In a speech this morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised New York’s official response to Hurricane Sandy, called for more action to control climate change, and laid out the next steps in the city’s rebuilding process.
“Even as our recovery operations remain our top priority, we now have enough perspective to begin taking stock of what we did well — and what we can and must do better,” Bloomberg said, tracing what he called the “evolution of heroes in this city.
“It started out with the Fire Department and the Police Department saving lives. And then a few days later it’s the police department that was making sure everybody was safe at night. And then it became the Sanitation Department and all the work that they’ve done. And then it became the volunteers. It’s just a natural progression.”
Bloomberg also praised the federal hurricane response. “Make no mistake about it: the federal government… was there when we needed them,” he said. “Everything they asked for, they delivered right away.”
Bloomberg said he has directed Deputy Mayors Cas Holloway and Linda Gibbs to conduct a “comprehensive after-action review of our preparedness measures and recovery operations.” The report is expected in February.
Turning the future, Bloomberg announced that he has instructed Seth Pinsky, president of the Economic Development Corporation, to develop recovery plans for hurricane-battered neighborhoods and a comprehensive plan to respond to the effects of climate change on New York.
Goldman Sachs Vice President Marc Ricks will also be working on the project, Bloomberg announced. Ricks will be taking a leave of absence from the investment bank to work once again with the Bloomberg administration.
“Let me be clear: we are not going to abandon the waterfront,” Bloomberg said. “We are not going to leave the Rockaways or Coney Island or Staten Island’s South Shore. But we cannot just rebuild what was there and hope for the best. We have to build smarter and stronger and more sustainable.”
Among other things, that will mean strengthening building-code standards for flood protection, Bloomberg said. They mayor dismissed the notion of building protective sea walls, but said other infrastructure, like berms, dunes, jetties and levees might help control future storm surges.
“No matter what we do, the tides will continue to come in,” Bloomberg said. “And so we have to make our city more resilient in other ways, especially when it comes to infrastructure.”
Noting that during Sandy, every one of the city’s major infrastructure networks failed, Bloomberg said they must be improved.
“Many of our key infrastructure networks are run by private companies,” the mayor said. “But they have contracts, franchises, and licenses to provide public services — and the puplic has a right to establish clear benchmarks for their performance in a disaster.”
He announced that Con Ed has committed to a $250-million project to harden its gas, electric and steam systems.
The mayor’s speech was given at an invitation-only breakfast held at the Downtown Marriot by the Regional Plan Association and the New York League of Conservation Voters. Among the sponsors of the event were the construction giants Skanska and CH2MHill, utility companies Verizon, National Grid, and Con Ed, and NRG, which owns power plants run on coal, oil, natural gas, and renewable resources throughout the US.
Bloomberg was introduced by Sierra Club Director Michael Brune and former Vice President Al Gore, both of whom lavished the mayor with praise for his work on climate change through his PlaNYC and the C40 Climate Group.
“I don’t know of anybody who has done more,” Gore said. “I am really proud to call Mike Bloomberg a friend, and for those of you who live in this great city I will say again: I think you are extremely fortunate to have the leadership of Mike Bloomberg.”
Gore also delivered an impassioned update to his climate change speech, directly linking the destructive power of Hurricane Sandy to climate change, and attacking the governmental corruption that he said gives corporate polluters veto power over climate-change legislation.
“Our democracy has been hacked,” Gore said. “It no longer functions as it was intended to, to serve the public interest. And when the large corporate polluters and their ideological allies tell the members of congress to jump, they do say ‘how high?'”
Gore offered a tempered critique of President Obama’s lack of leadership on climate change.
“I’m grateful for the steps that he has taken, but we cannot have four more years of mentioning this occasionally and saying that it’s too bad that the congress can’t act. I know how tough it is — he’s done more in his first four years than any other administration has done, and I respect that and acknowledge that. But the time has long since passed for us to get moving. This country is the only nation that can provide global leadership, and the dysfunctional governance globally is directly related to the dysfunction of the government here in our own country. Ultimately it all comes back to us. We have to send the message: Yeah, it’s time to act.”