Streams

Mayor Versus Nature, Take Two

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New Ultrecht Avenue Girls, Brooklyn WInter1977-1978 (Anthony Catalano Whiskeygonebad/flickr)

A rookie mayor takes office. A few days later, crazy winter weather hits and keeps on hitting. Sound familiar?

In his State of the City address earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio said his administration faced more snow in January than any new administration since Ed Koch took office in 1978.

In fact, counting the first three weeks in February, de Blasio has faced more snow since his inauguration than Koch had at this point in his first year in office. But a series of snowstorms and some torrential flooding did make Koch's first few weeks as mayor a headache much like the one de Blasio faces now.

George Arzt, the City Hall bureau chief for the New York Post at the time, said he remembers the new mayor's exasperation.

"Ed came back one day and told the reporters, 'What next, locusts?'" he recalled. (Artz later became Koch's spokesman.)

The weather put Koch in the hot seat right away. Like de Blasio, Koch kept in place the sanitation commissioner from the previous administration, rather than try to replace the department head in the midst of a weather emergency.

And, also like de Blasio, Koch was dealing with a management challenge of epic proportions with little experience in management.

But he made some shrewd decisions. After the Blizzard of 1978 hit in February, Koch told city employees they had to either come in or take a sick day — a move the powerful municipal workers unions did not like.

"What Koch wanted to do was convey that the city would keep running even if it snowed," said Neil Barsky, the director of the documentary film Koch. "We were New York. We were tough. And you better find a way to get to work because the city is open."

For his part, Mayor de Blasio has been getting heat for snowplow deployment and school closure decisions. He dutifully shovels his own sidewalk, but he has had to do it so many times now that that photos of it have become cliche.

During the winter of 1978, alternate side parking regulations remained suspended for 62 consecutive days. By contrast, de Blasio will have suspended alternate side parking for 21 days as of this coming Saturday. It is a record for this century, though nothing compared to '78.

Then again, who knows what next week will bring?

Editors:

Matthew Schuerman

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Comments [1]

Lou from Rego Park

As stated in this report, Mayor Koch ordered all City employees to work. I was one of those employees working in a municipal hospital and I did get to work during the snowstorm. But there's more to the story. At around 2 PM, Mayor Koch ordered us to leave early. We did, and we're told the next day that we would be docked for leaving early. The City workers had to go to court and the time/or pay was reinstated. A more thoughtful action that is used more often today has staff make every effort to arrive under adverse conditions and prepare to stay on if needed for additional shifts.

Feb. 20 2014 08:34 AM

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