NYC mayor: Tense talk led to confusion over emergency management chief’s ouster

NEW YORK — It’s now official -- the city's emergency management commissioner is stepping down, after four days of missteps by the de Blasio administration regarding his dismissal left it unclear whether or not Commissioner Joseph Esposito was actually leaving.

It had also been rumored that the city’s mishandling of last month’s snowstorm was the reason for Esposito being shown the door. On Tuesday, however, Mayor Bill de Blasio went to great lengths to try and clear the air about the entire situation.

“There are times you say you want new leadership, for a variety of reasons,” Mayor de Blasio said at a news conference at police headquarters. “This is one of those times.”

The clarification came after the mayor had had a deputy mayor, Laura Anglin, meet with Esposito last Friday to ask for his resignation. Esposito refused, insisting that he needed to hear the request for dismissal from the mayor himself.

However, the mayor was out of town all weekend, on a trip to Vermont, at taxpayers’ expense, where de Blasio was with Sen. Bernie Sanders. As late as Monday afternoon, Commissioner Esposito said publicly that he was still in his position.

Monday evening, after having had a face to face meeting with the emergency management commissioner, Mayor de Blasio issued a written statement saying that Esposito would be stepping down. However, de Blasio never commented on the situation until his news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

“You can respect someone's skills and abilities, but also have the feeling that someone else is better for the job going forward,” the mayor said. “That's what I felt.”

De Blasio said that he wanted to “modernize the agency and prepare it for the changes ahead," but did not specify ways in which he’d planned to revise OEM’s mission.

He did say, multiple times, that “there were assumptions” about last month’s snowstorm being the reason for Esposito’s dismissal.

“That was not the case,” the mayor said.

In an unscientific survey on the streets of the city, a variety of New Yorkers who spoke with PIX11 News said that only one person was ultimately responsible for the city's mishandling of the Nov. 15 winter storm.

"The mayor," said Mike Pospis, a lawyer whose office overlooks City Hall. "It's his responsibility to make sure the city runs smoothly."

Marta De Jesus, a Bronx resident who was visiting downtown, had a similar comment.

"He's supposed to take care of the city and he's not doing his job at all," he said.

Opinions like those could be behind comments the mayor made repeatedly at his Tuesday news conference.

"Everything in the end is my responsibility," De Blasio said. "I made the decision" to dismiss Esposito, he said, "and I believed the way it was being carried out would be the right way."

"Obviously, something went wrong," the mayor continued, "and I have to take responsibility for that."

Mayor de Blasio did not specify what position in his administration he was interested in having Esposito fill. The OEM commissioner has a 40-year career in public service, having served as the chief of department of the NYPD before taking the helm of OEM.

He will remain in his current position, the mayor confirmed, until a "nationwide search" is completed for Esposito's successor. That search is expected to take months.