WASHINGTON — The mayor of the nation's capital and other politicians are feeling the heat for not moving faster to clear the streets of snow after the historic back-to-back blizzards that slammed the East Coast.
"Right now I'm miserable. We still can't get out," said Carolyn Ward, who serves on a neighborhood commission in Washington. "If they had a plan, it wasn't a good one."
In Washington, which was blanketed with about 18 inches of snow over the weekend and 10 more on Tuesday and Wednesday, residents complained that snow removal by Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration seemed arbitrary, with some streets plowed numerous times, others not at all. At one point, 25 percent of the city's snowplows were out of commission, having broken down on the hard snow, officials said.
Politicians heard similar complaints about slow or haphazard snow removal in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and outlying areas of Maryland.
How quickly the elected officials get rid of the stuff could determine their political futures, a hard lesson learned over the years by some big-city mayors.
"Snow, politically, in Washington — in most places — is a very high-stake poker game," said former Washington Mayor Marion Barry, now on the City Council. He was heavily criticized in 1987 for vacationing in California during the Super Bowl as snowstorms paralyzed his city for five days. "People are very emotional about snow."
A Washington Examiner editorial Thursday declared, "Mayor Fenty fails the snow test," noting that stores and other businesses that rely on private snow removal services cleared their property more quickly than the city did.
The mayor, whose job approval rating was already in the 40s in a Washington Post poll in January, told the Hill newspaper that he will try to improve snow removal by expanding agreements with private contractors and keeping equipment better maintained.
"I'd say give us another 24 hours. You'll probably see a lot of normal operations of government. Then we have a nice, long weekend and the city should be back on its feet by Tuesday," the mayor said on CBS's "Early Show."
Some politicians took responsibility for the problems but also emphasized the historic nature of the snowstorms. This is now the snowiest winter on record in Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
"This would overwhelm any city, anywhere, in terms of residential streets," said Washington Councilman Jim Graham.
In Pittsburgh, which received close to 2 1/2 feet of snow from the two storms, some people complained that poorly plowed roads had kept them stuck inside for days. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl admitted the city could have dealt better with its 2,000 miles of roads.
"We'll analyze the work that we did and we'll see what we can change next time," Ravenstahl said. "But next time might be another 10 or 15 years."