Frustration Mounts Over Northeast Snow Cleanup

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The Northeast is still digging out from last weekend's snowstorm. But also buried in the white stuff is the political future of local politicians. The cleanup is going slowly in some parts of New York City and New Jersey, and residents there are looking for someone to blame.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

I'm Audie Cornish.

And, oh, the snow, the snow, snow, snow, snow. Buried in all of it could be the political future of some state and local leaders.

SIEGEL: After all, the Northeast is still digging out after this past weekend storm. And in New York City and New Jersey, people are looking for someone to blame.

We'll start in New York with NPR's Robert Smith.

ROBERT SMITH: There are two facts of life in the big city. It will snow, and people will complain. So it has been and so it shall always be. But never before have New Yorkers had so many ways to kvetch. Through blogs and Twitter, on every TV station, people sent in digital photos of their unplowed streets, and they moaned. The all-news network NY1 made it a regular feature.

Unidentified Woman #1: Dina(ph) from Glendale shows us her block is still a sea of white.

Unidentified Woman #2: ...this photo of a car in Washington Heights that will not be moving anytime soon.

Unidentified Woman #3: Here's a picture from Heidi(ph) in Ridgewood of a car buried in snow and...

SMITH: See, it's not just that many of the small streets in New York City aren't plowed. New Yorkers can now compare their snow problems to their neighbors. Who got the plow? Who didn't? The mayor's block is clean, why not mine?

In the borough of Brooklyn, it's true. There is a patchwork of the plowed and the snowbound. A counterpoint of efficiency and neglect.

Anthony Grazioso(ph) is driving a produce truck, dodging the snow drifts and the buried cars.

Mr. ANTHONY GRAZIOSO: We're talking about mountains of snow, eight feet high. You guys, you could see I got this truck coming right up, you know, forget about it. It's a disaster over here.

SMITH: But Grazioso grew up in Brooklyn and says this isn't the worst storm he's ever seen. It's the way people have responded.

Mr. GRAZIOSO: I think it's about being impatient. You know, it's New York City. You know, we want it - get rid of the snow. We want all to melt away and do what we got to do, you know?

SMITH: In the old days, perhaps two days would not have been considered a long time to clear all the snow.

Mr. GRAZIOSO: Right. What are you going to do? We got to get these plows on the streets over here.

SMITH: Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a man who has considered running for president, forgot how a little snowstorm can easily make a politician seem out of touch.

On Monday, Bloomberg was as sunny as the skies after the storm. The city is fine he said.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Mayor, New York City): There's no reason for everybody to panic. Our city is doing exactly what you'd want it to do - having the government provide the services that people want.

SMITH: Of course, he said that in Manhattan which had its snow cleared fairly quickly. Yesterday, he was in Brooklyn admitting there are some problems. But still...

Mayor BLOOMBERG: Yelling and - about it and complaining doesn't help.

SMITH: This morning, 48 hours after the last snowflake and a hundred brutal headlines about him later, Bloomberg finally sounded contrite.

Mayor BLOOMBERG: We did not do as good a job as we wanted to do or as the city has a right to expect.

SMITH: Especially concerning, he said, was how the city responded to the 49,000 emergency calls during the storm. It was the sixth largest volume of 911 calls ever. Responses were backlogged for hours as ambulances and fire trucks got stuck in the snow. A newborn baby died in a Brooklyn building nine hours after the first call to 911 brought no help for a mother giving birth. Bloomberg says that all of this will need to be investigated after the clean-up has ended.

Mayor BLOOMBERG: We take our emergency life-saving responsibilities very seriously, and I'm extremely dissatisfied with the way our emergency response systems performed.

SMITH: Dissatisfaction is piling up higher than the drifts in Brooklyn. And so truck driver Anthony Grazioso has some advice for his fellow drivers - advice that might help everyone in New York City these days.

Mr. GRAZIOSO: Nice and easy. You know, keep your pace. Just go nice and sexy there. That's it. Nice and sexy. Keep going.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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