Snowstorm an early test for Bill de Blasio, New York City's new mayor

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shovels the sidewalk in front of his house in New York on Friday.

Story highlights

  • Weather seen as the first challenge to a new mayor pushing a progressive agenda
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio: "I had a great night; it was not the most sleep-filled night"
  • "We are working in all five boroughs equally," de Blasio, said at a garage in Queens
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday started the third day of his new administration with a predawn conference call to decide whether to close public schools after a major storm walloped the city with up to 6 inches of snow.
"I had a great night; it was not the most sleep-filled night," de Blasio, an admitted night owl, told reporters Friday morning during what's seen as the first challenge for a new mayor pushing a progressive agenda that promises to serve all of the city's 8 million residents. "I must say I have never done a 4 a.m. conference call in my life."
For the moment at least, de Blasio's vow to tackle a range of issues, from economic inequality to police and community relations, was superseded by a meteorological phenomenon that has famously haunted mayors in the past.
"We are working in all five boroughs equally," said de Blasio, surrounded by a small army of sanitation workers at a garage in Queens. "I believe that that is not only a philosophical idea I believe in strongly; it is also the fundamental belief of each member of this department to help each and every neighborhood equally."
De Blasio said sanitation crews were working 12-hour shifts to clear the city's 6,200 miles of roadways with 2,500 plows from various departments. He said 100% of primary roads and 92% of secondary roads had been plowed. About 93% of tertiary roads were plowed with the help of private contractors.
Emergency response times were delayed about a minute because of snow and traffic, he said.
In 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was heavily criticized for his handling of a blizzard that shut down several subway lines for days. He was accused of allowing snow to pile up in Queens and letting large parts of Brooklyn go unplowed for days.
Bloomberg defended city efforts to clear snow amid a swell of frustration by some snowbound residents, particularly outside of Manhattan, who wondered why their streets were still clogged days after the massive holiday storm.
"I was here in 2010 and it was a disaster," Kathy Nobles, a teacher and Brooklyn resident.
John Doherty, sanitation commissioner since the administration of Mayor Ed Koch in the early 1980s, said de Blasio has handled the storm no differently from his previous bosses.
"He wants the job done, and he wants the streets clear," he said. "That's what we do."
"It would have been nice to talk about how to handle a snowstorm in an abstract exercise, but we didn't get to do that," de Blasio told Doherty. "We got the real thing."
De Blasio said the decision to close schools was made in the predawn hours because of the deceptively cold temperatures. "With this kind of bitter cold," he said, "we did not want children out there, exposed."
Friday morning, de Blasio emerged from his row house in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with a shovel to clear his own sidewalk, something he said he has done for years. "I'm a proud Brooklynite," he told reporters later. "I'm an outer borough homeowner."
That populist approach was well received during his first real challenge as mayor.
"We just consider him from our neighborhood and we expect he's going to keep our interests at heart," Brooklyn resident Kathleen Axen said. "I like his emphasis on middle-class people."
A virtual unknown nationally, despite 25 years in New York politics, de Blasio defied critics who questioned whether his experience as a city councilman from Brooklyn and, most recently, as a public advocate -- a sort of civic watchdog -- sufficiently prepared him to run the Big Apple. He also ran Hillary Clinton's first U.S. Senate campaign.
The new mayor admitted that his son, Dante, a high school student, lobbied heavily for closing the city's schools. On social media, Dante said friends were asking him to pull strings to get the shutdown done. But de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, tweeted a photo of a shovel and snow salts Thursday night to illustrate "what Dante will be doing if he does not go to school."
"If Dante was not lobbying me, there would be something wrong with him," de Blasio said. "Of course, he's 16. But unfortunately the decision takes more factors into account than Dante's opinion."