February 13, 2014
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Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL3RKchEFgA
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Okay, first I want to start by acknowledging all of the leaders of our effort to deal with today's storm: Commissioner of Sanitation John Doherty, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, Calvin B. Drayton, our First Deputy Commissioner for OEM, Chief James Hall, Chief of Patrol of NYPD, and Shoshana Cooper, here representing the MTA. I want to thank them all for being here and all the work they've been doing since last night into the day to deal with the storm. So welcome to winter storm number six of the last six weeks. We're here in the OEM Command Center because we wanted to make sure to get all the agencies together for coordinated action. As we know, this storm has proceeded since the early morning hours today, will continue into the evening and overnight, and so we wanted everyone working together from the beginning on a coordinated response. A lot of the folks here have worked very hard these last six weeks, and a lot of the folks that they supervise have worked very, very hard out in the field. So, it's been a winter of very long nights and 12-hour shifts for a lot of these folks on a regular basis. And I want to thank them. It is not easy, and they have continued in a very selfless manner to address these problems. And I want to tell you, the effort it takes to keep our streets clear and to deal with all of the challenges that come up as a result of these storms is Herculean. And I hope people in this city take a moment to recognize all the work done by sanitation and then how all of our first responders deal with the challenges regardless of the winter conditions thrown at them. I want to thank them all for the consistency of their work. And all the leaders of our effort at City Hall, starting with our First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris – I want to thank them for continuing to create strong coordination and communication between all of the agencies.
Well this storm, as with every storm, is particular. We, in each case, see different attributes. This one came with a particular set of challenges. We started to get some heavy wet snow falling overnight, accumulation – depending on the part of the city – now, there's big variations depending on, not only borough but parts of the boroughs. We had accumulation of roughly 5-8 inches by the end of the morning rush hour. And that was heavier and faster than the weather service had predicted last night. And again, I want to emphasize, we work in constant partnership with National Weather Service. I want to thank them for that. They know, as we know, that storms can slow down, storms can speed up. You can have greater accumulation than expected, you can have less accumulation than expected. We all had heard the reports last week of what would happen this last weekend. Thank God last weekend was quite small in the scheme of things. But this storm sped up – this storm had more accumulation than was expected late last night, and we ended up with more snow on the ground through the morning rush hour than the original projections had suggested. By the end of tonight we expect – depending on part of the city – we expect between 10 and 14 inches total of snow. But that will be affected – to some extent – by the other types of precipitation that we'll get. There will be a mix of rain, freezing rain and sleet depending on time of the day and depending on part of the city you're in. So we expect – starting in the early afternoon – a switchover from snow to other types of precipitation that might reduce the amount of snow on the ground in some places, if it does warm up a little more and it's – the temperature's been hovering around the low 30s, so we might get rain on enough of a level to reduce some of the snow, but that's not certain. We also could get a lot of freezing rain and ice and sleet.
We all know that when we get a lot of snow during rush hour – literally in the heart of rush hour – it creates particular difficulties. And we all know that the best situation is when the sanitation department has the freedom to really get out there and hit hard and make an impact. And they certainly did that in the early morning hours, but then the rush hour created a challenge for them. We want to constantly urge – if you don't need to be in your car, don't use your car. I know this is a refrain a lot of people in this room have heard many times. I ask you to keep telling people in this city how urgent it is to stay out of their cars to the maximum extent possible for their own safety, and also to facilitate the ongoing clean-up work of the sanitation department. OEM's operation center has been up and running since 10 p.m. last night. Sanitation started its efforts in the early morning hours in great mass – great impact from the early morning hours. We have been telling people – again – not only to stay off the roads, but if they have to get somewhere, to always choose the option of mass transit because that – again – will facilitate the cleanups. There are some service delays and adjustments with the MTA. They are relatively limited, so far. So the good news is, the MTA is running largely on schedule and the various lines are running well, by and large. There's a few exceptions, which we can have our MTA representative discuss. But the good news is, the MTA is running largely on schedule, and the various lines are running well, by-and-large. There's a few exceptions, which we can have our MTA representative discuss. But the simple message to all New Yorkers is, mass transit is your best option. If you want specific information about specific routes, call MTA – I mean, excuse me, use MTA.info. Use their website to verify what's going on with each group. Now, let's talk about what sanitation has put in the field since the early morning hours this morning. There are 475 salt spreaders that were out – let me just check with John – starting at – what time roughly?
Commissioner John Doherty, Sanitation: It probably started around three something-
Mayor: 3 a.m.? So around 3 a.m., salt spreaders started in large measure –
Commissioner Doherty: No, I'm sorry, salt spreaders started a little after midnight.
Mayor: Midnight. I'm sorry –
Commissioner Doherty: Yeah, they were on position at midnight when it started.
Mayor: So 475 salt spreaders were out in anticipation of the snow, 1,900 plows have been out since the early morning hours. As soon as we had accumulation – of course the plows require accumulation to do their work. Once there was sufficient accumulation, they went to work all over the city. So, combined, we have over 2,300 pieces of equipment out. We've had 12-hour shifts that began at 7 p.m. last night, about 2,300 workers per shift. They'll be relieved – they were relieved – the 7 p.m. shift was relieved at 7 a.m. by another 2,300 workers. Now, the sanitation department has done a couple of things this time very aggressively and to their credit. I want to thank Commissioner Doherty. They recognized the particular nature of this storm. So we have – right now – 800 emergency snow laborers who are in and working. They're working to clear catch basins, crosswalks, bus stops and fire hydrants. So 800 workers have been brought in and are out working now. Also, extra efforts were made to address the tertiary roads starting early this morning. So a lot of strong effort by the sanitation department across the board.
