Thursday, December 30, 2010

Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and His Flaky Ideas Doom New York During Storm by Juan Gonzalez - NY Daily News

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Stephen Goldsmith bungled New York's preparedness for Sunday's winter storm. Xanthos/News

City Hall's bungled response to the Blizzard of 2010 started at the top.
Any probe of what went wrong must first examine the key decisions Mayor Bloomberg and his new deputy mayor for operations, Stephen Goldsmith, made in the weeks and hours leading up to Sunday.
After all, our police, sanitation, fire and EMS workers have always performed admirably in previous storms.
And no one supervises snow removal better than Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, a guy who actually rose through the ranks of his department.
So what was different this time?
Poor management, plain and simple.
It starts with Goldsmith, the hotshot former mayor of Indianapolis who made a name for himself as a "reinventor" of government. His big secret was laying off gobs of city workers and privatizing every service he could.
Bloomberg named Goldsmith his top deputy in April and has handed him enormous power to do the same thing here.
The blizzard was the new deputy's first big test - and he flunked.
To begin with, Goldsmith and Bloomberg refused to declare a snow emergency, even after they learned a blizzard was on the way.
"I started getting text messages from ambulance drivers at 3 a.m. Monday that they were stuck in the snow," said Pat Bahnken, president of the EMS workers' union. "I urged the Fire Department to declare a snow emergency, but they were told City Hall said 'no.'"
Back in 1996, a similar monster storm struck our city. It dumped 20 inches, closed airports, and left drifts 20-feet high.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani not only declared a snow emergency and ordered all nonessential vehicles off the road, he took 3,300 city buses out of service so they wouldn't block sanitation trucks and rescue vehicles.
Giuliani also asked then-Gov. George Pataki for help. Pataki dispatched 400 national guardsmen with 100 Humvees that were used as ambulances to transport medical supplies and health workers.
If Bloomberg and Goldsmith had done the same, we wouldn't have had hundreds of stuck buses and ambulances blocking main arteries.
"Under Rudy, every snowstorm was considered a big deal," one former Giuliani official said. "All commissioners and top staffers were expected to be at the command center and we all worked hard together."
This time, Goldsmith was out of town and didn't even show up at the command center until Monday. A City Hall spokesman wouldn't say where he was.
"He was in regular email and phone contact with Doherty and "[Office of Emergency Management Director Joseph] Bruno," mayoral spokesman Jason Post said.
The Sanitation Department has been Goldsmith's special target since he arrived in town.
"He micromanages everything in this department," is how one official put it.
Goldsmith is determined to cut the number of sanitation workers and use more private contractors for snow removal - something Doherty has resisted.
The staff reductions and the deputy mayor's scheduled demotion of 100 sanitation supervisors in January - putting them back in sanitation trucks and cutting the pay of many of them - has led to growing tension and made Goldsmith a hated figure in the department.
Those supervisors normally check that city trucks and private contractors do their routes properly. In some cases, some angry workers appear to have slowed down their work during the storm.
City Hall appeared yesterday to recognize the problem and may be backtracking on some of those demotions, several sources say.
So if you want to know what went wrong, start at the top.