New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reported “big progress” Monday in restoring power to Consolidated Edison customers in Queens.
At one point, some 26,000 businesses and homes were without power in the wake of last week’s heat wave, which at its height affected an estimated 100,000 people.
That number was greatly reduced over the weekend, and Bloomberg told a morning briefing that between 3,000 and 4,000 utility customers were still without power in Queens.
But with Bloomberg’s optimistic report also came harsh criticism. Some political leaders blame the utility for its slow response. They are demanding that Con Ed make restitution to residents and that utility officials face penalties.
Bloomberg, however, said “it’s easy to criticize” but that Con Ed has been “doing everything it can” to bring the power back. He said, “I don’t think that I could have gone in and done any better.”
Misled the public?
With thousands of city residents facing their second week without power, some political leaders turned their focus to the utility they said was at fault in the outage.
City Councilman Eric Gioia, a Queens Democrat, called for Con Ed to make restitution to residents and argued that Con Ed CEO Kevin Burke should resign over his handling of the Queens blackout.
“When the lights went out, that was just the tip of the iceberg,” Gioia said. “Since then, Con Ed has misled the public about the severity of the situation, failed to grasp that we are in a crisis and shown no plan to put the power back on and ensure the health and safety of people in Queens.”
Asked to respond to the criticism later Sunday, Burke said, “I am now focused exclusively on restoration.”
By Monday morning, electricity had been restored to 22,000 of the estimated 25,000 Con Ed customers who lost power during last week’s heat wave, a company spokeswoman said.
Burke said the causes of the blackout would be investigated later.
When a group of Queens political leaders urged Gov. George Pataki Sunday to designate the zone without power a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid, a spokeswoman for the governor said the utility should be financially responsible.
“We believe that it is (utility Consolidated Edison) that should make restitution to those who have suffered,” said spokeswoman Joanna Rose, who said the governor had spoken with Bloomberg and had offered any assistance necessary.
‘It is what it is’
Bloomberg said the focus for now should be on getting the power back rather than Con Ed diverting resources to figure out what happened. That should be left for later, he said, adding, “Whether it was something that could have been prevented, I have no idea.”
He said Con Ed promised a report within two weeks.
“Are we satisfied with the progress?” Bloomberg asked. “It is what it is.”
Bloomberg estimated about 100,000 people were affected at the peak of the blackouts. A Con Ed customer could be a single-family home, a house sectioned into multiple units or even an entire apartment building.
Other officials said the city planned to reimburse small businesses up to $7,000 in spoiled perishables and that an emergency loan fund would be announced within a few days.
Nine senior citizen centers, normally closed on weekends, were open Sunday with air conditioning and meals.