The thick blanket of snow that covered the Queens this week had residents furious at the pace of the city’s response, and borough politicians recalled a similar situation that occurred in 1969, when a blizzard took the city by surprise on former Mayor John Lindsay’s watch.
“The city was basically crippled. We couldn’t get around,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who was a working single mother at the time. “I remember at that time not being able to get to work for a few days, and if I didn’t go to work I couldn’t paid. It’s no different today.”
Weatherman predicted rain on Feb. 9, 1969, but the resulting deluge of snow took everyone in the city — and Lindsay’s political career — by surprise.
The 15 inches of snow that fell remained unplowed in many areas of Queens for days as residents accused the former mayor of favoring the thoroughfares of Manhattan over the outer boroughs.
The late United Nations Undersecretary General Ralph Bunche wrote the mayor from his home of 17 years in Kew Gardens, where a single plow had not been seen for three days, saying “we have never experienced such neglect in snow removal as now.”
After the Nobel Peace Prize winner sent the letter, which also said “I may as well be in the Alps,” the mayor make a sojourn to the snowy dunes of the borough.
Upon reaching Rego Park, Lindsay had to exchange his limo for four-wheel drive vehicles to overcome the piles of snow. In Kew Gardens, he was booed. One woman told the former mayor, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
In Fresh Meadows, Lindsay was called a bum.
When the catastrophe was over, 42 people had died citywide. Some streets in the borough remained unplowed for a week, causing a fierce political backlash that stuck with the mayor for years.
Many politicans are relating the blizzard of ‘69, which is synonymous with Lindsay’s name, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s handling of the holiday weekend storm.
Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) was 13 years old when the blizzard of ‘69 hit his Queens home.
“I remember how horrible it was, and the anger people had,” he said. “But what I remember most is that Lindsay was thinking about running for president at that time, and it had a huge impact on his career.”
The blizzard has even stuck with Lindsay until the present day, Dromm added.
“A woman stopped me on the street today and said ‘there’s another Lindsay in the office!’” he said.
But Dromm saw the parallels as well.
“This is Bloomberg’s Lindsay moment,” he said. “This is like ‘69, but we’re not going to forget this. We want to hold the mayor directly responsible for his lack of concern.”
Koslowitz also saw deja vu in the snowy streets of Forest Hills, and she denounced the mayor’s response.
“It’s just a shame that 41 years later we’re almost in the same mess,” she said. “I think if the mayor walked through the city today, he would get booed just like Lindsay.”