Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito is being forced out of his job weeks after an early season snowstorm snarled traffic and left school children stranded on buses for hours.
“We have started the process of leadership change at New York City Emergency Management,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement late Monday, after a day of uncertainty over the commissioner’s fate. “Commissioner Joe Esposito will continue to lead OEM as we conduct a national search for his successor.”
Esposito had garnered support from many City Council members after The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Monday that Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin ordered Esposito to step down Friday. Esposito, who was on vacation during the Nov. 15 storm, refused to resign until he had a chance to discuss the matter with the mayor, according to the Journal.
De Blasio and Esposito met Monday, but it wasn’t until after 10 p.m. that the mayor released a statement saying Esposito would be replaced.
At least 22 City Council members, including Chaim Deutsch and Joe Borelli, signed a letter Monday calling on de Blasio to reverse the decision.
The memo from city lawmakers to the administration praised Esposito’s work and expressed concern that he was a “scapegoat” for the snow response.
“While there was certainly a breakdown somewhere among the many agencies responsible for the city’s response to the storm, there is no reason that the blame should be laid solely at OEM’s feet,” the letter read.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who had not officially signed the letter as of Monday evening, retweeted an image of it. “I’ve always had a lot of respect (for) Joe and his team at OEM. From everything I’ve seen, he’s a hardworking commissioner who knows his stuff and his team has always been responsive to elected officials and community leaders,” Johnson said in a statement.
City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who signed the letter, said Esposito should not be singled out from the pack of officials and agencies that lawmakers previously said should have worked to curb traffic, prevent school bus delays and otherwise prepare for the storm.
“Commissioner Esposito has a track record as an effective public servant and does not deserve to be the administration’s scapegoat in an attempt to point fingers and deflect blame,” Reynoso, the Council’s Sanitation Committee chairman, said in a statement.
City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, another signatory on the letter, called Esposito’s forced exit “disturbing” and “a hot mess.”
“This is really shocking to me. The @NYCCouncil was told consistently by the Administration that no single agency or commissioner was responsible for the city’s response to WinterStorm Avery but yet look at what happened!” Gibson tweeted.
It was not clear how long the search for Esposito’s successor would take. The mayor also said the city is “exploring additional opportunities for Commissioner Esposito to remain in the administration.”