Mayor Bloomberg Guides Successor With New Post-Sandy Plan

Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlining his plans to protect New York.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlining his plans to make the city more resilient to future storms.

He may not be seeking a fourth term, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg will nonetheless have an outsized influence in the coming years on City Hall.

With just 203 days left of his administration, Mr. Bloomberg unveiled a far-ranging, 250-plus-point plan to harden the city against future storms like Hurricane Sandy, dumping a massive–and hugely expensive–$19.5 billion to-do list on his successor’s lap.

“This plan is incredibly ambitious–and much of the work will extend far beyond the next 203 days. But we refuse to pass responsibility for creating a plan into the next administration,” Mr. Bloomberg said Tuesday as he unveiled the plan  in a former printing press in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that had been devastated by Sandy.

The plans includes new levees, barriers, removable flood walls surrounding vulnerable stretches of Manhattan, new dunes and bulkheads–as well as a proposal for an entirely new neighborhood, dubbed “Seaport City, which would be built on the east side of Manhattan and modeled after  Battery Park City.

“This is urgent work–and it must begin now. So we will use every one of the next 203 days to get as much work as possible underway, and to lock in commitments wherever we can,” he said, later telling those gathered–twice: “It’s up to you to hold the next administration accountable for getting it done.”

Administration officials argued it was crucial to begin improvements as quickly as possible, and pointed to about 60 items they believe they can get done within the next six months, before they leave office. Those include securing an estimated $15 billion in funding (they say they already have $10 billion in place), getting started on design work and studies for some of the longer-term projects, and making changes to building codes and other regulations. They also expect to be able to complete construction on some projects, with beach reconstructions and dune building already underway.

Chris Ward, the former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and now chair of Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, said he thought the mayor had struck the right balance in terms of how much would be left up to whomever succeeds him at City Hall.

“I think the mayor, to his credit, is leaving his input in terms of where the city should go without saying it has to happen to be a great city. But here’s something that we should clearly, clearly think about,” said Mr. Ward. “I think you could only say that the mayor’s over-reaching in the extent that he’s putting a marker down that the next administration cannot ignore … I think this is a call to the next administration and the next administrator after that.”

“Whether they adopt his plan, that’s one thing. But if they’re not going to adopt his plan, they better have another alternative besides what he proposed,”he said.

Politicker reached out to the major candidates to hear their takes.

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, often at odds with Mr. Bloomberg and his administration, offered some humble praise. “There is usually little reward in politics for thinking big thoughts about the distant future,” he said in a statement. “I honor Mayor Bloomberg for leading this conversation.”

Some, including former MTA Chair Joe Lhota, who is credited with getting the transit system back up and running post-storm, seemed to agree.

“I commend Mayor Bloomberg for putting in place a roadmap for dealing with the realities of climate change and the impact it will have on our communities. The mayor laid out an ambitious plan that will proactively protect the city in the event of future natural disasters,” he said in a statement. “The plan contains several ambitious capital projects that will be started under this administration, and I will continue to implement as the next mayor.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also thanked the mayor.

“As I’ve said before, strengthening our City against future climate risks, such as the devastation we experienced after Sandy, is this is the single most important infrastructure challenge of our time,” she said. “The neighborhoods hit by Sandy each have their own unique needs, that’s why it is so important that the Mayor’s report addresses these specific issues. We have seen the terrible consequences storm driven flooding can bring to too many parts of our city.  It’s one of the reasons I have advocated so strongly for strengthening our coastal defenses, and I’m glad to see the Mayor facing this challenge head on.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also responded positively.

“While my office has just begun to review the plan, I believe that it can be a foundation for the next administration’s efforts to prepare New York City for the inevitable impacts of climate change,” he said in a statement. “The plan rightly focuses on bolstering our resilience through infrastructure improvements like flood walls, tidal basins, sand dunes, surge barriers and green infrastructure, and is right to take a multi-sector approach emphasizing residential homes, businesses, the electrical grid and health care assets.”

But former Comptroller Bill Thompson focused his criticism on Mr. Bloomberg’s handling of the storm.

“When I’m Mayor, communities in southeast Queens, the South Shore, City Island, and Coney Island will receive the same attention and resources as corporations on Wall Street or businesses on 5th Avenue,” he said, noting that gas rationing lasted 15 days in the city–four days longer than in New Jersey and six days longer than in Long Island. “Families and businesses across the city waited in line for hours or walked for miles in the cold to get the essential fuel they needed. And then had to do it again the next day. And the next. That’s unacceptable.”

And businessman John Catsimatidis showed the most outright skepticism of the plan itself.

“In 1938 the ‘Great Hurricane’ hit Long Island; 74 years later Superstorm Sandy devastated New York City,” he stated. “Today, we need to plan for the future. The $19.5 billion price tag is a huge amount of money. As a businessman, I have to ask the question; will $1 billion, or $2 billion or $3 billion protect us from 90% or 95% of the damage as opposed to spending the full $19.5 billion price tag. That’s the question we need to ask.”

This post has been updated with Mr. Weiner’s and Mr. Catsimatidis’s responses.