Now, keep in mind, all property owners – to do what I have ritualistically done every morning and clear your own walks. Sanitation does its job and does it well, but it depends on property owners to do their job and clear walks, so everyone can get around. And it's very important – in particular – if you have a fire hydrant on your property, to clear around the fire hydrant to help the FDNY. As usual, Plow NYC has been activated, so New Yorkers can track snow-clearing work at NYC.gov. And as usual, the other agencies that can do so much to support the work of sanitation are doing so. That includes Department of Parks, the Department of Environmental Protection, and Department of Transportation. DOT, in addition, is focusing on pedestrian overpasses. Seventeen crews are clearing priority pedestrian overpasses, and these overpasses were pretreated yesterday in anticipation of today's storm. We know that some of these overpasses have snow and ice that accumulated over recent days, and they'll take extra work, so we're going to continue in that effort until they are fully clear. Our tow truck task force is activated and is available to remove any disabled vehicles. So far, things have been relatively smooth, but that task force is available for quick deployment wherever we have any disabled vehicles.
Now, a couple of announcements about these next days, because we have an unusual situation here – the storm starting early this morning, continuing into the night, even into the early morning hours tomorrow. Then we have a weekend, then we have a federal holiday and obviously a city holiday on Monday. So, alternate side parking suspended today, suspended tomorrow, suspended Saturday. We know there'll be a lot of work here to do this cleanup properly, so we want to get ahead of it. Monday obviously being a holiday, there will not be alternate side as well. I've said it a thousand times. I'll say it again: parking meters remain in effect. And in terms of garbage and recycling collections, again, given the magnitude of this storm and the way it's hitting around the weekend, we are cancelling the garbage. And we obviously had cancelled garbage and recycling collections for today. We're cancelling them for tomorrow, we're cancelling them for Saturday where they occur Saturday. That means – just to be very clear with people – to do this response properly, we will not be able to do the pickups on garbage and recycling, maybe with a few exceptions. We won't be able to do them in earnest until Tuesday. Commissioner Doherty can speak to the details more. People should continue to put out their trash and recycling. Where we have the opportunity to get at it we will, but really the goal is starting Tuesday – in earnest – is to put additional personnel on to go and deal with that problem. But job one is to clear the snow, make the streets consistently passable. As everyone knows, yesterday we added additional resources to the sanitation department's budget, both for the additional work on snow removal, the unprecedented amount of snow removal they've had to do lately – and for additional opportunities to collect garbage and recycling when snow removal is complete. In terms of the schools, a couple of quick updates – field trips cancelled today, after-school and PSAL programs cancelled today.
On the decision to keep schools open, it's something that Chancellor Fariña and I have talked about quite a bit. And again, I look at this from a number of different perspectives, including that of a public school parent – and I have been one for the last 14 years. Our job is to make a decision that's always a tough decision, and with always – by definition – imperfect information. But it's our job to make that decision, and make it as quickly as we can, to give the maximum notice to our parents. We knew, based on the reports of the National Weather Service, that we could have as little as three inches of snow on the ground by the time kids walked in the door of their schools – and we could have more. We could have four or five or more. It was a grave situation. We did know, however – and one thing that's been consistent – is that it would be warmer temperatures. And that has been consistently true. And based on our knowledge of what sanitation could do overnight, we were convinced that kids could get to school this morning. And we always emphasize when making these decisions – when you think about 1.1 million kids – so many families depend on their schools as a place for their kids to be during the day. A safe place – a place where they not only are taught, but they get nutrition and they are safe from the elements. So many families have to go to work. The members of these families have to go to work. They do not have a choice, and they need a safe option for their kids. So, so long as we know our kids can get to school safely, and we know we can operate our schools effectively, we make that decision. The chancellor and I have talked about – and she'll speak to this I'm sure – trying to help parents to better understand the thinking that goes into this process. We'd like to make this as transparent as possible.
There are times when it's 100 percent obvious that you have to close schools. If you have a huge amount of snow that you know is coming or if the timing is such – but I want to emphasize, it is a rare act. In fact, over the last – since 1978, I think our figures are. It's been – I think – 11 times – I'll check the facts here, but 11 times schools have been closed in that time frame. So, it is a rarity, and it's something we do not do lightly. In terms of other services, just very quickly. We again are – have our Code Blue procedures in effect when it comes to the homeless, so extra outreach is going on. We are making sure that anyone who needs emergency shelter gets it. Want to emphasize, if any New Yorker sees a homeless person in distress, we want to get that report. That is a call to 311, and we will make sure our outreach teams get out immediately. I always say it, and I always mean it – people need to check in on their neighbors, particularly if they have neighbors who are senior citizens or disabled. This is a good time to check in and see if they have any particular needs. In terms of emergency response, EMS has an additional 160 ambulances on the streets today to compensate for what will obviously be somewhat longer travel times. So the capacity is there. They are very good at handling these situations. Again, emphasize – for every day needs, for informational needs, for something that needs to be acted on like a heat complaint, for example, 311. Only for true, life-threatening emergencies should people call 911. We will keep you updated on the storm situation as the day progresses. We do expect to have further updates as the day progresses. We emphasize to all New Yorkers, if you want regular updates, you can sign up on nyc.gov for the NotifyNYC text and email alerts. You can also follow nyc.gov on Twitter and Facebook. Finally, a quick moment of Spanish. Carmen will correct me for the mistakes of grammar or pronunciation. Urgimos a todos a usar el transporte masivo, para que hayan menos autos en la calle. Eso es mas seguro para usted y para los demas. Y ayuda a que los camiones de sanidad puedan hacer su trabajo. With that, I'll say– was that in the ballpark, there?
Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Education: Yes.
Mayor: In the ballpark. Thank you, Carmen. Yes, thank you. A for effort? All right. With that, let's do on-topic questions first, and we'll do off-topic. Dave?
Question: The people who complained so much to us about the fact that the schools were open, I wanted to hear from you and the chancellor. They don't understand, if you declare an emergency, and the governor has also declared a state-wide emergency. If there's an emergency that drastic, then why go ahead and keep the schools open today? And also chancellor, last time you said something about, part of the reason is a hot meal, we're hearing from a lot of teachers and parents today, saying, "seriously?"
