In Newark it’s not the cars, but the streets they’re stuck on. The man at the top is taking it on the chin for a slow snow response. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is being accused of putting in charge political allies who were inexperienced, inadequate and ineffective, leaving Newark with 40 miles of snow-filled roads. NJTV News Correspondent David Cruz spoke with the mayor.
Cruz: I would imagine this is probably the toughest management challenge of your administration, yes?
Baraka: Management challenge? Yes, 30 inches of snow, this is probably the biggest snowstorm the city has had in decades and it all came down in one day. I think that we’ve been managing it pretty well. The difficult thing is that it’s three feet of snow.
Cruz: What happened? Aside from the 30 inches of snow, people leaving their cars out in the street, people not adhering to the no travel, it seemed like there was a bunch of little problems that amounted to one big one.
Baraka: Actually I think that people weren’t ready for 30 inches of snow. They believed that we were only going to get between seven and 14 inches. That’s what the press kept telling them over and over again, and we know how the press can be wrong over and over and over again. Ultimately that’s not what happened and we got 30 inches and it came down two to three inches per hour and people were caught out there on their way home trying to get out of there. People thought they could traverse it and they got stuck. We had to bail them out. That’s our jobs and we had to make that happen. You know, every city that’s about the size of this one has had difficulties not only throughout New Jersey, but up the eastern seaboard. I don’t think anybody was ready for this snow event that took place. Many of us, my hat goes off to the mayor of D.C. that said from the beginning that this is going to take us three days and they prepared for three days. We had expectations that we could get out before three days. We weren’t able to do that, so it actually took us about three days like she said to get to where we are now.
Cruz: How much did removing those stranded cars and so on cost you, not in terms of dollars, but in terms of critical time to get snow removed?
Baraka: I would say it cost us at least a half a day, easily. You’re talking about the first day, about 280 cars. Right now we’ve moved about 191 cars since then, so you’re talking about almost 400 cars that had to be towed out of the city that stopped plows from getting through. Especially if you live on a smaller block, it slowed us down tremendously, but I think we did a great job given all of the obstacles that were thrown in our way.
Cruz: Were you ready for the kind of negative feedback that you were getting on social media, etc. from people?
Baraka: You know that people are going to be upset. You know, they’re inconvenienced, they’re going to be upset, they’re going to be frustrated, angry. People have a right to be frustrated. I mean, any time your normal procedure is messed up you’re going to be upset and you want to blame somebody, so obviously that’s what’s going to happen. I understand that, but I don’t think that that is the majority of Newarkers. I don’t think that represents the majority. When we were out there people were coming out of their homes thanking us, shoveling snow, putting plows on their trucks and helping us plow snow. There are many people in Newark who in the middle of a crisis step up to the plate and help get this done and don’t take to social media. They understand that they have to help their neighbors. People who came out helped us move dialysis patients, called in and identified paraplegics so there was a lot of Newarkers on the ground out there, that without them being our eyes and ears it would have been very difficult for us to even do what we’re doing now.
Cruz: Have you stopped so far to kind of access, do a postmortem, or are you still too much in the emergency right now?
Baraka: I think we’re out of the emergency stage, but we’ve been thinking about it, but ultimately we can’t do it until everything is done. Until we finish and then we do our assessment, like any major crises. We’re going to have winter events like this, we’re going to have other kinds of events that happen that we have to mobilize for in this city. I don’t anticipate this being the last time that we have to do this.
Cruz: Is there one thing that pops out at you that you’ll say next time we’re going to handle that first?
Baraka: Next time I’m going to say it’s going to take us three days to get out of this and please bear with us and we’re going to make sure that we get to you when we can. There’s no time in the history that I’ve been here that there’s been any kind of storm that the next day every street in the city was blacktop. That’s never been the case, and they certainly haven’t had three feet of snow. I understand that it took a very long time and that people are tense and frustrated about it, but we’ll get through it. It’s going to be over soon and we’ll get back to business as usual.
Cruz: And then the next storm, right?
Baraka: Yes, and then we prepare for the next storm. We need to do something about global warming.