New York City lost power, and searched for its mayor

Posted at 3:28 PM, Jul 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-14 17:58:45-04

There are a lot of places New York City mayors want to be when widespread power outages strike.

Waterloo, Iowa, is not one of them.

And yet, there was Mayor Bill de Blasio on Saturday night, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, when the lights went out on Manhattan's West Side, dimming Broadway and Times Square, after a reported malfunction at an electrical substation set off a chain of disturbances in the grid.

In the mayor's absence, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was the one, front and center, explaining what went wrong. New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a potential mayoral aspirant himself, also filled the void left behind by de Blasio, tweeting updates and explanations throughout the early evening and into the unusually dark night.

By early Sunday, power had been restored. But outages like this -- which utility company Con Edison said affected 72,000 people at one point -- are major political events in New York and its leader, already unpopular in large parts of the city, had a different kind of crisis on his hands. The situation underscored the dangers of campaigning for higher office while currently elected and employed, especially as an executive running a major city.

"Mayors are important and situations like this come up," Cuomo, de Blasio's longtime nemesis, said on Saturday night. "And you have to be on site."

In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday morning, de Blasio, who decided to return to the city late Saturday night, praised the work of city officials and workers who identified the problem and fixed it.

"I'm responsible for making sure everything in New York City is handled quickly and well," de Blasio said. "The whole team responded immediately the way everyone is trained to do."

But he made no apologies for his Iowa swing and argued that the government infrastructure had functioned as it should.

"When you're a mayor or a governor, you're going to travel for a variety of reasons," de Blasio said. "The important thing is to have the hand on the wheel and make sure things are moving effectively and communicate to people even from where I was. I was able to do that right away with the people in New York City."

Talk of de Blasio's presidential bid was greeted with skepticism by his own constituents. In a Quinnipiac poll conducted about six weeks before he jumped in, more than three-quarters of them, 76%, said it was a bad idea.

"Every listed party, gender, racial, borough and age group agrees that the mayor should not hit the campaign trail," the pollsters noted, underscoring the overwhelming opposition to his ambitions.

Mary Snow, the polling analyst for the Quinnipiac University poll, memorably described it as "a rare moment of unity among New Yorkers."

They had another one on Saturday night, where the anger and mocking jokes swamped social media. But even amid the uncertainty surrounding the outages, one thing was entirely clear.

"New Yorkers will no doubt be typically forgiving of Mayor de Blasio for being in Iowa as a summer blackout plunges Times Square, Midtown, and the Upper West Side into darkness," tweeted Warren Bass, a Wall Street Journal editor, his tongue in cheek as the political storm gathered.