D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is gearing up for his first test as the commander in chief of the city's snow-removal effort.
Gray (D), who was sworn in Jan. 2, is expected to have a news conference at 4:30 p.m. at the salt dome in Northeast Washington to update the media on the city's snow-removal efforts. The conference was timed to coincide with the expected arrival of the first flakes (which arrived early), not to mention the start of the evening newscasts.
Although forecasts call for about 2 or 3 inches in the city, the storm could be the first real test of Gray's ability to rally Department of Public Works crews to clear snow and ice from city streets in time for Wednesday morning's rush hour. It also comes less than a month after another big-city mayor, New York's Michael Bloomberg (D), saw his approval ratings plummet after criticism over his handling of a blizzard the day after Christmas.
Gray will be taking on a role that former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) appeared to relish during the District's record-breaking snowstorms last winter. It was not uncommon for Fenty to have a "snow briefing" every four hours during a storm, even though he rarely had anything new to say.
Fenty also frequently moved his news conferences from location to location across the city, often making it difficult if not impossible for reporters to keep up with him on snow-clogged city streets.
After the Dec. 19 storm, which dropped up to 20 inches on the city, Fenty and public works crews were widely praised for having major thoroughfares opened within a day or two.
But the back-to-back February blizzards proved to be more formidable opponents for the former mayor. Despite stressing hours before the Feb. 6 storm began that the city would be open for business within days, residents and business owners complained that many streets were still not plowed three or four days after the storm.
Then, when the second blizzard hit Feb.10, Fenty struggled to find enough heavy equipment to scoop up and haul away the mounds of snow lining city streets. Some regional leaders, including the then-head of emergency management for Metro, criticized Fenty for failing to treat the storms as an emergency.
But within a week, life in the District was largely back to normal. And many D.C. Council members concluded that the Department of Public Works had done as good of job as it could given the historic snowfall.
Gray will probably face a far more manageable storm. And he will be facing down Mother Nature with a team that is well-versed in what it takes to clear city streets.
Gray has reappointed William O. Howland Jr. as director of Public Works. Although Gray asked for Gabe Klein's resignation as head of the Department of Transportation, he's named former agency operations chief Terry Bellamy as interim director.
If a big storm hits, City Administrator Allen Lew is also expected to play a role in snow-removal efforts. Last year, Fenty turned to Lew for help in finding large equipment in other states that the District could borrow.