Emergency management chief in NYC being replaced, search on for new head: Mayor

NEW YORK — New York City's emergency management chief remained on the job Monday, despite his reported firing over his handling of a recent snowstorm, and the mayor wouldn't answer questions about his status.

Multiple news reports citing anonymous sources said Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito was fired by a deputy mayor on Friday over the city's response to an unexpectedly slippery storm Nov. 15 that halted buses, paralyzed roads across the metropolitan area and led to a rush-hour pileup that closed a level of the George Washington Bridge.

A spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management said Esposito was in the office working Monday afternoon. Esposito, a former high-ranking police official, took calls from several reporters, telling the Daily News in a phone call he was doing "great" and there was a "a lot of misinformation on this," before referring questions to his and the mayor's press offices.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wouldn't answer questions about Esposito's status, rushing out of City Hall as his security detail blocked reporters from following him. He released a statement late Monday.

“We have started the process of leadership change at New York City Emergency Management. Commissioner Joe Esposito will continue to lead OEM as we conduct a national search for his successor," It is impossible to overstate Commissioner Esposito’s significant contributions to our city’s safety while at OEM and the NYPD. We look forward to exploring additional opportunities for Commissioner Esposito to remain in the administration.”

The majority of the city council sent a letter to the mayor blasting the move.

“He’s being made a scapegoat,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch, one of at least 28 signatories to the letter. “He has years of experience, years of being responsive to the council members, and the 8.5 million New Yorkers.”

Deutsch recalled that just last week there were hearing about the storm response.

“No one in the testimony blamed [Esposito],” he said.  “No one that spoke blamed him, no one in the administration that spoke blamed him.  So why is there blame weeks after the storm.”

De Blasio canceled a weekly appearance on a local public affairs television show as reports of Esposito's ouster swirled. Asked about the commissioner's status Monday afternoon, De Blasio told NY1, "We'll talk to you later on."

Jillian Jorgensen, city hall bureau chief for the Daily News, tweeted a member of de Blasio's security detail physically blocked her and two other reporters from following him out of City Hall.

Spokesmen for the mayor and the New York Police Department, which provides the security detail, didn't immediately respond to emails about Esposito's status.

New York City's emergency management commissioner is in charge of coordinating planning and response in the city to all sorts of emergencies, from natural disasters to terrorism.

Esposito was out of town, on vacation, when the city's first substantial snow fell on Nov. 15. Some drivers spent the night in their cars on a jammed Bronx highway and some schoolchildren were stuck on buses for up to five hours, with the last one getting home at 3 a.m. Friday.

Public officials did no better keeping the streets clear in Westchester County or northern New Jersey, where students slept in one school overnight when their buses couldn't get through.

De Blasio, a Democrat, said forecasts had led city officials to expect just an inch of snow, meaning that city buses weren't equipped with snow chains and salters weren't out treating the roads ahead of the storm.

He pledged a full review of the city's response.

City Council President Corey Johnson noted in a series of tweets the mayor's office hadn't explicitly blamed Esposito's office after the storm or at a subsequent council hearing.

"While there were clearly MAJOR issues as it related to the snow storm — I'm a little shocked that Esposito is being fired," Johnson tweeted. "I hope this isn't true. Esposito is one of the competent folks in City government."

Esposito has been in the post since 2014.

PIX11's Henry Rosoff contributed to this report.