Mayor: Let me start, and then you'll come up. So, again, we talked about this last time. New Yorkers handle these challenges with a lot of fortitude, with a lot of strength, and people went to work today, like usual, all over this city. And we, unlike certain other cities in this country, we don't shut down in the face of some adversity. So, the fact is, you've heard the reports. MTA is running reasonably smoothly. Sanitation got a great jump on this storm. In my travels around so far today, things are moving. They're moving more slowly, of course. But what the state does when it makes this declaration is about enabling localities to do certain things and enabling state agencies to do certain things. We've made abundantly clear that we know this city is functioning, and that the city agencies are doing their job, and that – given the information we had – it was right to go ahead with school. It's not something you do lightly, to close schools. The fundamental point I made, that we have huge numbers of New Yorkers who go to work, need a safe and secure place for their kids. Obviously look, if you're in my shoes, and you think you can get a school day to happen effectively, which includes teaching our children, which is our obligation – the answer is going to be yes. There'll be some situations where we feel it's overwhelmingly clear we can't do that, that's when we're going to close school. But as you've heard from these statistics, that is a rarity, and that's been a rarity over many administrations. To the other questions, let me let the chancellor come forward.
Chancellor Fariña: Look, as a teacher, one of the things that I learned early on is, you learn new lessons every day. So lessons learned. There is a real need to have a protocol in place, so that the whole community understands why we make certain decisions. And one of the things we're certainly going to go back and think about at this point is how do we let parents know. I met with a group of parents this morning. And once I started explaining some of the steps that we take there was a sigh of relief, and I think one of the things we're certainly going to go back and look at is – because of past experience, and I've been in the system over 40 years – we never made the call for snow days until the morning of. And many, many people complained about that. If you had to leave your homes to get to work it was an imposition, it was all kinds of issues. So then, we decided to try to do it the night before. Because this storm was so unpredictable, and what we heard last night is not necessarily what we saw this morning. And by the way, just coming down here, it has totally stopped snowing. It is actually a beautiful day out there right now. So, the reality is that we made decisions based on what we know at the time. So might there be times that we decide not to call it the night before, but to wait until the next morning? That's one of the things we're going to talk about and think about – when does that make sense to do? So that's only one thing. The other thing we decided, and it's going to be part of the protocol, is that on days that there are snow emergencies, and we'll interpret what that means – there will be excused lateness, both the children and the teachers. And we've already done that for today. That doesn't mean an absence is excused, but it means if you come in late – because my feeling is that even as we were coming here, parents were still taking their kids to school so that they could then go to work or whatever. These decisions are not made lightly, but I don't think enough people know how we make them, so I think that to the degree that we put things in writing and make it very clear that one of the things for me was that the weather was going to be much warmer this morning. It was much easier the first snowstorm that it was going to be below freezing, because that's a whole other kind of situation. So I think we're going to try to be more transparent, to bring people to the table to give us different opinions, and then to the degree that we can share with you all the stuff that we come up with, we're happy to do so. But this has been a very unusual winter, and from what I'm hearing, it may continue to be an unusual winter. So, thank you.
Question: Mayor de Blasio, [inaudible]. Given that we're going to have this mix of precipitation, going from snow to sleet to rain and then back to snow, as you well know, being a resident of this city for so long, that creates challenging road conditions to say the least, we've been seeing images of school buses sliding around the streets, some school buses being unable to get up slopes. With that in mind, with those images of school buses with children on them, again, do you think the decision might have been made differently?
Mayor: Again, you make decisions based on the information you have, and you have to weigh a lot of factors. I am a public school parent. Carmen has been a teacher for decades. We don't make any decisions lightly, and we look through the prism of our fellow parents, and also through the prism of the needs of our kids, and that's the only way you can make decisions. But I think sometimes in the questions that are asked, there is – respectfully – there is the illusion that you can have perfect information and perfect decisions. And we know that we get the projections of the National Weather Service. We do our best to interpret them conservatively, meaning we know that you might have a storm speed up a bit, you might have more precipitation. National Weather Service has been very honest with us. They can only give us their best estimate, and then we have to do our best to figure out how to adjust with that estimate to ever-changing conditions. But the facts on the ground speak for themselves. Throughout this city, public transportation has been running. The precipitation levels were such that we could sustain school opening today. It's our job to do it. I also want to emphasize this. Your question, again, is very very fair. But it's your job to show up in the morning and report the news. It's our job to make the city function. It's our job to get the schools open, if we can get them open. If we can't get them open, if we think there is going to be a consistent problem with safety or getting kids where they need to be or school cannot function – of course we shut it down. But this historical record is important, and it's happened only 11 times since 1978. That suggests a kind of consensus in this town that we can handle a lot. And we're tough enough to handle it, and we only shut down schools when there's overwhelming evidence that it's not going to work.
Question: [inaudible] light fluffy snow, you described it as the brunt of it hadn't really arrived yet, and which is kind of why the decision was made regarding the schools. When you took Dante to school and you saw how much it comes down just an hour later, did your perception change of what was going on –
Mayor: Oh, I had three phases. Listen, I'll just – first, let me speak personally versus what we've heard from National Weather Service last night and what we heard in our briefing just now. I looked out my window at 6:20 and saw very little going on on the street. I went down to shovel at 7. As I described, it wasn't the total powdery snow, it wasn't the heavy wet snow that we had originally expected. It was somewhere in between. I got in the car at 7:40 and it had perked up a lot. So this is something where, you know, you have to know what you don't know in this world. And what we don't know is exactly how weather is going to change, and how it's going to change in each part of each borough, so we work off a broad model. What is obvious is the National Weather Service gave us a projection. What we got here was certainly the high end of the projection and then some, and faster and earlier than what was expected. But within the information we had, we made the right decision. And in fact, even with the additional challenges, MTA is running, schools are operating.
Question: Wanted to follow up regarding getting ahead of the storm. You know, I know the plows were out last night putting salt down, but the brunt of the storm came during the rush hour, so how ahead of it could you really get?
