City Hall's bungled response to the Blizzard of 2010 started at the top.
Any probe of what went wrong must first examine the key decisions Mayor Bloomberg and his new deputy mayor for operations, Stephen Goldsmith, made in the weeks and hours leading up to Sunday.
After all, our police, sanitation, fire and EMS workers have always performed admirably in previous storms.
And no one supervises snow removal better than Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, a guy who actually rose through the ranks of his department.
So what was different this time?
Poor management, plain and simple.
It starts with Goldsmith, the hotshot former mayor of Indianapolis who made a name for himself as a "reinventor" of government. His big secret was laying off gobs of city workers and privatizing every service he could.
Bloomberg named Goldsmith his top deputy in April and has handed him enormous power to do the same thing here.
The blizzard was the new deputy's first big test - and he flunked.
To begin with, Goldsmith and Bloomberg refused to declare a snow emergency, even after they learned a blizzard was on the way.
"I started getting text messages from ambulance drivers at 3 a.m. Monday that they were stuck in the snow," said Pat Bahnken, president of the EMS workers' union. "I urged the Fire Department to declare a snow emergency, but they were told City Hall said 'no.'"
Back in 1996, a similar monster storm struck our city. It dumped 20 inches, closed airports, and left drifts 20-feet high.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani not only declared a snow emergency and ordered all nonessential vehicles off the road, he took 3,300 city buses out of service so they wouldn't block sanitation trucks and rescue vehicles.
Giuliani also asked then-Gov. George Pataki for help. Pataki dispatched 400 national guardsmen with 100 Humvees that were used as ambulances to transport medical supplies and health workers.
If Bloomberg and Goldsmith had done the same, we wouldn't have had hundreds of stuck buses and ambulances blocking main arteries.
"Under Rudy, every snowstorm was considered a big deal," one former Giuliani official said. "All commissioners and top staffers were expected to be at the command center and we all worked hard together."
This time, Goldsmith was out of town and didn't even show up at the command center until Monday. A City Hall spokesman wouldn't say where he was.
"He was in regular email and phone contact with Doherty and "[Office of Emergency Management Director Joseph] Bruno," mayoral spokesman Jason Post said.
The Sanitation Department has been Goldsmith's special target since he arrived in town.
"He micromanages everything in this department," is how one official put it.
Goldsmith is determined to cut the number of sanitation workers and use more private contractors for snow removal - something Doherty has resisted.
The staff reductions and the deputy mayor's scheduled demotion of 100 sanitation supervisors in January - putting them back in sanitation trucks and cutting the pay of many of them - has led to growing tension and made Goldsmith a hated figure in the department.
Those supervisors normally check that city trucks and private contractors do their routes properly. In some cases, some angry workers appear to have slowed down their work during the storm.
City Hall appeared yesterday to recognize the problem and may be backtracking on some of those demotions, several sources say.
So if you want to know what went wrong, start at the top.
There you go - the cost-cutting/privatization policies that Bloomberg promotes as the solution for all that ills the country laid the groundwork for the disastrous response to the storm - fewer workers on the streets due to layoffs, fewer supervisors to supervise the workers on the streets, more untrained workers manning the snow plows (and plowing into parked cars, stalled buses and other snow plows.)
Heckuva job, Bloomberg!
And this Stephen Goldsmith character - well, his hiring is DIRECTLY related to the mayor's never-ending flirtations with running for president.
Goldsmith - the former Republican mayor of Indianapolis who made his bones laying off municipal workers and replacing them with outside private contractors - was brought into the Bloomberg administration for the third term in order to give Bloomberg some juice with Republicans outside of New York who might look suspiciously at Bloomberg when he ran for president in 2012.
He was also brought in to cut costs in city government, especially those costs related to labor.
This glowing Adam Lisberg profile of Goldsmith that ran in the Daily News in May of 2010 details Goldsmith's cost-cutting abilities:
Stephen Goldsmith joins the administration full-time Tuesday as deputy mayor for operations, after a month in which he toured city agencies and met with commissioners while winding up his work as a Harvard professor of government.
He has brought energy, experience and plenty of questions, according to several administration officials who met with him over the last month - and all came away impressed.
"He had something smart to say about every division," one official said. "He either challenged us to see something anew, or asked a really intelligent question or just made a really on-point observation."
That's a pleasant surprise for people inside and outside City Hall who assumed Bloomberg would quietly cruise through his third term - and who thought nobody could run the city as well as Goldsmith's predecessor, Ed Skyler.
