Do Mayors' Political Fates Hang in the Outcome of Snowstorms?

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a snow emergency Wednesday, 18 hours before the storm was predicted to arrive. Some say he jumped too quickly to mobilize efforts that cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His supporters say it would have been foolish for the mayor not to respond to what was expected to be a massive snowstorm that had the potential to create havoc.

Menino didn't declare an emergency until a day after the 2007 storm hit and he, along with Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Deval, got panned for their handling of the situation.

The Politics of Snow

Mayors and city officials are all too aware of the politics of snow and the public perception of the way they deal with such situations.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker garnered much praise earlier this year when he personally went to the house of a 65-year-old resident who couldn't leave his home because of the snow blocking his driveway and walkway. Booker, along with several volunteers, shoveled the snow himself. In return, he received positive press and accolades.

New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was faced with record snowfalls in 1994 and not enough snow-removal equipment. As a result, he put scrapper blades on the front of municipal garbage trucks to clean the streets. Giuliani's unconventional method of handling a conventional storm earned him a huge boost among New Yorkers.

There are also plenty of examples of snow gone wrong for mayors.

Bilandic, who served as Chicago's mayor from 1976 to 1979, is a prime example.

"To the extent that you can point to one cause for a candidate losing, that would have been the one cause," McFarland said.

Bilandic was handed most of the blame for the mishandling of the blizzard that struck the windy city in February 1979, right before the Democratic mayoral primary in March. Bilandic had long been expected to win, McFarland said, but the negative press and discontent among residents shot down his chances and resulted in a surprise win for his opponent.

"Since this happened, it's common conventional wisdom, everybody in politics in Chicago knows that the mayor has to give No. 1 priority to snow clearance because everybody in Chicago assumes -- and I would say correctly -- that Bilandic lost on that issue," McFarland said. "That's the 'Chicago Rule,' so to speak."

Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Jr., suffered a massive political blow when he failed to respond quickly to a storm that hit the nation's capital in January 1987. While residents in the district hunkered down, Barry was attending the Super Bowl. When he finally returned to the city in a helicopter, he declared, "We're not a snow town," much to the chagrin of city officials and residents.

Lindsay, who served as New York City's mayor from 1966 to 1973, faced major backlash for giving Manhattan the preferred treatment and abandoning Queens in the snow-removal process during a storm that hit the city in February 1969.

"I think the snowstorm for Lindsay kind of capsulated a lot of people's belief that the city in general wasn't working," said Cannato, who penned a book on the former mayor, titled "The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay's New York and the Crisis of Liberalism."

Lindsay was re-elected but his legacy continues to be defined in part by the 1969 snow crisis.

"Just the snowstorm, I think people would have forgotten by the summertime, but the snowstorm symbolized all their other complaints about the city," Cannato said.

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