Mayor: Let's let Commissioner Doherty– I think there are a couple of points I want to make before the commissioner comes up. The prepositioning of the equipment in vast numbers, the fact that there were extra efforts made to get the additional laborers in, the additional plows in, I think it was a tremendously effective plan that was put into place. But here is again the cat and mouse game. You can salt in advance, but you can't start plowing until there's a certain level of accumulation. Imagine anything else we do in life, where there's a moving target about when things are going to happen. You do your best to make quick adjustments. I think the sanitation department does that very well, and I think Commissioner Doherty does that very well. But I'll let him describe the exact progression.
Commissioner Doherty: Well, the mayor really pointed it out. We went from spreading, and we have the plows out that we prepositioned. Probably wouldn't have gotten to more than one and a half inches, some of them started a little sooner, depending on how much was on the ground when we started plowing. When you've got snow coming down heavy, as it did later in the day, you've got to go back and then go over those streets. For example, by 8:30 this morning or so, we had a lot of streets had been plowed already, but within that next two hours, we got anywhere from 4 to 5 inches, you know, depending on parts of the city. So we had to go back and do all of them. So we're going though that cycle right now, and it's going to be a continuous cycle. Hopefully, with a little break in the middle of the day, we'll get a lot cleared off, but we're going to be back there again tonight, and doing the same thing again.
Question: Mayor, do you believe that children's lives are put at risk by the decision to keep schools open? We've seen parents struggling to get their kids on the school buses, especially when you're telling people to stay off the roads.
Mayor: By definition, we thought our children would get to school safely based on the information we had. Again, I want to make 100 percent clear, as a parent, and having a chancellor who is a parent and a lifelong teacher, we make these decisions with the safety of our children in mind at all times. So are conditions perfect? No, they're not. But our MTA's been functioning; our school buses have been functioning. And certainly – based on the information we had, it was abundantly clear we were not going to have the kind of overwhelming snow that would make it impossible for kids to get to school. I want people to remember – it would be very, very easy to call off school constantly. Right? By the logic of some of the questions – and I'm not denigrating the questions, I'm just pointing out a logic pattern – it would be very easy to say, "Let's call off school at the slightest hint of snow." First of all, that would be illegal. It's our obligation to run a school system. We have a state mandate to reach a certain number of school days each year, it's a fair mandate. But beyond that, that's not how leadership works. Every part of the decision-making we do all day involves a cost-benefit analysis in which human safety comes first. That's about every kind of decision that we make. But given what we knew, we were convinced that we could run the school system effectively today and our kids could get there safely. Yes?
Question: Dana Arschin with News 12. We had a lot of drivers ask us today, on a day like today, when alternate side parking rules aren't in effect, how come meters are in effect?
Mayor: Now that's a great question. I've told you, it's a part of our New York City culture. Look, I – first of all, a lot of the areas where – I'll just say a common sense thing and then which one of you wants to be the [inaudible] I don't if that's you, Polly?
Mayor: Okay, but the fact is that there are – by the nature of parking meters – you know, people come and use them temporarily, and obviously a lot of them are in areas that do get plowed out, and so I think the logic is they have to keep functioning because business is going on. The city is open for business today. Government is open, businesses are open, stores are open, people are going about their business. And because it is changing – it has been changing over the last hour to rain, freezing rain, sleet, people are moving around. So we have to keep functioning with the same set of standards that allows us to do business. But why don't you add wisdom?
Commissioner Polly Trottenberg: I think you got it, Mr. Mayor. To the extent that cars can get in and out of commercial spaces, we want – merchants want them to do that and it's revenue to the city. So, in contrast to alternate side of the street parking – which Commissioner Doherty can speak about – where it's really a back and forth between snow removal and street cleaning.
Mayor: Right – I think that – you took his line. Okay, let's come over to this side, Sally?
Question: I have a question for the chancellor. Could you just explain, when you said it's a beautiful day, can you expand on that –
Mayor: She didn't – she didn't say it was sunny Florida.
Question: [inaudible] explain what you meant?
Mayor: She will clarify.
Chancellor Fariña: Right. Coming down the stairs – the most obvious thing is it stopped snowing. The second thing, it's getting warmer, which means that, theoretically, the snow will start melting. So in terms of some of the dangerous conditions that might have appeared at 7 o'clock this morning, I don't see that right now. That doesn't mean I can predict what's going to happen three hours from now, but I do – it's much better. And the other thing is just looking – like I said, looking out the window, you don't have a window here. There's a lot of people walking in the streets. So, to me, you know, in other kinds of situations you wouldn't have seen those conditions. So I think that's what I consider better. It's obviously not as nice as it is where my husband is in South Beach, but it's a lot better than it was before.
Mayor: Not that you resent it.
Chancellor Fariña: No.
Mayor: Okay, yes?
Question: What would you say to parents who live in parts of the city where they don't have access to mass transit, they don't live close enough to their school to walk there, and the only option for them is driving or putting their child on a school bus when you've said to stay off the road.
Mayor: Well again, I've said very clearly and consistently – and Carmen may want to speak to this – but that, to the maximum extent possible, stay off the roads. Which means that – we know every day in this city people use their car for things that are not urgent. It's a normal part of life. But in these conditions, we ask people to forgo using their car whenever possible. If you've got to get your kid to school, you've got to get your kid to school. We understand that. I think the bottom line is, we made the decision that was right for a city of 8.4 million people and 1.1 million kids who are in our public schools. Carmen's always said that parents maintain the right to make their own personal decisions. But we're making the decision for an entire school system. Jonathan?