Goldsmith made his name as an innovator as Indianapolis' mayor from 1992 to 1999, most famously by hiring private companies to pick up trash and treat sewage instead of using city workers.
Now he's going to run New York's police, fire, transportation, sanitation, buildings and environmental protection departments - among other agencies.
Goldsmith's emphasis in Indiana on using technology to cut costs and eliminate bureaucracy is music to Bloomberg's ears.
It's also a wakeup call to anyone in government who expected to coast through the next four years.
So Goldsmith's "innovative ideas" for privatization and cost-cutting are being applied to every city agency. What exactly did he do to the sanitation department?
Here is the NY Daily News from November 10, 2010 on Goldsmith's cost-cutting strategies for the sanitation department:
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services is one of those municipal agencies with a low profile but a massive portfolio.
It handles purchasing for city agencies, oversees leasing and sales of city-owned property and administers Civil Service exams.
And that's why city workers should pay close attention to what Mayor Bloomberg said this week when he appointed Edna Wells Handy as the new commissioner of DCAS.
He talked about the "simplicity initiative" that Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith is overseeing to make "key city operations more efficient and more effective."
"My charge to Commissioner Handy is very straightforward - search for new ways to do more with less," Bloomberg said. "Don't be afraid to take risks and seize opportunities to take innovative new approaches."
One of those new approaches being touted by City Hall involves a plan to demote 100 sanitation supervisors as a way to fill the depleted ranks of sanitation workers.
That plan, which could kick in by the end of the year, has hit a glitch. Turns out the more senior of the demoted sanitation supervisors stand to lose that seniority, bumping them to the bottom of the department roster.
That means employees who spent several years as a sanitation worker and then became supervisors will find themselves lower on the totem pole than newly hired sanitation workers.
Bloomberg defended the plan, saying it will prevent layoffs in the department.
"The sanitation effort is being executed and will accomplish this win for the taxpayers without having anybody lose their job," Goldsmith said during a City Hall press conference with Bloomberg and Handy. "We're examining where this model may work elsewhere."
Goldsmith dismissed published reports saying city officials were thinking of trying the same demotion strategy with police sergeants.
"We're interested in expanding it," Goldsmith said, adding there is "no specific place" they are targeting at the current time.
Bloomberg and Goldsmith have said they want to push the boundaries of what can be done to change the city's workforce under current Civil Service and contract guidelines.
This demotion strategy devised by Bloomberg and Goldsmith was a key cause of the disastrous response to the Bloomberg Blizzard of 2012.
Now if you think Goldsmith is done cost-cutting in his job as deputy mayor, you'd be wrong.
Bloomberg bragged earlier this year that Goldsmith had found $500 million in savings already as deputy mayor and was going to find even more ways to reduce city expenditures and Goldsmith said of his cost-cutting efforts:
"The quality of customer service can go up at the same time we save taxpayer dollars."
Gee - the quality of service at the sanitation department really went up after that cost-cutting demotion strategy of yours, Mr. Goldsmith.
Oh, wait - it didn't.
Your strategy actually led to the deaths of people during the storm, including a new-born baby.
There needs to be an investigation into Goldsmith's cost-cutting actions at EVERY city agency.
The cost-cutting ideas he had for the sanitation department have turned out to be a disaster.
How much do you want to make a bet that the cost-cutting ideas this Republican conservative from Indianapolis has had for other agencies have also been disastrous?
Next, Goldsmith needs to explain WHERE HE WAS DURING THE STORM.
While the cost-cutting policies he put in place were bringing the city to its knees, Goldsmith was nowhere to be found.
Perhaps he was off at Disneyworld with Chris Christie?
Maybe he was hiking the old Appalachian Trail with Mark Sanford?
Dunno exactly, but Goldsmith needs to explain.
Next, Goldsmith needs to be fired, but before that happens, he needs to explain to all of the New Yorkers who lost loved ones as a result of his cost-cutting policies why saving city money is more important than making sure essential emergency services are funded.
Lastly, people ought to sue Goldsmith personally for negligence. Throw Bloomberg into the suit too, but destroying Goldsmith financially ought to be the goal.
Until cost-cutting technocrats who care little for humans like Bloomberg and Goldsmith are made to pay personally for the disasters they bring, these things are going to continue.
The Mayor of Accountability and his cost-cutting deputy mayor from Indianapolis will try and hang this disaster on city workers and perhaps sanitation department chief Doherty.
But the blame and responsibility lies DIRECTLY with Bloomberg and Goldsmith.
Time to hold these two accountable.