Sandy, Katrina and the Phonies

by HERBERT LONDON December 5, 2012

For two weeks I lived in a cramped hotel room happy to have a place other than my home. An office I have had for a decade was off-limits. And a neighborhood I have come to love was damaged beyond recognition. Sandy invaded lower Manhattan.

Residents north of Chamber Street don't have the foggiest idea of what I am describing. For a few days, they were without power. In most cases, that has been restored. North and west of Water Street, however, is a war zone even weeks after Sandy hit. Traffic cannot pass on most of Broad Street because of generators blasting power into vacant buildings.

At 90 Broad Street a man drowned as the wind and water surge did him in. Mother Nature was unrelenting. A recently opened Potbelly restaurant was decimated, unlikely to open again. Even the sturdy former Goldman Sachs building now occupied by Oppenheimer stands dark and lifeless. In some buildings the water level reached eleven feet which explains why, after three weeks, the water still hasn't been pumped out. Electricity is a rarity and phone service nonexistent. It is eerie walking from Water to Wall Street, no lights and no passersby. It is a scene from a Mad Max film.

While attention has given to Far Rockaway, Breezy Point and Staten Island, almost no one has noticed the devastation in lower Manhattan. Maybe that has something to do with this being the Financial District. I have not observed a FEMA vehicle in this area, nor have I seen public vehicles of any kind. This is a Hobbesian world of each against all.

When Katrina struck several years ago, I was appalled by the dilatory response of public officials. Americans needed help and for days, if not weeks, it was unavailable. The press attacked the Bush administration for its ineptitude; local officials didn't remain unscathed either. There was a press rampage.

In the case of Sandy, the pols were Johnny on the Spot. Senator Schumer spoke emotionally about the need for assistance. Governor Cuomo made promises about all that would be done. Governor Christie vented and threatened. But when the winds died down and the photo journalists retreated, aid was and is lagging. There are still thousands of New Yorkers without lights; there are many living in tents and with relatives and the streets are still littered with the detritus of personal possessions. And lower Manhattan, where I reside, is dark and grim and waiting for recovery.

There aren't any miracles associated with recovery. But the pols who dominated the airwaves for two days are nowhere to be found. For them, there was an issue to be milked and now it's over.

Despite the obvious contrast between Katrina and Sandy, one thing remains curiously similar: the slow and painful response from authorities who have a responsibility for the welfare of their constituents. The responsibility doesn't run deep for the overarching goal is to make an impression. Leave an imprint on the public mind for the next election.

Senator Schumer, who is arguably the premier fakir of our time, has that feigned air of concern whenever he stands before a microphone. Every Sunday when there isn't much news, he discovers an issue for public pronouncement. Where this issue goes is of little consequence. Even Schumer doesn't remember. Sandy was a virtual windfall (no pun intended) for the senator. He aggressively grabbed the mike and yapped on about all he would do. His Mini Me, Senator Gillibrand proudly seconded his inane commentary. Where are they now?

Certainly they are not on Broad Street. They haven't addressed the phone lines on Stone Street. Do they care that there isn't an internet connection downtown? And why haven't they called for FEMA in one of the most important locations in the nation?

When a crisis hits, it is easy to determine who the phonies are. Those who speak the loudest usually do the least. This was the lesson of Katrina and at the moment, is the observed truth of Sandy.


Herbert London is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the President of the London Center for Policy Research. He is the author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). 


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