Clownish U.S. Rep. and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann later claimed to have been joking, but we know she was serious when she said God sent Hurricane Irene and last week’s earthquake to the United States as a warning to Washington officials to get their act together.
Which means, of course, doing things the radical, Bachmann-Tea Party way — decimating the social safety net while continuing tax breaks for the richest Americans and spreading the most vile rumors about the president.
Obviously the hurricane and earthquake weren’t messages from anyone to anyone about anything — they were natural occurrences caused by warmth and atmospheric pressure on the one hand and the tectonic movements of the Earth’s crust on the other.
The only thing elected officials had to do with the hurricane, which dropped to tropical storm status before it hit New York, was prepare for it and respond to it (and in the case of the earthquake, not much at all, there being no warning for one of those).
And the fact is officials from all over the tri-state area came through with flying colors, reducing the damage and death Irene could have caused with their wise warnings and unprecedented evacuations.
Mayor Bloomberg, whose critics still cite his absence during last December’s blizzard — and subsequent poor decision making by at least one of his department heads, Transportation chief Janette Sadik-Khan — as a low point in his career, did his best to make up for it. And he did.
The mayor ordered the first-ever weather-related mass evacuations in the city’s history, saving untold lives just by making one difficult, correct decision. Not everyone complied, but though the evacuations were mandatory, they were not enforced at gunpoint. Some people defied them, but many did not. So when the waves swept over Broad Channel and the Rockaways in particular, there were no mass casualties reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. Aside from one man in the Bronx who insisted on checking on his boat, there were no deaths at all. Remarkable for a city of eight million people facing a storm like Irene.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie similarly ordered people off the vulnerable Jersey Shore. When a large number of senior citizens in Atlantic City refused to leave, Christie got on the radio and pleaded with them to heed his warnings, and they did. Again lives were saved.
Meanwhile back in the city, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority took the unprecedented step of shutting down all subway and bus service well in advance of the storm, a decision that could only have been made, or at least approved by, Chairman Jay Walder. Other MTA systems like the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North did the same. Given the flooding that covered the tracks on so many subway lines, it was clearly the right move.
On Saturday convoys of National Guardsmen and military police in full gear traveled south on the New York State Thruway in armored personnel carriers and other such vehicles. It was an alarming sight, but a wise deployment by Gov. Cuomo. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was also here, thanks to the president.
And a number of City Council members kept their offices open all during the storm so they could help citizens in need, and give them news via social media websites.
Politicians at all levels often receive deserved criticism in the press. It’s only fair that when they do right by the public, we do right by them and acknowledge it. This was one of those times. Thanks for the leadership.