Georgia governor apologizes for snow mess

Facing an increasing media frenzy over a messy winter storm that ground the metropolitan Atlanta area to a halt this week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) apologized Thursday for the state’s lack of preparedness.

“I am not satisfied with the response” to the storm, Deal said in a mid-day news conference. “But I am not going to look for a scapegoat. I am the governor, and the buck stops with me.”

Deal said he was ordering a review of the state’s handling of the rare winter storm, which blanketed the Atlanta region with about two inches of snow and ice Tuesday.

“We did not have adequate preparation, and I do accept responsibility for that,” Deal said. Georgia’s emergency response director, Charley English also apologized at the news conference.

The storm left Atlanta area freeways at a virtual stand-still, stranding commuters in their cars for  12 hours or more. Hundreds of students were left with no way home and slept in school gyms overnight.

Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) initially called the storm unexpected, saying they had relied on early forecasts that showed that the city wouldn’t be hit by the worst of the winter weather. Deal said Thursday that he had not been woken up when the National Weather Service upgraded its winter storm alert at 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Commuters who had to ditch their cars on interstates around the Atlanta area will be driven to their vehicles by the National Guard, the state’s emergency management office said. As of Thursday morning, at least 2,000 vehicles remained on the roadways.

Reed had expressed regret in a late-night news conference Tuesday for the traffic jams, which mounted in severity, he said, as students and commuters all left school and work about the same time. But Reed insisted that the decision to close Atlanta schools didn’t fall within his purview.

Deal had also faced criticism for refusing to appear on CNN, which is headquartered in Atlanta, for an interview. At the news conference Thursday, Deal refused a CNN reporter’s request for an interview, citing a combative clash between a network anchor and Reed on Wednesday.

Instead of the hometown outlet, Deal appeared on Fox News on Thursday.

Deal faces a potentially difficult fight for reelection later this year. And there are early indications that Democrats intend to make the state’s slow response a part of their campaign: On Tuesday night, even as commuters were still stuck in traffic, a pollster was calling voters to gauge reaction to the state’s response, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Botching the handling of a major snowstorm has claimed political careers before. Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic lost reelection in 1979 after a series of snowstorms buried his city. Denver Mayor Bill McNichols suffered the same fate in 1983. So did Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who lost reelection in 2009.

Both New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came under fire after a 2010 snowstorm hit the Northeast over the Christmas holiday. Christie was on vacation with his wife and children in Florida at the time; Bloomberg, it came out a few weeks later, was spending the holiday in Bermuda.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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