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Snowstorm may have political fallout for Bloomberg and Christie

In the aftermath of the Northeast blizzard, New Yorkers complain that their mayor is failing to keep the city running, and New Jersey residents question whether their governor should be on vacation.

December 30, 2010

New York

With many streets still unplowed, New Yorkers are griping that their billionaire mayor is out of touch and has failed at the basic task of keeping the city running, while New Jersey's governor is taking heat for vacationing at Disney World during the crisis.

The fallout against two politicians who style themselves as take-charge guys is building in the aftermath of the Christmas weekend blizzard that clobbered the Northeast, with one New Jersey newspaperman noting Gov. Chris Christie's absence in a column headlined, "Is Sunday's storm Christie's Katrina?"

Across New York, complaints have mounted about unplowed streets, stuck ambulances and outer-borough neighborhoods neglected by Michael R. Bloomberg's administration.

"When he says New York, he means Manhattan," said Hayden Hunt of Brooklyn, a borough of 2.6 million people where many streets were not cleared for days. "He's the man in charge.... It's foolishness."

Bloomberg, a third-term Republican-turned-independent who is occasionally mentioned as a long-shot presidential candidate, spent the first day after the storm on the defensive, testily dismissing complaints and insisting the cleanup of the 2-foot snowfall was going fine. But he later adopted a more conciliatory tone.

On Wednesday, as stories began to surface about people who may have suffered serious medical problems while waiting for ambulances, the mayor was his most apologetic, without actually apologizing.

"We did not do as good a job as we wanted to do or as the city has a right to expect, and there's no question — we are an administration that has been built on accountability," he said. "When it works, it works, and we take credit, and when it doesn't work, we stand up there and say, 'OK, we did it. We'll try to find out what went wrong.' "

Christie, meanwhile, has not been heard from publicly since he left New Jersey on vacation with his wife and four children. His spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said that the governor — who has also been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate — had been briefed while in Florida, and that the emergency services had functioned well across the state.

"This was definitely a big snow, but we are a Northeastern state, and we get plenty of snow, including heavy hits like this," Drewniak said. "And we'll get through this just as we always have."

Christie's absence at the same time his lieutenant governor was also out of state left New Jersey's Senate president to deal with the storm, which stranded thousands of travelers and left highways strewn with stuck and abandoned cars.

"They're both entitled to a vacation, but not at the same time," said Sen. Richard J. Codey, a Democrat who was acting governor for 15 months after James E. McGreevey resigned in 2004.

The complaints against Bloomberg and Christie are all the more remarkable because of the reputations they have cultivated.

Bloomberg, who made his fortune from the financial news company that bears his name, has portrayed himself as adept at cutting through bureaucracy and politics as usual to get things done. Christie has become a hero in the GOP for his willingness to do battle with teachers and other powerful interests.

In the aftermath of the storm, many have noted the contrast with Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, who has been on the streets with a shovel, helping to clear sidewalks and free stuck ambulances.

"I have not been out with a snow shovel, but I have been answering e-mails," Bloomberg said Wednesday, when the comparison was raised between him and Booker.

History has shown that snowstorms can make or break political careers.

After a 1969 storm dropped 15 inches of snow on New York, streets in the outer boroughs were not cleared for days. The episode became a symbol of what some said was Mayor John Lindsay's Manhattan-centric attitude. He barely won reelection that year, and the story haunted him forever.

Bloomberg, when asked Wednesday about the perception that he too did not care about the areas outside Manhattan, said: "I care about all parts of this city.... It isn't that we don't care; it's just that you have to do as much good as you can with the resources you have."

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