Question: Mr. Mayor, I wondered if you'd expand upon what the chancellor had said earlier about the idea of calling school the night before –
Question: [inaudible] new way that parents had suggested that they preferred that. My question is, is that going to be the new normal? And if so, does that leave you vulnerable to storms where things – conditions change like this morning [inaudible]
Mayor: that's a very good question. There is no single template is the honest truth in the sense of – every – every storm, boy can I say with some expertise, every storm is different. So there are times when you can make a call the night before. And when you can, you should. I think what the chancellor's saying I couldn't agree with more – is the earlier you can make a clean decision, the better off for parents and children, because everyone can plan. Again, I can speak as a parent, a huge amount of planning goes into – particularly with parents who have work schedules and other obligations – a lot of planning goes into how you're going to situate your kids each day. And it's usually a pretty seat-of-the-pants thing trying to get everything to work when you have a storm or something else suddenly interfering. So, we want to give people the maximum possible notification. I think the chancellor is absolutely right that that's where we need to move toward whenever humanly possible, and a more open and transparent process where people can see the –the standards we're holding. Because clearly there is – for example, there is a certain amount of snow that you know you would not open school as – on the basis of. So we want to show people the kinds of metrics, the kinds of factors that go into the decision and the timing that goes into the decision, and how the National Weather Service estimates work, etc. And that's something we'll do in the coming weeks. That being said, when you can make the decision effectively the night before, you should. When you know that the situation is so gray, so ever-changing that you have to wait for the early-morning hours, we'll do that. The downside of that is, parents wake up to a new situation potentially they didn't expect. So when we can avoid it, we'd like to avoid it, but it's going to be case-by-case is the bottom line. Grace?
Question: With this case though, one where it was so gray that waiting for the early morning hours would have been the better –
Mayor: Not based on what we knew. Again, I emphasize – and I think everyone here observes life in this city and you observe the city government, so I want to say this as an analytical point – you get an estimate and you have to work within that estimate. We don't second-guess the National Weather Service to the point of saying it's going to be a polarly different dynamic – no pun intended – a polarly different dynamic then what they say. So, the low end of their estimate suggests that by the time kids were walking in the door of school, it might have been two, three inches of snow. That was not an overwhelming figure from our point of view. The high end estimate was more problematic, but not enough to close school. And so I think the bottom line is, we had a lot of information. Based on the information we had, it was clear to us that we had to make the decision to keep school open. I'm not sure at four in the morning we would have known enough differently to have seen some of the particular situation that we felt today, but in the final analysis – again, the numbers I quoted to you. We still know – the proof is in the pudding. Look, the MTA, for example, functioning the way it did, is proof that we were still within the parameters of the city being open for business, the MTA functioning, buses being able to move. And that's core to the decision. So we think we did the right thing given what we had.
Question: [inaudible] I mean, your comments you opened by saying, "lessons learned." What did you mean –
Mayor: I meant about [inaudible] I will start and then go to you. I think that – yeah, that is about – our parents – the more we're talking to parents – and this is something, both of us having been on the job now six weeks, we've had a lot of conversations with parents and we're beginning to understand the kind of information they would like and when they'd like it. I know, from my own experience as a parent, what I thought was right – and Carmen from her experience as a parent. But the more parents we're talking to – and you know, let's face it, the modern world is getting ever more complicated. People's schedules ever more stretched. Parents want to know more about how the decision is being made, and they want answers as early as possible. And we owe them that transparency and to show them how the thinking goes on. I think this is, bluntly, a larger trend going on in government right now, to try and show people the thought process. So we're going to do a lot more of that. Yeah?
Question: The –
Mayor: Wait, I'm sorry, I got you before. My apology. I didn't mean to – didn't mean to double-take you there, but we're trying to spread around. Jim?
Question: So, Mr. Mayor and Madame Chancellor. If you will, does anybody have any idea how many – what percentage of kids have gotten to school today and what percentage of teachers?
Mayor: Do we know yet or are we still waiting?
Mayor: Kathleen Grimm, do you have an answer on attendance yet, or are we still waiting?
Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, Operations: I believe we're still waiting.
Mayor: Still waiting. We will get that to you as soon as we have it. Melissa?
Question: I just want to try the school question one more way –
Mayor: All right.
Question: By telling people to stay off the road, while many parents have to depend on their kids being on the road if they're going to get to school, are you ultimately sending a different message to the parents who have to go to work, who couldn't afford to stay home – sending one message to those parents and another –
Mayor: No, I think it's - I appreciate the question but I think it's abundantly clear what I'm saying. If you have to use your vehicles to get to work, there is no other way to get to work, you're going to use your vehicle. If you have to use your vehicle to get your child to school, that's understood. If you have the option of mass transit, use mass transit. If you're making an optional trip with your vehicle - which New Yorkers do every day, there's thousands and thousands of New Yorkers getting in the car for something that could wait or could be done another way - so we're simply saying if you can stay off the road, stay off the road. If you can't stay off the road, that's understood.
Question: Mayor, a question about metrics. You said that there's a certain amount of snow at which it would become obvious that you've got to close schools. How much is that and how late are you able to actually call off school? What's the cut off?
Mayor: Roughly 4 a.m. Between 4 and 5 a.m. is the latest you can go because the school buses start running around 5 so you have to get the word out. And obviously a lot of parents start waking up at 5, 6 o'clock and need to know. Look, as we present a clearer picture of the details of how the decision process goes, we'll put out some of those metrics. If you told me - you guaranteed me - a foot of snow between midnight and six a.m. I would guarantee you I'd close school. But, you know, the fact is, it's going to be case-by-case and we're going to put out some metrics to at least give people a guideline of what clearly means school is open, what clearly means school is closed, and what would be the gray areas where we have to make a game-time decision.
Question: [inaudible] Dave's question. Have you gotten feedback from parents – especially Title 1 students – that they are counting on that hot meal at schools and –
Mayor: Yes. A lot of feedback. And again, I think everyone in this room – if you talk to a parent in the street, or if you talk to five or 10 parents you're going to get different viewpoints. Carmen and I – you know, Carmen spent her entire life, adult life in the New York City public school system. I've been involved with the public school since I became a school board member in 1999, so for me it's been the last 15 years, 14 of which have been as a public school parent. There are huge numbers of parents for whom the consistency of the school schedule is absolutely necessary. They are going to work. They have no choice. If they can't get their kids to school they don't have another option. There is a huge number of parents for whom their kid getting to school also means their child will have a good meal and in some cases two meals. So, the fact is, it's a very big deal to a lot of parents. There are others for whom those situations are different and that's fair. It's a city of 8.4 million people. But no, we've heard from a lot of parents that they get frustrated at the possibility we might close school because they depend on school to be there for their kids. Please.
