Bloomberg in Bermuda During Derailment

Wall Street Journal – by MICHAEL HOWARD SAUL

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in Bermuda on Sunday when a train derailed in the Bronx, the most recent time that the mayor has been out of town when a major incident in New York City occurred, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Bloomberg, who steps down on Dec. 31 after 12 years at City Hall, was playing golf Sunday at Bermuda’s majestic Mid Ocean golf club, a person who spotted the mayor said. The Metro-North Railroad train derailment — killing four people and injuring more than 60 others — occurred at roughly 7:20 a.m.  New York time.  

Mr. Bloomberg was golfing in the early morning and did not leave the course until roughly 1 p.m, the person said. Bermuda is one hour ahead of New York time.

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, a 71-year-old billionaire businessman, declined to discuss his whereabouts on Sunday. The mayor did not attend any of the briefings at the scene of the accident Sunday, but he visited with the injured at two hospitals after nightfall.

When asked Sunday night by reporters why he wasn’t at the scene, Mr. Bloomberg replied, “What can I do? I’m not a professional firefighter or a police officer. There’s nothing I can do. What I can do is make sure that the right people from New York City – our police commissioner, our fire commissioner and our emergency management commissioner – are there and that they have all the resources that they want.”

“I was briefed a few minutes, probably a half an hour after the train wreck, or the first time that I’d heard about it, and we responded in the ways that I think the city should be proud of our emergency first responders. They did exactly what they are supposed to do.”

Shortly after winning his first race for City Hall 12 years ago, Mr. Bloomberg said he planned to keep secret any personal trips he takes while in office. He has kept that promise, igniting controversy over the years.

“My personal life is my personal life,” Mr. Bloomberg, then the mayor-elect, said in December 2001 when reporters inquired about his out-of-town travel. “I don’t think the press should be concerned with the personal life of any of the 250,000 wonderful people that work for this city.”

The mayor’s demand for secrecy when it comes to his personal out-of-town trips exploded, most memorably, into public view three years ago when Mr. Bloombergtraveled to Bermuda as a massive blizzard barreled toward New York City. The mayor owns a multimillion-dollar mansion on the island.

At a public hearing examining the city’s sluggish response to the post-Christmas storm, council members repeatedly referenced the mayor’s absence during the lead-up to the storm. Mr. Bloomberg never acknowledged his whereabouts as that storm headed toward the city, but he repeatedly apologized for the administration’s handling of the storm.

According to City Hall, when the mayor leaves town, he gives authority to a deputy mayor. But City Hall refuses to say when the mayor leaves town or identify his designee for specific dates.

In January 2011, when questioned about his whereabouts leading up to the snow storm, the mayor said he’s in charge “all the time,” no matter where in the world he is.

When the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the president lets the nation know where he is at all times, including vacations, the mayor said he believes there’s a difference between running the city and the country.

“The problem is the mayor would have no private life, couldn’t be with his kids when you have the press following you around all the time. President’s job is different,” he said, adding that he believes the president is entitled to private time, too.

The mayor said he always has his cell phone and his police detail has “all sorts of communications” devices.

“To the best of my recollection…there’s never been a time when you couldn’t communicate, get me on the phone, whether I’m traveling or uptown or downtown,” he said then.

During the past 12 years, Mr. Bloomberg has regularly taken short personal trips to Bermuda and other locations. He has not taken an extended vacation during his tenure at City Hall.

The train derailment marks the third time this term that the mayor was outside the city during a significant incident. In addition to the 2010 snow storm, when he was in Bermuda, Mr. Bloomberg was in Washington, DC for the White House correspondents’ dinner during the May 2010 terrorist attack in Times Square. (Unlike the trips to Bermuda, the correspondents dinner was listed on the mayor’s public schedule.)

For the snow storm and the terrorist attack, the mayor rushed back to New York. It was unclear Monday whether the mayor changed his plans and returned sooner than anticipated after the train wreck. But a person who saw him on the golf course said the mayor remained there hours after the train derailed.

Mr. Bloomberg’s last public appearance in New York City was on Thursday at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He did not have any public events on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and his first event on Monday is not scheduled until 3 p.m.

On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was at the scene of the accident, responding to reporter questions, and was interviewed throughout the day on television and radio. Metro-North is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency.


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