Stormy Weather and Lessons in Leadership

The usually glorious holiday season in New York got an angry buzz when the Blizzard of 2010 buried the Boroughs on Christmas weekend, and stranded passengers on subways and trains, while  accusations and denials flew back and forth on the airwaves.  The season of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men turned into an angry Wagnerian chorus.  Ultimately, it became a lesson in failed leadership.

The usually calm Mayor Bloomberg was irritable and lectured critical residents to be patient as day after day went by without snow plows or relief. In my Brooklyn neighborhood of Ditmas Park, residents were stranded  by unplowed snow drifts and without access to cars or public transportation.  Each time I went out, I found my neighbors grumbling as they trudged through snow clogged street corners, searching for signs of help, swapping horror stories and rumors about work stoppages by angry sanitation workers,  and agreeing that it had never, ever been this bad.

“I don’t believe he gives a hoot about us in Brooklyn,”  one neighbor complained to me, suggesting Bloomberg was only interested in his own Borough of Manhattan.  Another declared, “I’ve lived here 40 years and it has never been this bad.”  Others compared it to the “Lindsay Storm” in 1969, which ended that Mayor’s political future. One media pundit speculated that it was the curse of the third term, where Mayors often lose their early energy and focus and make strategic errors that tarnish their legacy.

Each day, tragic stories came in from Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island as emergency vehicles were unable to respond in time to calls of help from residents in distress, especially involving the elderly and newborns (see Daily News coverage http://nydn.us/ecHO1C).  New Yorkers could compare Bloomberg’s haughty attitude to Newark’s Corey Booker, who picked up a shovel and helped out his constituents. Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, reported that clean up crews In Nassau and Suffolk counties had clearly beaten the champs in NYC this time –they couldn’t believe it!

Bloomberg finally admitted the city flubbed its response and agreed to an inquiry, so we will eventually find out what decisions – or failure of command – led to the chaos that everyone agreed couldn’t be repeated.

Now as we start the New Year, let’s hope the Mayor and his inner circle learned clear lessons in leadership for times of on-going budget crisis.    Leaders for our new times need to make citizens (and employees) believe in the future again!

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