The Town of Brookhaven, in Suffolk County, is larger than nine New York counties, with nearly a half million people living in the 59 communities that make up the town.
Thousands of Brookhaven’s residents are angry, after the town’s supervisor, Ed Romaine, left on a Caribbean vacation last Thursday just before the blizzard blew in and many residents got snowed in their homes and stuck in their cars for days.
Romaine’s first public appearance since the debacle was, on the surface, about as poorly managed as the snowstorm response.
“I’m sorry the storm happened,” Romaine said at a noon news conference, “and I’m particularly sorry that I wasn’t here when it occurred.”
Romaine had been in Jamaica through the worst of the blizzard’s effects: in various locations throughout the town, dozens of cars stranded in snowdrifts, and streets piled so high with unplowed snow that ambulances could not respond to medical emergencies.
He blamed the lack of response on Acting Highways Superintendent Michael Murphy, who resigned Wednesday amid criticism of his role in the blizzard response, or lack thereof. Murphy had called in sick and missed four days of work during the snow emergency.
For his part, Supervisor Ed Romaine said that he directed that Murphy be dismissed while Romaine was on his Jamaican vacation. Romaine said that he had been “in constant contact” with his staff during his seven days away.
After making a ten minute statement at the noon event which he had called a press conference, Romaine walked out, after his staff had announced at the beginning of the event that Romaine would do one-on-one interviews later.
That turned out to be much later. It ended up being 2 1/2 hours before the town supervisor was able to meet with PIX11 News to respond in person to complaints from drivers and residents like those Tom Lomanaco said to PIX11 News.
“Why didn’t [the plows ] come out sooner?” he asked. “They didn’t come out until Saturday” after the snow — all 33 inches of it — had fallen.
“What I want to tell them,” Romaine said in his one-on-one interview, “is I’m sorry this storm turned out to be such a disaster for Brookhaven.”
His initial comment in the interview was essentially a repeat of what he had said at the news conference, so PIX11 went ahead with questions, including why did he remain in the Caribbean on vacation after the snow emergency brought his town to a standstill?
“Come back, you give up five or six hours,” he said, adding that in the first couple of days after the blizzard began, Kennedy Airport was backed up with air traffic. When asked if he could have flown into an airport in another city and commuted back to Brookhaven, Romaine grimaced and responded, “I don’t know, with the storm it might have been a bit difficult.”
Romaine’s constituents learned that all too well in his absence. When asked if those constituents might take out their frustration on him when he’s up for re-election in November, the supervisor was prompt in his response.
“I’m not concerned. When an elected official focuses on whether or not he gets re-elected, he does a disservice to himself and his constituents. You should be concentrating on your job each and every day.”
Asked if he had it all to do over again, Romaine said that he’d have handled it much differently by traveling out of town in the first place.
“Absolutely not,” he told PIX News. I would not go away.”
It seems like a lesson learned, but it could be too late. A Facebook page calling for his recall has gotten more than 5,000 views and nearly 600 likes.