Politicians and their responses to snow (and other events)

Is it any surprise that Mayor Daley of Chicago has been absent from the response to snowstorm of recent days? What exactly could he gain at this point in his career?

We know from recent history that politicians have plenty to lose in such circumstances. Look at Mayor Bloomberg in New York a month or so ago – if he can’t even get the snow plows working, how could he achieve higher office? Past Chicago mayors, such as Michael Bilandic, have been burned by snow.

My guess is that this is one of those situations where people in charge get little credit if all goes smoothly but proportionately more blame if things go poorly. People expect that services like snow plowing or garbage pick-up are just going to happen and tend to only notice this when that service is interrupted. Right now in Chicago there seems to be game of political hot-potato over the number of people trapped overnight on Tuesday on Lake Shore Drive. Who exactly is responsible – should Mayor Daley have to answer for this? Shouldn’t someone have had some plan in place? More broadly, do most cities sit and think about worst-case scenarios so that they have at least thought about some of these issues?

This may not be a fair process on the part of the public: the leader can’t control everything. But when something goes wrong, the public also expects that the leader is ultimately responsible and is responsive to the needs of the citizenry. If not, if those basic services don’t come through, the blame often goes right to the top.

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