Even as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday declared a victory of sorts - that three days after a blizzard stopped, every street had been plowed at least once - he was dogged by a news report that city workers had been ordered to slow snow removal to protest layoffs and demotions in the sanitation department.
Around the city, banks of plowed snow still made crossing some streets tricky, and city residents outside Manhattan complained that they still hadn't seen any plows since a Christmas weekend blizzard dumped 20 inches of snow on the city.
Bloomberg - a media mogul who has built a reputation as an able manager, adept at cutting through bureaucracy - defended the city's response to the blizzard earlier in the week, but adopted a more conciliatory tone over the past few days as complaints of stuck ambulances and unplowed streets mounted.
"The response to the snowstorm was inadequate and unacceptable," he conceded yesterday. "Nobody is satisfied. We're accountable. I'm accountable."
Later in the day, Bloomberg and other officials said that they hadn't seen any evidence of a slowdown of snowplow operators. "I don't think it took place, but we are going to do an investigation to make sure that it didn't," the mayor said.
City Councilman Dan Halloran told the New York Post that a crew of guilt-ridden snowplow operators walked into his office to confess about the slowdown.
"They were told [by supervisors] to take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner," Halloran told the newspaper. "They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file."
The workers said that the work slowdown was the result of growing hostility between the mayor and the workers responsible for clearing the snow.
In the last two years, the city cut 400 trash workers and supervisors and, effective today, 100 department supervisors were to be demoted and their salaries slashed to help plug budget holes.
"They sent a message to the rest of the city that these particular labor issues are more important" than plowed streets, Halloran said.
The paper reported that workers were told to slow the plowing process by keeping plows slightly higher than the road, skipping streets on their routes, and other tactics, sources told the paper.
Those accusations found some traction in the outer boroughs, where some streets were still impassible yesterday afternoon.
Angelo Annunziata, 58, stood on his Brooklyn block on a snowpacked street, drifts still covering half the cars.
"I work in Manhattan, and there they're running plows on clear pavement. All Bloomberg cares about are all the people coming in to Manhattan for New Year's," he said. "Well, we pay taxes like everybody else. This is ridiculous."