Following November Snowstorm Chaos, NYC Emergency Management Chief Is Fired

by | December 4, 2018

By Jillian Jorgensen

A deputy mayor told the head of the city's Office of Emergency Management he was fired on Friday, a source told the News -- but without hearing from Hizzoner about his fate, the commissioner, Joseph Esposito, showed up for work on Monday.

Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin canned Esposito on Friday, after she had asked for his resignation over the city's botched response to a November snow storm and he refused, a source confirmed to the News. Anglin's actions were first reported by the Wall Street Journal Monday morning.

But Esposito has yet to hear the news from the horse's mouth -- having not yet had a conversation with Mayor de Blasio -- so he continued working this weekend and Monday.

"Commissioner Esposito is in the office and working," Office of Emergency Management spokesman Omar Bourne said.

Reached by cell phone, Esposito, who was out of town during the snow storm, said he was doing "great" and referred questions to his press office and to City Hall.

"There's a lot of misinformation on this here," he said.

Esposito and de Blasio were set to meet at Gracie Mansion at 2:45, a source told the News. As he left City Hall shortly after 2 p.m., Mayor de Blasio refused to answer when asked if Esposito was still employed by the city.

"We'll talk to you later on," de Blasio said.

After he walked out the front door of City Hall, a member of his NYPD detail prevented several reporters, including one from the News, from following de Blasio out the door and onto the City Hall plaza.

Esposito is a long-serving city official -- before running OEM, he was chief of department at the NYPD until retiring from the police force in 2013.

The mayor's press office did not respond to questions about whether a deputy mayor has the power to fire a commissioner.

The firing -- or attempted firing -- comes after de Blasio has repeatedly refused to apologize for the city's response to the November storm, which completely gridlocked traffic despite relatively little snowfall. De Blasio insisted the gridlock was a result of factors beyond the city's control -- including a last-minute change to the forecast and a massive pile-up on the George Washington Bridge, which is controlled by the Port Authority.

While the City Council has excoriated the city's response, its members were rallying around Esposito Monday.

Councilman Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island), who chairs the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, ripped the apparent firing.

"This a guy whose head is rolling who basically made none of the decisions that caused it," Borelli said.

Esposito's agency held a conference call that day around 11 or 11:30, Borelli said, with other agencies that work with OEM telling them the snowfall would be heavier than expected and that they should make plans for it.

"He didn't decide when Sanitation would convert from garbage pick-ups to plow, he didn't decide at 3:30 to put plows on the Sanitation trucks, he didn't decide when and if school should be closed, he didn't decide when and if after-school programs should be closed, he didn't decide if they should call parents who have kids who have long bus rides, didn't decide whether bridges should be closed, how to staff bridges for emergency purposes, didn't decide pretty much every thing that went wrong that day, was not decided by Joe Esposito, yet we just find it necessary to fire the guy because he has his hair too long," Borelli fumed.

One commissioner who made some of those decisions -- Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia -- said Monday in City Hall that she was in a meeting with Anglin, the deputy mayor, Esposito and other officials Friday afternoon to discuss their agencies' management of data.

"One of those sort of run-of-the-mill, how do we improve, how do we continue to improve, how do we use technology," Garcia, who had been leaving a meeting on the City Council side of the building, said of the Friday sit-down.

Garcia learned of the apparent firing from the Journal story, she said. She had not spoken to Esposito.

"I think we worked very, we worked as well as we could have given the circumstances," Garcia said when asked about Esposito's agency's performance during the storm.

Garcia said she could not comment on whether she agreed with Esposito being dismissed.

"I really can't comment on that, I think Joe Esposito is a very nice guy," she said.

At that point, a City Hall spokeswoman, Natalie Grybauskas, said Garcia would take no further questions on the subject. Asked whether the city's residents had a right to know who was running the Office of Emergency Management -- which responds to everything from terror attacks to hurricanes -- Grybauskas said, "We can comment on it when it's time to comment on it."

Borelli wasn't alone in condemning the rumored firing.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson noted that the administration did not blame OEM for the storm's response either in the days after the storm or at last week's City Council oversight hearing.

"My experience with Commissioner Esposito & his team has been a great one and I hear this from other Council Members as well," he wrote on Twitter. "They are responsive, communicative & helpful when local disasters hit. I hope this isn't true. Esposito is one of the competent folks in City government."

Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D-Brooklyn) said he'd spoken to Esposito three times on Sunday -- after the deputy mayor had told him he was canned -- for help coordinating big crowds at the funeral of a prominent rabbi. He'd just sent Esposito a thank-you note this morning, before he'd heard the news.

"When you have a crisis in this city, and it's not uncommon, we need to have someone that doesn't have that job from 9 to 5, who is going to step up to the plate, who is going to answer the phone at 3, 4, 5 in the morning," Deutsch said.

He and Borelli were circulating a letter to other members to sign on and express their support for Esposito.

(c)2018 New York Daily News