Bill de Blasio Found Out About Subway Closure ‘As It Was Being Announced’

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he got little notice of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's late-afternoon decision to shut down MTA services in the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Photo: Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
Mayor Bill de Blasio with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Photo: Bryan Thomas/Getty Images) Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio said today he got little notice of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s late-afternoon decision to shut down MTA services in the city yesterday—and later this afternoon said would have liked more “dialogue” about the decision.

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“We found out just as it was being announced,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters today in City Hall’s Blue Room.

Mr. de Blasio was notified of the historic decision to halt mass transit at around 4:30 p.m., shortly before Mr. Cuomo announced the decision on television around 5 p.m. Subways were shut down at 11 p.m., something that has never been done for a snow storm before—and which coincided with a ban on vehicular traffic in the city, essentially bringing it to a stand-still.

“We did not get a lot of advance notice,” Mr. de Blasio said.

But he did defend the governor’s decision to shut down the operations of the MTA, a state-run agency. Saying the projected storm totals required an abundance of caution to keep the system safe.

“That would’ve paralyzed some of the subway lines above ground,” Mr. de Blasio said of the projected forecast. “Certainly I think it was a decision based on caution.”

But Mr. Cuomo’s spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said the state had coordinated closely with Mr. de Blasio.

“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 in a statement.

The decision to close the subways was made after a 4 p.m. weather briefing, with MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast making his recommendation to the governor at 4:15 p.m. Mr. de Blasio learned of the closure at 4:30 p.m. Mr. Cuomo then announced that decision to the public around 5 p.m., at a press conference that had been scheduled to begin at 4:45 p.m.

“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. It was the right decision, as was closing the roads, given the information at hand,” Ms. DeRosa said.

Several hours after his first press conference, while taking questions from the press for a second time this afternoon, Mr. de Blasio said in the future he’d like to have more input on decisions to shut down the subway.

“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.

Mr. de Blasio did not criticize the decision, but said its impact should be evaluated for future storms.

“I think we have to look at all the decisions we make and evaluate them and determine based on real experience if we wanna handle things differently in the future. So I think that’s a big decision, unprecedented decision that absolutely should be evaluated after the fact to see if we can learn from and if there’s anything we can do better going forward,” he said.

Still, he said government should err on the side of keeping people safe.

“I’m certain everyone can grasp that the decision to focus on safety and take more precautions rather than fewer was the right one. It was right at the city level, it was right at the state level,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And the governor’s team and I were very united in that broad philosophy. You can debate any of the specifics, but we shared a common philosophy about how to approach this.”

The short notice and apparently short dialogue about the subway closure harkens back to a similar dynamic during the city’s Ebola scare, when Mr. de Blasio and his team were not given a heads up with Mr. Cuomo joined with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to roll out quarantine measures for healthcare workers—just hours after Mr. de Blasio had urged people not be worried about healthcare workers spreading the deadly virus in the city.

Earlier today, Mr. Cuomo defended his decision to shut the trains down, arguing it made for a smoother commute this morning once service was partially restored at 9 a.m.

“I don’t know if, net, that didn’t end up saving us time,” Mr. Cuomo said. “The system is going to come back on-line much faster than it would have if the trains were exposed to the conditions and they were shoveling out this morning.”

Mr. de Blasio isn’t the only person the governor’s subway closure caught by surprise—MTA workers also weren’t expecting it, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

The short notice also comes after Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo had to shuffle around the times for press briefings yesterday to avoid conflicting with each other, and as the mayor appeared on television this morning around the same time as Mr. Cuomo’s 8 a.m. storm briefing—to talk to his brother, Chris Cuomo, on CNN.

“CNN had just invited me on, I was happy to do it,” Mr. de Blasio said today. “We’re all just trying to get information out as soon as it’s ready.”

Will Bredderman contributed reporting.

This story has been updated with new information about when Mr. de Blasio was notified of the subway closure, new information from the governor’s office, and Mr. de Blasio’s comments from this afternoon.

Bill de Blasio Found Out About Subway Closure ‘As It Was Being Announced’