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New York's de Blasio shovels his way through snowstorm test

© Photo: @BilldeBlasio on Twitter.

Video by Jessica LE MASURIER

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2014-01-04

New York's freezing temperatures are set to drop even further this weekend, but Bill de Blasio has so far emerged unscathed from his first major test as New York Mayor.

Even before Thursday night's massive snowstorm began wreaking transport havoc in New York City, the Democrat who promised in his inauguration speech to “to ensure that those who live here – and those who visit – can get to where they need to go in every borough,” had laid the groundwork for turning the crisis into a positive start to his term. 

A botched response would have resulted in dire consequences – in 2010, then mayor Michael Bloomberg saw his approval ratings plummet after infamously suggesting New Yorkers enjoy a Broadway show while a Christmas snowstorm left outer boroughs paralysed and subway lines closed for days.

In stark contrast, de Blasio ordered civil servants to take the day off in advance on Friday and closed the city's state schools – a practice Bloomberg was loath to employ. On Thursday, de Blasio made an appeal to residents in a tone akin to paternal pleading: "Please stay indoors to the maximum extent possible," he said. "Stay out of your cars. If you don't need to go out, don't go out."

He also urged residents to help out homeless people and elderly neighbours, a move that allowed him to stress his concern for society's most vulnerable. “Make sure they're safe. Make sure they're warm. Make sure they have enough food to eat," he said.

New York's new mayor, who was sworn into office on January 1, even advised sprinkling shovelled walkways with “animal-safe melter” instead of salt, in order to protect pets.

Twitpic opportunity

The storm also provided an opportunity for de Blasio to use his social media skills, which were widely credited with helping him secure the Democratic nomination last year.

De Blasio's media-friendly 16-year-old son – an endorsement video of whom proved a tipping point in his father's popularity this summer – found himself centre-stage once again as nationwide media fawned over his Facebook feed amid rumours that his friends asked him to lobby for a “snow day” from his father. In response, his mother, Chirlane McCray, posted a photo on Twitter of a shovel, to illustrate “what Dante will be doing if he doesn't go to school tomorrow”.

The social media circus ensued when de Blasio stepped out in his fleece and jeans early on Friday morning – an important detail for a notoriously late riser – to shovel snow from the pavement in front of his modest Brooklyn home.

“The PlowNYC feature is activated at NYC.gov, posting real-time updates of snow clearance,” de Blasio later tweeted, along with a photo of him shovelling into the camera. He then shared stories of shovelling and tips with reporters at the scene – “lift with your knees, not your back” – but the real treat came when Dante emerged, albeit late, to take over from his father.

“I give Dante an A for effort and a D for punctuality” de Blasio said of his son later in the day.

Not everyone was convinced by de Blasio's snow-battling triumph. In a backhanded compliment posted on Facebook Friday, Republican Nicole Malliotakis of the New York State Assembly said: "Seems like a good start for Mayor de Blasio. Now, if he just sticks to cleaning streets and providing the city's basic essential services, the next four years will be just dandy.”

Date created : 2014-01-04

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