De Blasio Needs to Take a Lesson From Chicago Snowstorms

Snow has buried or made political careers in the Windy City. The New York mayor should take note.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Jan. 22, 2014, 8:41 a.m.

For many places, snow is snow. In ma­jor cit­ies like Chica­go or New York, snow is polit­ics.

Newly min­ted New York May­or Bill de Bla­sio is learn­ing this les­son fol­low­ing a snowstorm that swept the East Coast on Tues­day, dump­ing sev­er­al inches of snow and de­creas­ing tem­per­at­ures across the re­gion. Some res­id­ents of the well-to-do Up­per East Side neigh­bor­hood are com­plain­ing that the Demo­crat­ic may­or is pun­ish­ing them for op­pos­ing his may­or­al bid by not plow­ing their streets soon­er.

“He is try­ing to get us back. He is very di­vis­ive and polit­ic­al,” one res­id­ent told the New York Post.

“De Bla­sio is try­ing to hurt the more wealthy people by ig­nor­ing us but there’s no lo­gic to that,” an­oth­er res­id­ent said.

Now, the re­port is a bit hy­per­bol­ic, but it does show how snow can af­fect the pop­ular­ity of elec­ted of­fi­cials, es­pe­cially in ma­jor cit­ies. Just look at Chica­go.

In the Windy City, where polit­ics is king, snow has been used to pun­ish cer­tain neigh­bor­hoods and snow has ruined polit­ic­al ca­reers.

Former may­or Richard J. Da­ley was known to pun­ish neigh­bor­hoods that op­posed his policies or voted for his op­pon­ents. So for Hyde Park, which was seen as re­form­ist and “anti-ma­chine,” Da­ley went after them with the snowplows.

Drake Uni­versity polit­ics pro­fess­or Den­nis Gold­ford, who went to the Uni­versity of Chica­go dur­ing the early 1970s, de­scribes the old-style ma­chine polit­ics:

Dur­ing one of the first par­tic­u­larly bad snowstorms, there was an is­sue about why the 5th Ward re­mains un­plowed for so long. Of course re­port­ers said, ‘Does this have any­thing to do with the fact that the 5th Ward tends to be re­form­ist and op­posed the Ma­chine?’ “¦ The may­or or the spokes­man would say, ‘Of course not. It’s no polit­ic­al is­sue here. It’s simply that we have 50 wards and some­body’s got to be first.’ This was usu­ally the may­or’s ward. ‘And some­body ends up last. It’s just as simple as that. You can’t plow every­body at once.’ It just so happened that the 5th Ward was last.

Snow also ruined the ca­reer of the man who suc­ceeded the Boss of Chica­go. From The Phil­adelphia In­quirer:

In 1979, then-May­or Mi­chael Bil­and­ic saw his reelec­tion bid bur­ied un­der a snowstorm that the city could not clear.

Bil­and­ic’s fail­ure, coupled with news ac­counts of how the streets of his neigh­bor­hood were sur­pris­ingly clear, gave chal­lenger Jane Byrne the is­sue she needed to win.

“I hate to say it, but I love snow,” Byrne said this week, watch­ing as 22 inches of snow, the most since 1979, settled on the city.

To this day, that bliz­zard is still called the “Bil­and­ic-Byrne storm”.

Just be­fore leav­ing of­fice, then-New York May­or Mi­chael Bloomberg found him­self in his own con­tro­versy sur­round­ing lackluster snow re­mov­al, a dis­aster that one news or­gan­iz­a­tion called “polit­ic­al sui­cide,” and saw his ap­prov­al rat­ing plum­met.

If de Bla­sio wants to make it as a big-city may­or, he’d bet­ter learn how to handle the snowstorms — which could bury the city and his ca­reer in snow.