2011-01-05 / Political Page

Halloran: ‘Some Sanit Workers’ Staged Snowstorm Slowdown

Amid all the speculation and charges that city sanitation workers staged a wildcat walkout during the December 26 blizzard which piled 20- inches of snow on New York City streets, Councilmember Dan Halloran, (R–Whitestone) put out a news release stating that “three DSNY employees and two Department of Transportation supervisors confirmed to [him] that supervisors told their workers to engage in a slowdown during snow plowing in order to get revenge on the mayor for budget cuts affecting their jobs.

Halloran said the admissions were made to him at a private meeting with several Department of Sanitation employees and supervisors at his Whitestone office last Wednesday, three days after the record snowstorm.

The outspoken lawmaker did not offer any names or assignments of the alleged sanitation workers involved.

“The response to this storm has been disastrous and this slowdown is just the most recent revelation,” Halloran stated. “A handful of supervisors decided to sabotage our city at its most vulnerable time, just to settle a grudge. To say the least, New Yorkers deserve better than this from their tax dollars.”

“Our streets are shut down, our business districts are ghost towns. Many New Yorkers can’t even leave their homes, and at least three people have died due to this storm,” he stated. “These are lives that could have been saved.” “Our streets are shut down, our business districts are ghost towns. Many New Yorkers can’t even leave their homes, and at least three people have died due to this storm,” he stated. “These are lives that could have been saved.” Halloran said the slowdown was inexcusable.

“Our streets are shut down, our business districts are ghost towns. Many New Yorkers can’t even leave their homes, and at least three people have died due to this storm,” he stated. “These are lives that could have been saved.”

He added that in some cases, sanitation workers have driven down streets with their plows up, leaving the streets unplowed and undrivable. His own traditionally underserved North Queens district, where most residents rely on their cars, has been particularly affected, he said.

The freshman lawmaker made it clear that most DSNY workers are doing their jobs, and most likely only a small minority, mostly supervisors are responsible for the alleged slowdown.

Halloran declared that a whopping 10 percent of sanitation workers called in sick in the days after the snowstorm.

“I applaud the majority of DSNY workers who have worked hard to clear our city’s streets,” he stated. “A few bad apples are causing the problems. But those bad apples should be fired immediately. I encourage a full investigation of this slowdown and demand these thieves be brought to justice. In the future, I call on the District Attorney to prosecute these supervisors to the fullest extent of the law.” He added, “In spite of pressure from many parties, I have kept confident [sic] the names of the five workers who approached me about the slowdown in the days after the snowstorm. My decision is one of principle. The sources asked for confidence.”

Halloran also pointed out that the city did not act swiftly enough in declaring a snow emergency.

Amid similar charges of a slowdown by sanitation workers since the day-after-Christmas blizzard hit the eastern seaboard, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has staunchly defended Sanitation Department Commissioner John Doherty for doing a commendable job in cleaning up the mess in the city. The mayor further stated that Doherty’s job was not in jeopardy.

However, the mayor has been targeted by many other New Yorkers and the media for supervising a very uneven snow removal effort, concentrating on Manhattan and ignoring the other four boroughs. The outcry has been so loud that the City Council has scheduled a hearing at City Hall on January 10, on the city’s response to the blizzard.

As for the complaints about the sanitation workers’ alleged slowdown, the

Department of Investigation

Assistant Commissioner

Keith Schwam was quoted as saying in one news story that

“we’re looking into what happened”.

Meanwhile, another Queens lawmaker, state Senator Jose Peralta (D–Corona), has called for an exhaustive and honest review into two deaths that occurred during the storm in his district.

One involved three-month-old Addison Reynoso whose parents said he was brain dead after emergency services workers were blocked from coming to his aid by heavy snow-drifts the Wednesday following the storm.

However, it was later reported the infant had fallen victim to a virus and perished, according to police sources. At first it was suspected he had been abused after he was found not breathing.

The second death in Corona occurred two days earlier a block away from the Reynoso’s child’s death. In that case, the victim was a 75- year-old woman who died from a fatal respiratory disease after waiting three hours for EMTs, but were impeded by the heavy snow.

