Civics Take Aim At Officials For Blizzard Response

A slew of community groups are taking aim at officials that they consider responsible for the city’s bungled cleanup efforts after the blizzard, hoping to hold their feet to the fire.

The Manhattan Beach Community Group has cobbled together a coalition of Southern Brooklyn neighborhood associations and is inviting local officials to a forum on January 19. The groups are demanding explanations for why buses and trains were out of commission and streets were not plowed in the days after the blizzard.

The groups mean business: if a citywide official fails to attend or send a representative, an empty chair will be placed on the stage with a sign bearing the official’s name.

“We’re going to have the empty chairs because enough is enough. They get to park wherever they want, they get cars, they get cell phones. But when you need them, they’re nowhere to be found,” said MBCG President Ira Zalcman.

The MBCG will be joined in the local initiative by Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association, Marine Park Civic, Bay Improvement Group, the Brighton Neighborhood Association and others, Zalcman told Sheepshead Bites.

The presence of empty chairs may be an effective way of ensuring that local pols are present and ready to face angry residents.

“It’s a good way to get someone there,” said Steve Zeltser, City Councilman Mike Nelson’s spokesman.

And that’s a good thing since Manhattan Beach residents have a bone to pick with Nelson.

“People seem to be the angriest with Mike Nelson because people called his office for help and got a machine and he didn’t call anybody back,” Zalcman said. “They called me back two or three days later but by then it was too late.  I was getting calls from people who were frantic that they couldn’t get out of their house.  Some blocks here in Manhattan Beach were not plowed for three days. I’ve been living here my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like this, even during the big storm in ’69 with [then-Mayor John] Lindsay.”

But Zeltser contends that Nelson’s staff responded to residents’ phone calls and pressured the Office of Emergency Management to clear the streets.

“No one was in the office but we can call in and check our messages,” he said. “The councilman was personally calling the mayor’s office and OEM to make sure they were aware of the situation.  We were doing what we could but Councilman Nelson does not control the Sanitation Department.”

Nelson and the Sanitation Department have RSVPed, said Zalcman, as has the Brooklyn District Attorney who will talk about his investigation into a possible Sanitation slowdown. Congressman Anthony Weiner and State Senator Carl Kruger will also send representatives if they’re unable to attend.

The groups are waiting for responses from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Borough President Marty Markowitz, City Councilman Lew Fidler and the Office of Emergency Management.

The forum is scheduled for January 19 at 8 p.m. at P.S. 195 (131 Irwin Street) in Manhattan Beach.

Fidler will host his own hearing about the botched clean-up efforts in the coming weeks, and a meeting is being held at Brooklyn Borough Hall on the same day as the local meeting.

“The city’s response was wholly inadequate and we intend to find out why,” Fidler said.

There have already been repercussions for that “inadequate” performance.  Two Brooklyn Sanitation officials were just reassigned “to create a more balanced operation,” according to Commissioner John Doherty.