The best possible outcome of a crisis is for it to go away and leave in its wake evidence of transformative leadership by those in power. We’re seeing proactivity — possibly to the point of overreaction — as Hurricane Sandy meanders toward landfall later today.
President Obama — more on his potential gains later — and governors Andrew Cuomo from New York, Chris Christie from New Jersey, and several others, took prominent stances on public safety Sunday. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg moved out ahead of even them, taking no chances and virtually closing his city 36 to 48 hours ahead of the storm’s arrival. Utilities — even banks — also issued guidance while the storm was still 500 miles away. Some toll roads waived payments so evacuees could get to higher ground faster.
Leadership, or at least the political attempt at it, is much in evidence. No leader, including mayors, county executives and town supervisors, wants to be seen as less than abundantly prepared. This is all good. A potential killer storm is nothing to pretend about. And given the technology at hand that followed the storm’s development and predicted its path, we’d be foolish not to use the information at hand to prepare.
Will it all prove silly and paranoid? We’ll know by Wednesday. But few can criticize those in charge of public safety for erring on the side of sending out wide alarms.
One fascinating sidelight that has received scant attention is the effect a 24- to 36-hour storm and a powerless aftermath stretching for perhaps days will have on the presidential race. One effect is already clear: On a Sunday and Monday with eight days left until the voting, the storm dominated the media. Add to that an incumbent president’s ability to lead the nation in a time of crisis and Sandy could cast the biggest vote of all in the 2012 presidential election.
Within a week of the election, the storm threatens to silence the Romney campaign and provide the president with hours of knitted-brow television time, news conferences, visits to hard-hit areas and hugs for victims. The president will just being doing his job — even if everyone sees the political upside for him. Were Republican candidate Mitt Romney to try to do the same, he’d be ripped for trying to turn misery into political gain. It’s not fair, but there it is.
Add to that the possibility that some areas of the Northeast could conceivably be still without power on Election Day and this storm becomes an even greater factor in the near future than it might have been.
If it proves completely disastrous and millions are without power for days, the victims’ entire outlook on the presidential election could markedly change. If Obama is seen as fumbling relief efforts — as President Bush was perceived during Katrina — his re-election chances would be dashed. If the reverse is true, he could glide to victory with Romney left to curse his bad luck and the vagaries of Earth’s changing ecosystem.
One thing is certain: Sandy is a crisis and a great many people are dealing with it as effectively as possible during its advent. We can’t predict now who the storm will blow out to sea with it; we’ll know in a few days.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.