Chancellor Fariña: One of the things that I think also has to be made clear – 'cause the parents I met with this morning – it was a regularly scheduled meeting – and many of them did come in and they came in from all over the city. And the one thing that I think has been clear specifically in this administration is that we're going to share more of our thinking with parents and with all constituents. So when I even started to say things like it depends on the temperature, there were a lot of heads going like this. But – because they didn't understand. When I said one of the major things that we decide – because this is called the bunker, and at least in my mind when we come here there's twelve of us around a table making decisions, and I particularly listen to MTA. I mean certainly sanitation is after the fact but MTA is before the fact, and if they're saying they're ready to go with the trains it influences the decision. But the other thing is – at least in my mind – next week is a week off. We have a lot of things happening when kids come back to school. The more – when many, many of the schools – and I got several calls from principals today – are preparing kids for what they need to do over the next week's vacation, which is not really a vacation, because given the kind of curriculum that we're putting forth out there, there's a lot of work that has to be done even when you're on vacation. So, to my way of thinking as an educator, is, if we take a day off, sort of, before we have a whole week off, we're actually going to be regressing and not bringing the kids up in terms of the standards that I think we need to do. So, like I said it's not a simple solution, it's not a simple thinking, you've got to take a lot of things into consideration.
Mayor: I want to emphasize the MTA point. You know, we all – when we're around that table or we're on a conference call, MTA looms very large in our thinking and they are very clear with us in each call – I've now done it a number of times – on what they project, what they think will be their percentages of capacity, what kind of problems they predict, and what kind of solutions they have available. I want to thank the MTA because they have now very consistently put the chains on the articulated buses before each snow storm. That's made a big difference. That has greatly reduced the amount of problems with those buses, it's reduced the amount of towing we've had to do. When you reduce the towing, you increase the flow of traffic, you make it easier for sanitation to do its job. So we listened carefully and the MTA was very clear with us that they could function well today and, in fact, they have done so.
Question: Is that because the MTA brings so many kids to school each morning or because it – overall it signals the city – like you said – it's open for business?
Mayor: Yes. It is because they bring so many kids to school. Okay, anyone who hasn't got one first.
Question: Mr. Mayor, back to those school buses. I was just wondering if you're aware of the [inaudible] are they private school buses? I just want to know if you guys –
Mayor: I have not seen the video. I am clearly aware that – for some school buses – it's probably difficult – difficult traffic today. We get that. But again, we're making a decision for the entire system, and we're convinced that school buses will get through. They may be delayed, but they're going to get through safely. And that's the bottom line I want to emphasize, because a lot of the questions have come back to this. We made a decision with the information we had, and we were convinced our school buses could get through safely – with delays, no doubt – but safely.
Mayor: What does that mean? I'm sorry?
Question: Just that there were children onboard [inaudible] happening at the time that [inaudible]
Mayor: I don't understand what [inaudible]
Mayor: Oh, on that particular video?
Mayor: I don't – I haven't seen it. I don't think, you've seen it? So we don't – Okay, we have not.
Question: Just a question about the decision-making process between you and the chancellor?
Question: Were you – did one of you have to convince [inaudible] about closing the schools or where you on the same page about –
Mayor: We are on the same page a whole lot of the time on many, many things. And that is increased by the fact that we have worked together in a variety of ways for well over a decade. On this one we were in absolute agreement. Okay [inaudible]
Question: I was wondering, are you considering excusing absences today given the early call and also the fact that the storm did accelerate in these morning hours.
Mayor: Just to clarify and make sure we're all on the same page – when you said early call, we made the decision last night. It was projected last night that school was on. So that's what you mean by –
Question: [inaudible] this morning.
Mayor: Right, okay, go ahead.
Chancellor Fariña: Excused latenesses, but not absences.
Chancellor Fariña: Because in the course of the whole day, you can still get to school. Like I said, wait until you get out and go outside. You'll see a very different day than when we came in here this morning.
Mayor: I want to clarify – I'm sorry let me –
Chancellor Fariña: Okay, go ahead –
Mayor: Let me speak on the [inaudible] and I'll jump in here. Move one second, there we go. The – I want to make sure we're fully communicating, because the conceit of a lot of the questions is, wouldn't it be nice to shut down government operations, and that's not how we think. We are tasked – the people hire us to run a government – to run a school system, to run their transportation system, to plow the streets, etcetera, etcetera. So we're going to go out there every day with – forgive the rah-rah spirit here – but we're going to go out with a can-do attitude that we can get it done. And if we have a doubt – if we have a – we've talked to – John Doherty says, 'Here's a reality,' or MTA says, 'Here's the reality,' or Carmen says, 'Here's a reality,' that – that actually makes us think we cannot do things up to the standards we have to, we make a different decision. But we start with the assumption that our job is to make everything function to the maximum extent possible. And I think this is a crucial point and the difference between excused lateness and an excused absence.
We would love every child to have been exactly on time this morning. We knew some kids would be late. But they would still get to school, they would still get a lot of learning in. They would still get meals if that was something that they needed, and it would be a safe, warm environment for them. And for a lot of kids, if their parents had to go off to work – and think again about – I don't want anyone to just think only high school or only middle school or only elementary school or one borough. Think of kids – kindergarten, first grade, second grade – if their parents don't have an option for them. The school is the only place that kid can go that's safe and secure – that's a pretty big deal. So we don't close school lightly. That's the bottom line. If someone is late, you know, an excused lateness is acceptable. But we don't send the signal that absence is acceptable because we know that people are getting through. Please. Si, si por favor.