QUEENS LAWMAKERS LAMBASTE MAYOR’S SNOW JOB: Critics of the Bloomberg administration’s snow clearing efforts included the general daily media, columnists and ordinary citizens. But quite a few Queens lawmakers had their say, too.

“Days after the storm ended, our main roads are covered in snow and our side streets are a maze of ice, towering drifts and abandoned cars, “state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) said last Wednesday.

“Queens residents are frustrated and angry that we have been left behind again. While Manhattan’s Broadway may be open, in Astoria our Broadway remains covered in snow and ice. More must be done by government to get us through this. In the meantime, we in Western Queens will band together as neighbors to dig ourselves out, as we’ve done before.”

State Senator Tony Avella (D–Northeast Queens) said in a letter to Mayor Bloomberg and Sanitation Commissioner Doherty:

“While the amount of snow resulting from the storm was significant, the lack of attention to secondary streets is shocking. Even Main Street by the U.S. Post Office has not been plowed.

This lack of attention brings to mind the John Lindsay snowstorm of years ago when Queens was abandoned,” he said.

“In past severe snowstorms local streets were plowed at least within a 24-hour period. It is now Tuesday and side streets have not been touched. This is unacceptable. Following the snow removal efforts, I would like a full report on how sanitation resources were allocated by borough and district.”

Councilmember Karen Koslowitz (D–Rego Park) stated: “It is time for the mayor to throw out the numbers game and start looking at people. We have seniors who have not received food, people who need medicine and residents who must go to work. People in Queens and the 29th District (Rego Park/Forest Hills) remain stranded a day and a half after the storm has ended. I remember the snowstorm in 1969, and this failed response sure brings back memories 41 years later. The streets remain unplowed and I will not rest until people can once again go about their daily routines by being able to leave their homes.”

In a succinct statement, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria) stated: “Missing a few streets is a mistake, missing a few boroughs is a scandal. The people of New York City demand and deserve answers. Many lives were endangered and some were lost. This was the first storm of the season, and if the great coverup continues, there is no reason to expect that the same problems won’t occur again in the very near future.”

Vallone’s Public Safety Committee and the Sanitation, Fire and Criminal Justice and Transportation Committees will hold the oversight hearings on the blizzard on January 10, at 1 p.m. on the 16th floor of 250 Broadway, across the street from City Hall. It’s for sure that city residents will get the answers Vallone referred to in the above comment.

Councilmember Peter Koo (R–Flushing) declared he was shocked and outraged at the city’s poor response to this storm. “It is an absolute outrage that so many streets still remain unplowed,” he said.

Koo, who operates a chain of drugstores, stated, “As someone who has been in private business for 20 years, if I provided the level of service that the city showed the residents of Queens during this storm, I would have to shut my doors. Saying the service was a disgrace is an understatement. I am demanding that the administration and the Department of Sanitation immediately increase their efforts and clean up the streets of Flushing and the entire borough of Queens.”

Koo also urged the city council to hold hearings on what went wrong and what caused the response failure so the citizens of Queens never have to suffer through another storm cleanup again.

Addressing the huge amount of work still to be done, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Woodside) called the gross mismanagement of a snow cleanup the first such occurence in the city’s history.

“For the past two days, I have trekked through the impassable sidewalks and roadways in my district witnessing first hand the systemic failure that our mayor seems to believe is the best job our city can do in a time of emergency,” Van Bramer stated last Tuesday.

“The disconnect between Hizzoner and the everyday people that are struggling to get out of their houses, walk down their streets and attempt to get to work to make a living is unbelieveable. The people of my district, and indeed all New Yorkers, need help and answers and they need them now.”

Van Bramer went on to say he has received 150 complaints, e-mails and phone calls from distraught constituents and senior citizens who cannot walk down their streets and access their vehicles, and he has recorded the unplowed streets with a collection of photos he took and also collected from constituents to capture the chaos in Queens. Van Bramer says he will present them at next Monday’s public hearing.

