New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was so cartoonishly bad at his job leading up to the coronavirus crisis that it was actually difficult to imagine any more damning information was stuck in the pipeline, beyond what we already knew. And then the ProPublica scoop below dropped. Before we get to it, let's speed through a quick refresher on (1) how de Blasio's staff had to threaten to quit in order for him to take the deadly outbreak more seriously, (2) how de Blasio was urging New Yorkers to go to bars and restaurants and to use the subway, well into March, and (3) how de Blasio was setting a terrible personal example, even after he tightened up restrictions. And when he was confronted with this record, the mayor said it's not time to look backward, even though he'd done precisely that in criticizing President Trump:
For weeks, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers to "go about their lives." About his past comments, de Blasio now says "we should not be focusing, in my view, on anything looking back on any level of government right now" #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/7fZZOHoPBS— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 29, 2020
As I said, cartoonishly bad. And now this:
Fourteen years ago, Mayor Bloomberg released a pandemic plan for New York City and began stockpiling ventilators and N95 masks.— Michael Hendrix (@michael_hendrix) April 7, 2020
Mayor de Blasio later auctioned off the ventilators and disposed of the masks. https://t.co/eyAkzaRZPe
In July 2006, with an aggressive and novel strain of the flu circulating in Asia and the Middle East, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a sweeping pandemic preparedness plan. Using computer models to calculate how a disease could spread rapidly through the city’s five boroughs, experts concluded New York needed a substantial stockpile of both masks and ventilators...In the end, the alarming predictions failed to spur action. In the months that followed, the city acquired just 500 additional ventilators as the effort to create a larger stockpile fizzled amid budget cuts. Even those extra ventilators are long gone, the health department said on Sunday. The lifesaving devices broke down over time and were auctioned off by the city at least five years ago because the agency couldn’t afford to maintain them...Another prong of the Bloomberg pandemic plan — the mass distribution of masks to the public — has not happened either, even as experts are now reversing earlier guidance and urging everyone in hot spots like New York to cover their faces...Asked about the masks, the department said it “did purchase N95s in quantity but eventually all expired, and it became cost-prohibitive to replace them in any meaningful quantity.”
Not all of this is de Blasio's fault, of course, but governance is about priorities and choices. Bloomberg (playing the role of President Bush in this analogy, based on yesterday's post) had his eye on this ball, at least for awhile. Then it fell to the ground, so much so that ventilators were not maintained, then auctioned off under the current mayor. A stockpile of masks was allowed to expire, then discarded. President Trump has been criticized for suggesting that the federal government is a "backup" to their state and local counterparts. Some of that is self-serving buck-passing, but under our system, it happens to be largely true. Given New York City's population density, pandemic preparation should have been a top-of-mind concern for city officials. For a time, it was. But not anymore. And the consequences have been dire. I'll leave you with this related Twitter thread from yours truly, as well as this:
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