promenade Nursing Home told the New York Times, “No one gets why we weren’t evacuated. We wouldn’t have exposed ourselves to dealing with [the storm].”

After the storm and with a Nor’Easter roaring into the area, it took three days for a combination of fire department ambulances, private ambulances, the National

Guard and crews from around the nation to finally evacuate the homes and that evacuation became so hectic that patients were lost in the system and vital records were left behind.

DOH officials said as an afterthought that they made the recommendation to Bloomberg because they believed that the inherent risks of transporting the patients outweighed the risks of riding out the storm.

“I would defend all the decisions and the actions [by health department officials],” Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs told the Times. “I feel like I’m describing something that was a remarkable, lifesaving event.”

With thousands of local residents unable to live in their homes, Bloomberg made another decision that impacted quality of life issues.

After first stating that only New York City electricians could certify that homes were safe to be energized, he later changed his mind and allowed any licensed electrician to self-certify that a home was safe.

His “Rapid Response” program became the centerpiece of the city’s recovery effort and he quickly ruled out any emergency housing programs such as FEMA trailers at Floyd Bennett Field or the Air Force’s Red Horse heavy operational repair squadron engineers that bring combat engineers in to help with repairs and set up alternative housing.

Bloomberg told reporters that the alternative housing is not appropriate in an urban area such as New York City and that it did not work well in New Orleans.

For people sitting in the cold and dark after a month, however, the program sounded like a godsend.

There were other areas as well where Bloomberg’s decisions could be questioned.

He was late setting an odd-even system for gasoline distribution and then allowed it to go into the Thanksgiving weekend when it was no longer needed and at a time when everybody else had ended their program.

Insiders say that each of those decisions were made with an eye to the future -- how Bloomberg would look to his biographers and to future generations – and not to the needs of city residents.

Problems still remain more than a month after Superstorm Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline and there are those in the know who blame the mayor for the fact that some of them remain.

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