Chancellor Fariña: Me preguntaron si por favor hablara un poquito en español. Para los padres de la ciudad de Nueva York, es muy importante que nosotros que estamos en cargo de las escuelas, que sepamos que tener a los chiquitos en la escuela es un sitio muy importante. Es importante no solamente para las comidas pero tambien para la enseñanza. Todos los niños que atendieron la escuela hoy aprendieron algo que no sabian ayer, y algo que van a saber mas para mañana. Por eso que yo creo que tener las escuelas abriertas, y el alcalde y yo estamos completamente en accuerdo que esto fue una decision que tuvo que estar hecha exactamente como estuvo. Y de aqui y en adelante, cada situacion es un poco diferente. Gracias. Okay.
Chancellor Fariña: Basically the same thing, that we know how important it is for kids to be in school. And it's not just about the food, because if I ever say that, it's certainly not what I mean. It's important – every child who went to school today, went home tonight – or is going home tonight – knowing something they didn't know yesterday. And to me, that's what it's all about. School is about education, it's about learning something, and it's about using it as you go forward. If we started taking snow days every time it was likely, we'd already be regressing at least five days' work. We know – particularly in the younger grades, that for every day children are not in school, they regress two days' worth of education. And especially if there's a week coming off, which to me loomed large in my decision-making – if the kids don't take work home next week, they're going to come back the week after with at least two or three days of regression from before. So, to the degree that schools could plan on how they're going to send their – obviously the English is a lot longer than in Spanish – that they can plan to do what they need to do, I think is really, really important, especially since we don't know what tomorrow is going to bring.
Mayor: All right, first anyone who has not gotten a question. Did you get in a question yet?
Mayor: You did not, you're up.
Question: Okay, two questions. Was every member –
Mayor: Oh man, you gave him an inch, he takes a mile. That's not cool, man.
Question: Was every member of your administration on board in terms of the decision not to close schools? And –
Mayor: The decision – let's make it positive – the decision to keep schools open, yes.
Question: Okay. And the second question, Al Roker, the weatherman, has taken to Twitter to rip into you for keeping schools open. You know he said he's forecasting one term for you –
Question: He said that 'the snow was faster, heavier than expected. No Mr. Mayor, it came as predicted. Don't blame the weather for your poor policy.' What's your reaction to [inaudible]
Mayor: Well, I respect Al Roker a lot. I watched him on TV for many, many years. It's a different thing to run a city than to give the weather on TV. So, I am comfortable with our decision-making, and we just got off the phone with the National Weather Service – and again, I respect all the meteorologists out there, but the one I respect the most is called the National Weather Service. And this did – and they just affirmed to us on the call before we came out to you – that this went faster and heavier than their projections last night. And that happens. It is – it's weather. None of us controls it. Our job is to adjust and respond to it. So, that's my comment. Anyone? Okay, anything – anyone who has not gotten on this topic? Anyone who has not gotten? Okay, I'm going to two last, first you then Melissa on topic, go.
Question: Not related to schools but related to snow, the city was in the middle of a full-court press in dealing with the tremendous number of potholes happening around the city –
Mayor: Oh we are indeed, aren't we?
Question: [inaudible] talked about the funding difficulties you've been experiencing while dealing with that. Now we have storm number six, as you just mentioned. What's this going to do to that effort and will you be asking the federal government for additional funds [inaudible]
Mayor: It's a great question since we have just borrowed Polly Trottenberg from the federal government. But let's first let Polly describe to you the really extraordinary efforts that she and her team have made on the potholes, and then we'll talk about where we go from here.
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg: Thanks. And as you – as you are mentioning, you know, the DOT crews have been out in what has been, as you all can see, a very difficult winter. And I want to thank them because they've been out in tough weather. We are up to over 83,000 potholes filled so far this year.
Mayor: Meaning – meaning calendar.
Commissioner Trottenberg: Exactly, meaning calendar year.
Mayor: Since January 1.
Commissioner Trottenberg: And of course, these crews – and they're not doing potholes right now, they're helping sanitation with, you know, clearing the streets. So they are working mighty hard this winter. Obviously we have been talking with the mayor and his team about the resources that we're going to need and I'm quite confident that we will have them. We're also going to be working with the state and looking at all the ways that we'll be talking more about this in the immediate future that we can, you know, tackle potholes and also see what we can do to improve overall the conditions of roads. You know, this winter, we're on storm number six and sanitation is doing a wonderful job with plowing, salt, chains on buses. But all of it adds to the wear and tear on the roadway.
Mayor: And I do want to brag on behalf of DOT – was it 7,000 this weekend – 7,000 potholes filled on Saturday and Sunday alone. They're doing really an extraordinary job. Melissa?
Question: Just making sure I'm understanding. If – had you known last night – had the forecast been completely accurate in predicting the speed of this morning's storm – I just want to make sure I understand that you're saying you still would have kept schools open?
Mayor: I – you know what – so I want to say two things. I would have liked to have had – I said to folks this morning, it would be nice if we got a video the night before of exactly what the next day looks like. We don't happen to get that. So, you know, you always look at every component of information you had. If we knew exactly how it was going to progress, it would have been a factor in our decision-making. But that being said, the bottom line we just discussed. Are schools open and running? Yes, they are. Is the MTA running largely on schedule? Yes, it is. Things are working. And we are not in the business of shutting down things easily. So I'm comfortable with our decision. I would have liked more information, but based on the outcomes, the things we actually are experiencing now, it was the right decision. Okay that is weather, now off topic.
Question: Mr. Mayor, a few questions on the bishop issue. First I would like to get some technical questions out of the way. Who called you about the bishop's arrest, who did you try to call, what did you say precisely to Kim Royster, and then lastly, more generally, did the police handle this matter appropriately, according to the department protocol?
Mayor: Yeah, it's very simple. I received a report. I made an inquiry – received a report from Emma Wolfe on my staff, I made an inquiry with Chief Royster, she came back with an answer that the situation has been settled, and I thought that the precinct commander handled it well and that was his choice to make obviously.
Question: Will you then agree that he handled this matter appropriately, according to the department's protocol?
Mayor: One hundred percent. Because the proof is in the pudding. The precinct commander made a decision, and he made a decision based on his view of what he believed was the right thing to do is and we respect out precinct commanders.
