Public Advocate Calls for Council Hearings on Governor’s Subway Storm Closure

Public Advocate Letitia James during a January council meeting. (Photo: Official NYC Council/William Alatriste.)

Public Advocate Letitia James during a January council meeting. (Photo: Official NYC Council/William Alatriste.)

Public Advocate Letitia James will call for the City Council to hold hearings Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial decision to shut down the subway system—with little notice to City Hall—ahead of a forecasted blizzard Monday night.

“I believe in the old adage that it’s better to be safe than sorry. However, I believe that there should be other stakeholders in the decision-making and I have some concerns about unilateral decisions,” Ms. James told the Observer today.

When she was a councilwoman and chair of the Sanitation Committee, Ms. James held hearings on the city’s response to a December 2010 blizzard—a monster of a storm compared to Monday’s fizzled out forecast—that hit while Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on vacation and saw streets unplowed for days.

“I’ll be asking the City Council to do a similar set of hearings, because I’m really concerned that no other stakeholders were involved in the decision-making to close down a major system in the City of New York, which cost businesses and New Yorkers some inconvenience,” she said.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether she was open to holding hearings on the decision.

Mr. Cuomo’s office has pointed out that the governor raised the possibility of closing all mass transit—something that has never been done ahead of a snow storm—as early as Sunday night. But at noon on Monday, as snow began to fall, MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast sat beside Mr. Cuomo and told reporters he didn’t believe the entire subway system, especially lines running underground, would be shut.

“It is an essential part of transportation for people who must get around, including our employees,” Mr. Prendergast said at the noon press briefing.

After a 4:00 p.m. weather report, Mr. Prendergast apparently changed his mind, despite an unchanged forecast. At 4:15 p.m., he recommended the system be closed, Mr. Cuomo’s office said in a statement yesterday. Mayor Bill de Blasio was notified at 4:30 p.m., and the governor announced the decision publicly at a press conference scheduled to start just 15 minutes later, at 4:45 p.m.

“I think it was a very big move, and certainly something we would have liked to have had more dialogue on,” Mr. de Blasio said yesterday.

Ms. James agreed. “I think obviously that the administration should be given proper notice and I believe that there should be proper protocols,” she said.

Some public transit advocates have also knocked the subway closure, which coupled with a driving ban effectively shut down the entire city.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Ms. James’ remarks. But on Tuesday Mr. Cuomo’s spokeswoman Melissa De Rosa said the governor’s office had been in close contact with City Hall.

“Our office has been in constant communication with the Mayor’s office on all decisions regarding the storm, beginning Sunday afternoon and going late into the night last night and again first thing this morning,” she said. “We understand that a 4:45 p.m. announcement of a closing at 11 p.m. is relatively short notice but we wanted to get the best, most timely information before we made the decision and the public clearly got the message.”