One final note from Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D–Jackson Heights) repeats the horror story that unfolded during the botched cleanup. One call from a constituent impressed him enough to repeat it. The caller complained about the unplowed streets around the Regal Heights Rehabilitation and Health Care Center at 70-05 35 Ave. in Jackson Heights, which made emergency vehicle access extremely difficult if not impossible.

Dromm also faulted the mayor, his release stated, for drinking French onion soup at a restaurant while other New Yorkers’ lives were at risk. He said the mayor’s office put out the photo showing the mayor having a good time in the middle of this crisis.

Dromm stated, “I remember the storm of ’69 and Mayor Lindsay’s response to it. Well, it’s 2010 and the current mayor seems not to have learned from history. “The lawmaker demanded that the mayor immediately send Sanitation plows to the district so we can prevent any further disasters from happening.”

Dromm concluded by saying, “This situation is disgraceful and very dangerous.”

The strong views expressed by the Queens councilmembers from both sides of the aisle in this article suggest strongly that the upcoming hearing on January 10, and possibly others could lead to some strong retaliatory action against any sanitationmen found to have failed to perform their sworn duties and/or impeded the cleanup effort. This could possibly lead to firings or heavy fines or other disciplinary action.

It also appears likely that Mayor Bloomberg and his administration could get a public whipping that could stain his record for years to come.

Mike Miller (D–Woodhaven) found the sanitationmen working on the cleanup in his area did a phenomenal job during the early hours of the storm, but he complained, “It’s been over 48 hours since the storm passed and our streets are still being disrupted by the snow.”

Grace Meng (D–Flushing) said she helped some of her constituents file multiple complaints about the city’s snow removal efforts with the city’s 311 help line.

Margaret Markey (D–Maspeth) also complained about the poor response from the city and said, “My experience trying to respond to telephone calls to my district office pleading for assistance underscores the sharp disconnect between the city’s vaunted reputation for skilled management and the poor reality, which left local streets impassable for days and days.”

Markey said the poor snow removal job left many questions, such as the failure of 911 and 311, emergency vehicles breaking down, inadequate and missing plows, no snow blowing equipment to deal with drifting snow and questions of management of the Sanitation Department, which leaves questions about whether it’s capable of doing its job.

Markey got a good example of this latter problem. She and her staff were unable to get through to 311 so they called their local Sanitation district office. Repeated calls there finally resulted, as Markey said, in the suggestion from the sanitation worker on the other end that we should get out behind a snow plow ourselves if we wanted to be helpful.

“The snow will eventually melt,” Markey said, “but those who remember what it was like in Queens after the infamous 1969 blizzard see history repeating itself. We didn’t like what happened then and we find ourselves once again asking why it’s happened again.”

One other state lawmaker, Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi (D–Forest Hills) reported, “After speaking with a number of community leaders and constituents throughout the Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village and Glendale communities, several phrases have been repeated over and over as it relates to the city’s response and cleanup of the blizzard. They include disgrace, disaster of a response and our areas have been forgotten. This situation is unacceptable and the city needs to answer for its failure.”

In the face of this blistering, broad-based criticism, the mayor has changed his tone in recent days as compared to his confident appraisal of dealing with the storm a day or two after it descended upon the city.

Last Sunday, according to the Daily News, speaking at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Bloomberg admitted candidly that his administration’s performance didn’t measure up to expectations in the cleanup.

“The year didn’t end the way I would have wanted it,” he stated. “Our administration’s job is to do an excellent job, not an adequate job. And clearly I think the response didn’t meet those standards.”

At another point during his visit, he stated: “We believe in accountability, and you can rest assured that most of this week will be spent trying to find out what happened and why.” He added that the cleanup plan was the same one used before, and it worked well. But this time, he said, “It just didn’t, so we’ll have to focus on that.”

The church’s pastor, Calvin Butts, in introducing the mayor, gave him another blessing which was very apropos. He said to his parishioners, “Give him a light so he might find his way in the midst of darkness.”

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