Hurricane Sandy, Act II: The Fallout Puts Government (and Bloomberg) on Trial

The next few days in the Hurricane Sandy disaster zones decide Mayor Mike Bloomberg's legacy and change the debate on government effectiveness

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Jacqueline Pattison is giving Mayor Mike Bloomberg one more day. So far, she has been impressed by New York City's response to Hurricane Sandy. Along with millions of other New Yorkers, she is patiently enduring the lack of electricity, tortuous commute and a deep sense of uncertainty.

But if electricity does not return to her apartment a few blocks north of the World Trade Center soon, she will have lost faith in her government.

"I think by Friday we should have power at the latest," the 51-year-old co-owner of a small moving business said. "We live on the 28th floor."

Five days away from a presidential election that centers on the role of government, Hurricane Sandy has handed the United States an extraordinary experiment in how government performs. In an impossible-to-imagine sequence of events, the city with the country's largest police force, biggest fire department and highest tax revenues is being put to a historic test.

The political stakes are enormous. As the media blankets the rest of the country with saturation coverage of the recovery effort, an effective government response in New York and New Jersey could aid President Barack Obama in a deadlocked election. Looting, lawlessness and anger at government could aid Mitt Romney.

Thus far, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his government are generally receiving high marks from city residents. But over the next several days events in the New York area could prove pivotal.

In a dozen interviews across the city Thursday, residents expressed growing worry. Promised aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not arriving, fights were breaking out, and tensions simmered in gas lines that snaked for miles.

Despite Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama Thursday afternoon and a generally positive jobs report Friday morning, time is slowly running on believers in government. The socio-economic divide that I wrote about earlier this week is widening.

Tribeca, one of the wealthiest areas in the city  to lose power, is deserted. Its residents, it seems, have the means to flee the city. Meanwhile, officials estimate that 49,000 people are trapped in public housing buildings that lack power. Middle-class residents of Brooklyn, Staten Island and the suburbs ringing New York say they are being forgotten. The mayor's foolish decision to proceed with the New York City Marathon this Sunday is provoking a popular backlash. With only an estimated 50 percent of the area's gas stations working and with wind-chill adjusted temperatures expected to drop below freezing Friday night, Bloomberg is flirting with disaster.

"This is terrible," Max Okuendo, a 37-year-old security guard who has been without power in Lower Manhattan for three days, said Thursday afternoon. "It has taken so long."

Okuendo had brought his two daughters to midtown Manhattan after three days in a seventh-floor lower Manhattan apartment without power. He said he and his daughters had taken a packed city bus to the northern part of the city that had power.

Presented by

David Rohde is an investigative reporter for Reuters and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he is a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. His latest book, Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East, was published in 2013. More

He is also the author of Endgame and, with Kristen Mulvihill, A Rope and a Prayer. He lives in New York City.

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