Mayor John V. Lindsay, left, shoveled slush down a storm drain in Brooklyn, New York, Jan. 23, 1966. This was before the infamous storm that damaged him politically.
Bad snow removal doesn’t make good politics.
That was proved conclusively in the so-called Lindsay snowstorm of 1969.
In mid-February of that year, the weather forecasters goofed big-time. They predicted rain, wind and sleet. They saw only a chance of snow.
They were wrong. As Owen Moritz wrote in the Daily News, “But snow it was and once it started falling that Sunday, the 9th, it didn’t stop. Ten inches by 7P.M., by midnight, 10 inches in Central Park, 20 inches at Kennedy Airport. The entire Northeast was paralyzed under mountains of snow.”
Unlike Mayor Bloomberg, who poopoohed the anguish of residents over the fact that so many streets, especially in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, had not been plowed or were plowed insufficiently, I saw Lindsay dive headfirst into the snowy mess in Queens. He went out to Rego Park in a car, switched to a truck, which got stuck in the snow.
Then Lindsay leaped out of the truck, determined to show the Queens citizens how much he sympathized with them. It didn’t work. The handsome, charismatic mayor who had charmed people during the turbulent mid-sixties, when he walked the streets of Harlem in his shirtsleeves and kept things cool, couldn’t do the same here.
The crowds booed and heckled him. One woman on Main Street in Kew Gardens, according to the News, yelled: “You should be ashamed of yourself! In the 23 years I have lived here, this is the first time the streets have been unplowed. It’s disgusting.”
Mike Bloomberg has a contrasting approach. Amid complaints that some streets were unplowed in the Blizzard of 2010 and that there was a backlog of unanswered emergency calls, this Mayor replied: “The world has not come to an end. On balance, I think you’ll find we kept the city safe and we’re cleaning it up.”
He also said: “The city is going on. It’s a day like every other day.” He suggested that people go out and shop or take in a Broadway show. There’s no reason [for] everybody to panic.”
I don’t know what planet the mayor inhabits. But the homeowners stranded in the outer boroughs are not thinking about taking in Broadway shows. They just want a fighting chance to get out of their driveways or their narrow streets.
And they have safety concerns too. What happens if there's a health emergency and an ambulance can’t get there in time’
The Mayor is right. The city will go on. But it wouldn’t hurt to have a little more concern expressed at the top. This isn’t a routine event. It’s an emergency, a crisis, and, while New Yorkers always pitch in when they have to, they don’t respond well to being told that they’re crybabies.
Lindsay lost the Republican primary in 1969. But, running as a third party candidate, he won. The snowstorm of 1969 did not take a political toll. But it came close. And the Mayor who believed in confronting problems head-on and admitting that he made mistakes [that was what he said in the campaign of 1969] prevailed.
He won the mayoral election but, when he tried to run for president in1972, he was clobbered. Lindsay began as an arrogant young man. But events sobered him up. He was kind, considerate and relatively humble by the time he left City Hall.
As for Bloomberg, I say: from my blog to God's ears.