Question: A lot of questions, about –
Mayor: Hey, hey, this is not like ping pong, other people get to ask too, so let's get someone
Question: On the same topic, could you explain, why you called, the motivation behind the phone call, and then beyond that, have you ever made a call like this before to the police, regarding an arrest?
Mayor: I think all of this is case by case, and this is an unusual situation where a very prominent member of the clergy, obviously, was experiencing a pretty unusual situation. So I thought it was appropriate to make an inquiry, and I got a response, and that's the end of the story.
Question: I'm sorry, the second part of the question was have you made calls like this before, when you learned of an event?
Mayor: There was nothing quite like this. I think everything is different and I think the bottom line is it's appropriate to make an inquiry when you think you there's a reason to make an inquiry, but in the end we respect the choices the police make.
Question: I don't understand why there is so, what's your response to the concerns that have been raised about the fact that you made that call and you know, I know your aide said that, and you said that you didn't ask for him to be released, but just the mayor making a phone call like that to the police, many people are saying, sends a message that you want something done for your friend. Are you concerned that as mayor, making a phone call like that, you are sending a message to the police that you want things done in a certain way and is that something you plan to do going forward?
Mayor: Everything is a case by case basis. I have tremendous respect for the NYPD and they know it, and the precinct commanders will make their best judgments and that's their jobs. So I think it's absolutely appropriate if I make an inquiry to make an inquiry and get information, but I respect that precinct commanders are going to do as they see fit.
Question: Yesterday it was very hard, yesterday morning, very difficult, and in fact still impossible to get a police report or an arrest report from that incident, at least for us at Bloomberg News, that we were trying to match the Wall Street Journal story, is that a – I mean, any comment on that?
Mayor: I don't know the protocol, I mean I honestly don't know the protocols around it so whatever's the normal protocol.
Question: Clearly given to other media.
Mayor: Again, I don't know the protocols specifically, and I don't know the specific way information flows, but I'll have our folks follow up.
Question: Mr. Mayor, you said, over the last few weeks that you think there should be tougher penalties for people who drive with suspended licenses, who drive with revoked licenses, as part of your Vision Zero strategy. So, why should somebody who's driving with a suspended license be given special treatment, even if you didn't influence that treatment? Why should this person be –
Mayor: I think there should be tougher penalties, I've said that, I think this situation as best I understand it, that was not the operative question. Again, the precinct commander made a decision. I think he made a decision based on the other issues, not on the suspended license. I think it has to do with the civil disobedience arrest and that was his decision to make. Precinct commanders have the opportunity to make decisions that they think are right given all the factors and that's what he did.
Question: Mr. Mayor you're saying it's a case-by-case basis, are you saying that you would make a call like this again, on behalf of your friend –
Mayor: Case-by-case basis literally means that. It's a case-by-case basis.
Question: So, maybe, possibly, in the future, under your jurisdiction–
Mayor: I would make my decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Question: What did you think the next morning when you woke up and you saw the Daily News and the Post and both of them had, because you had campaigned on a 'tale of two cities', and I think everyone is questioning now whether there is a system of two justices.
Mayor: I don't think everyone is questioning that, with all due respect.
Question: I think a few people are.
Mayor: A few people and everyone is very different, with all due respect. Nothing surprises me in the media, and again, I think we have a situation here where I made an inquiry, I got a response, the decision had already been made, end of story.
Question: You had previously criticized the Bloomberg administration over the ticket fixing scandal in the Bronx. Do you see this as different and can you claim, if so, how it is different, how this is not –
Mayor: I don't even understand the parallel, with all due respect.
Question: Well there were criticisms of favoritism, that people were, you know –
Mayor: Ticket fixing is illegal. Period.
Question: The general sense is you know, favoritism –
Question: And having somebody call in –
Mayor: Making an inquiry. Making an inquiry is perfectly appropriate. Ticket fixing is illegal.
Question: From the reports it seems like part of the reason why the precinct commander allowed the bishop to go free was because they had a prior relationship. The two knew each other, they worked together. Do you think it was appropriate for the precinct commander to make this call based on that prior relationship?
Mayor: I think the precinct commander made a professional decision. I have worked with the NYPD now in different capacities for over 20 years, and leaders within the NYPD make decisions every minute, every hour, every day based on a lot of factors, and this was done appropriately.
Question: Although, why did you call the commissioner directly?
Mayor: It happened to be a matter of trying to literally get information, so we called the office of the deputy commissioner for public information. Oh wait, behind you, yes, okay good, we got efficiency here.
Question: Did you speak with the commissioner at all about this at any time, and I'm wondering why he's not here today?
Mayor: I did not speak with him and he's I'm sure doing something else he has to do and the chief is here.
Question: Why did you make that phone call yourself? And also when you said that the precinct commander, in your understanding, made the decision based on the arrest for the civil disobedience, as opposed to the suspended license, does that mean that you overlooked the suspended license, or in your –
Mayor: Yeah I am not the precinct commander, so I don't know the specifics of how he made his decision. I respect his decision. It was a very unusual dynamic to have a leading member of the clergy in that situation. I wanted to know what was going on, so I made an inquiry.
Question: Scott Stringer said yesterday, and I quote, "I think that the mayor shouldn't be involved in any way when someone gets arrested. It is something that can only be problematic." What's your direct response to his comment?
Mayor: I think you look at each of these situations case-by-case, as I've said, and if it is warranted to make an inquiry, you make an inquiry. And I just think that it has to be understood for what it is. The precinct commander made his decision, by the time I even got an answer the decision had been made, and that's appropriate.
Question: What does "make an inquiry" mean, can you just talk about the conversation?
Mayor: Yeah, simply, I heard this report, what's going on?
Question: He didn't say anything about –
Mayor: Nothing particularly consequential. I just saw him at an event, and we just chatted, but nothing specific. Rich?
Question: Was Kim surprised you were on the phone?
Mayor: I worked with Kim a lot in the last few weeks so I don't think she was particularly surprised or if something unusual – I was asking her for information. Thanks, everyone.