>Very good Op-Ed by the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson that discusses the potential danger that politicians face when they downplay the negative effects that weather, in this case snow storms, can have on their reputations.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are learning that lesson the hard way, as their angry constituents dig out of last weekend’s blizzard. Bloomberg is being hammered for the city’s slow and incompetent response, especially in the outer boroughs; Christie, for jetting off to Walt Disney World just before the storm dumped nearly three feet of snow in parts of his state.
The two beleaguered officials – both of whom are rumored to have national ambitions – should have had a consultation with Marion Barry.
In January 1987, Barry kicked off his third term as mayor of Washington with a trip to Southern California for the Super Bowl. While he was getting a manicure and playing tennis at the posh Beverly Hilton, the voters who had elected him were being buried under 20 inches of snow. The city was utterly paralyzed – streets unplowed, buses immobilized, subway barely running. The mayor continued to frolic in the sun.
Are you getting any of this, Gov. Christie?
Finally, Barry came home. He wanted to survey the situation, so he had to tour the city by helicopter; his limousine, he explained, would have gotten stuck in the snow. His aerial assessment: “We’re not a snow town.”
Unbelievably, that wasn’t Barry’s first unfortunate encounter with winter weather. In 1979, barely into his first term, he was vacationing in Miami when an 18-inch snowfall shut down the city. When he got home, a reporter asked how people were supposed to get to work. “Take a bus,” Barry said. Informed that the buses weren’t running, Barry modified his advice: “They can walk.”
It’s unlikely that anyone will top Barry for grossly mishandling the aftermath of a snowstorm – and anyway, it was white powder of a different kind that led to his downfall. But his is hardly the only example.
In 1979, Michael Bilandic was expected to cruise to reelection as mayor of Chicago. He had the support of the Democratic machine, which usually guaranteed victory. But a series of big snowstorms that winter turned “the city that works” into “the city that couldn’t get to work,” with some neighborhoods left unplowed for weeks. Minorities and working-class whites felt particularly neglected.
Jane Byrne, an unlikely challenger in the Democratic mayoral primary, took advantage of Bilandic’s missteps by filming campaign ads on snowbound streets. She won narrowly – and went on to become the first woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor. Bilandic spent the rest of his career in the worthy obscurity of the state appellate bench.
Paying attention, Mayor Bloom-berg?
Snow can make voters forget all the good things you’ve done. Bill McNichols, who served as mayor of Denver for 14 years, is generally given credit for the city’s cosmopolitan growth. But a blizzard deposited two feet of snow on Christmas Eve 1982 – when city workers were at home with their families, not out clearing impassible streets and airport runways. How many Denver residents had their holiday travel plans ruined? Enough to get McNichols bounced out of office a few months later.
Snow eventually melts, but hardened hearts may not.