Politics and Mother Nature

When a blizzard hits a major city, image is everything

The snow from the holiday blizzard has all but melted away, but the politics of snow remains. Two politicians who have been touted as presidential candidates in 2012 may have slipped and fallen in the snow on their way to the White House.

Philly’s Mayor Michael Nutter has been given high marks for his handling of the snow emergency, but not so his counterpart up I-95 in New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was at first arrogant about the city’s poor response to the blizzard. The streets were so bad that fire engines and ambulances were stuck in the snow and couldn’t make emergency calls. Bloomberg’s response was “Deal with it.” That was on Day One. On Day Two there was a contrite flip-flop as the Billionaire Mayor admitted that mistakes were made.

The national press has been so bad for Bloomberg that his Independent run for president now seems doubtful. At least he made it back to New York from his home in Bermuda to deal with the blizzard.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went to Disney World and didn’t come back. He is still defending his AWOL storm management by claiming that he could do as much to stay on top of things on the phone from Florida as he could on the phone in Trenton.

That may be true, but that’s not the point. The management of an emergency is much different than the politics of an emergency. Politics is all about image. In an emergency, especially one caused by nature, there isn’t really much you can do. But you still have to do something or else it looks like you don’t care. And people need to see you doing something. Again, image is everything.

[SIGNUP]There is no better example of this than George W. Bush. He was immensely popular as Governor of Texas because he was seen on TV touring disaster sites, hugging those left homeless and promising help. As President, his 9/11 bullhorn moment, with his arm around a firefighter, standing on the debris of the World Trade Towers launched him to historic popularity. But the photograph of President Bush looking out the window of Air Force One at the flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina made him look distant and uncaring; his popularity fell to historic lows and his presidency never recovered.

Mark Schweiker had a short tenure as Pennsylvania governor after taking over when Tom Ridge left to become head of Homeland Security, but he will always be remembered for his caring and control during the Quecreek mine disaster. Schweiker had already decided not to run in the upcoming election of 2002. If he had run, he would have been tough to beat after the mine miracle.

In Chicago, they still talk about the 1979 Snow Election. Incumbent Mayor Michael Bilandic had a seemingly insurmountable advantage in Chicago’s mayoral election, with underdog Jane Byrne given little more than the proverbial snowball’s chance. But an October 24th blizzard changed both of their fortunes. The Chicago streets were not plowed for days and in a stunning upset Bilandic and the mighty Chicago political machine were defeated.
The Bilandic lesson is why Corey Booker, mayor of Newark, was photographed shoveling snow after this week’s blizzard. He also made personal deliveries after requests from residents on Twitter who couldn’t get out of their homes for medicine and diapers. It may have been contrived, but there is a man who understands that image is everything.

Consider this: Republican Chris Christie has been touted as a presidential candidate in 2012. He says he is not interested, but he does want to run for re-election the following year. A rising star for the Democrats and a possible challenger for Christie is Corey Booker.

If that happens I can promise you that there will be a campaign ad with a picture of Mayor Booker shoveling snow against a picture of Chris Christie in Disney World with mouse ears on.

You see what I mean? Image is everything.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to wpix.com.