Four days after an awkward effort by Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin to fire Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito, Mayor de Blasio made the dismissal official while praising Mr. Esposito’s past performance and saying he would continue to serve in his post until a national search produces his replacement.
The Mayor’s Dec. 4 statement was intended to quell what he said “was a lot of confusion in the public domain” over Mr. Esposito’s status in one of the city’s key emergency leadership posts. That included press reports that he had been fired by Ms. Anglin on Nov. 30 but that the OEM chief showed up for work Monday morning, evidently determined to hear about his fate from the Mayor directly.
Mayor: My Mistake
In a rare admission of error, Mr. de Blasio told reporters at an unrelated press conference that in retrospect he should not have delegated the delicate conversation to a subordinate but handled it himself, one on one with Mr. Esposito.
He also broached the possibility that Mr. Esposito could be in line for another assignment somewhere in his administration. But the Mayor forcefully denied that the shift in OEM leadership was, as widely reported, related to his administration’s Nov. 15 snowstorm response that was sharply criticized by local officials and the media.
“Weeks ago I approved a change in leadership at the Office of Emergency Management,” he told reporters at an unrelated press conference on NYPD crime statistics. “I want to be very, very clear this has nothing to do with the storm. I know in the absence of specific information, some of you reported that. I want to tell you straightforwardly that is a falsehood.”
He continued, “I don’t blame you for making that assumption. It just is not true. The decision was made well in advance of that. I felt, and others in leadership in the administration felt for some time that we needed to make some changes at that agency and we needed to get more out of that agency.”
Away and Out of Touch
Mr. Esposito’s emotional roller-coaster was prolonged by the fact that at the time Ms. Anglin fired him, Mr. de Blasio was in Vermont at a weekend event hosted by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. By the Mayor’s own admission, he remained unaware until his return on Monday just how “sideways” a pair of meetings had gone between Ms. Anglin and Mr. Esposito about the administration’s plans for OEM.
“I had heard back later Friday that it had been an emotional conversation. A tense conversation obviously is not unusual when personnel matters are involved, but I did not understand until Monday when more information was provided that the situation had involved so much misunderstanding.”
Mr. Esposito told reporters the previous day that, uncertain about his status, he decided to come to work and wait for official word on his situation. Mr. de Blasio said he had no record of calls from the Emergency Management Commissioner while he was away.
The Mayor said that after meeting Monday with Ms. Anglin and then with Mr. Esposito twice, things were sufficiently smoothed over that “we were able to come to a much greater understanding of how to proceed.”
Long Career at NYPD
Mr. Esposito assumed the OEM post in 2014 after more than 44 years at the NYPD, the final 13 years as the Chief of Department. His latter years with the department overlapped the city’s remarkable decline in crime, 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath.
“I made the decision and I believed the way it was carried out was the right way,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Obviously, something went wrong. I have to take responsibility for that. In retrospect, understanding and appreciating how long Joe had served this city…I think it would had been smarter to do it [personally].”
When reporters asked if he had apologized to Mr. Esposito for how his exit was handled, the Mayor said only that he and the OEM Commissioner “had a good conversation.”
He said that the change in OEM leadership was prompted by his assessment that the agency needed to shift from a tactical-based approach to a strategic one.
Climate, Terror Concerns
“I think that in the last five years the threat of climate change has increased,” he said. “The threat of terrorism has increased. The shape of terrorism has changed and unfortunately become more multi-faceted.”
Mr. de Blasio continued, “I think there are a host of things going on and we recognize things are happening faster and we are not only going to have to respond tactically but have a much-more-refined approach to getting ready for perhaps potentially multiple problems simultaneously.”
Council Member Chaim Deutsch blasted the administration for letting the public perception gain traction that Mr. Esposito was fired as a consequence of the city’s inadequate Nov. 15 snow response.
“I have used OEM constantly throughout the last four and a half years when there is a crisis in my district,” he said in a City Hall interview. “There is no other Commissioner that I know that you are able to get a-hold of 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He’s accessible and he is extremely, extremely responsive.”
Focusing on His Future?
The administration’s latest self-inflicted black eye prompted an extensive New York Times report which cast the Mayor as increasingly disengaged from the day-to-day operations of his administration in his second term as he set his sights on becoming more of a national political presence.
According to the Times, “New York’s vanishing Mayor” spent an average of 19 days a month on the job at City Hall in 2014, his first year. By last year that average had dropped to just nine days at City Hall. In July it was just five days, and of the last 39 Fridays, the Mayor was present on just four. According to the Times, Mr. de Blasio has often opted to work instead from Gracie Mansion.
“Anyone who watches what I’m doing understands that every hour, every day, including weekends, I’m focused on this work, which is why we’re getting done what we are getting done,” Mr. de Blasio told the paper.
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