NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio was forced to explain his miscommunicated decision to replace Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito, one of the most respected members of his administration.
MORE: Who Is Joe Esposito?
Some had surmised the city’s response to last month’s pre-winter snow storm was behind the attempted ouster, but on Tuesday the mayor pushed back against assumptions he was using Esposito as a scapegoat for the citywide failures on Nov. 15.
“That is a falsehood… This is inaccurate… I don’t blame you for making an assumption,” de Blasio told reporters.
“This was made weeks earlier at my direction. We decided we need new leadership,” the mayor claimed.
The latest developments capped a comedy of errors that left “Espo” in limbo for three days with questions about who was running the city’s emergency response agency. It all began Friday, when the mayor asked Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin to fire Esposito while he conveniently was out of town hobnobbing with Bernie Sanders at a national summit of progressives.
Esposito, sources said, refused to quit. He claimed only the mayor could let him go, so he reported to work on Monday. That afternoon, he met with de Blasio at Gracie Mansion.
The mayor has since said Esposito is staying on the job while his office conducts a national search for a replacement. Still, the kerfuffle has left many on the city council outraged and demanding the mayor’s decision be reversed.
In a rare mea culpa for de Blasio, he admitted that sending his deputy out to fire the longtime public servant was a mistake.
“Everything in the end in my responsible. I made the decision. I believed the way it was being carried out would be the right way, obviously something went wrong,” de Blasio confessed.
“It would have been better for me to have it up front. It would have been smarter to do it that way.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio Addresses What Happened With OEM Commission Joseph Esposito
CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer continued to press the mayor on why he didn’t fire Esposito himself instead of leaving town to talk national politics.
De blasio argued it was “standard operating procedure” for his deputy to handle personnel matters.
So why did he get the heave ho?
“More or less what you put out yesterday,” Esposito told CBS2.
Sources tell CBS2 the mayor wanted to can the 68-year-old because of what they call a “pattern of non-responsiveness.” Last month’s snow storm was the latest example.
“The mayor wants someone with more of a sense of urgency,” the sources told CBS2.
On Tuesday, the mayor added that he was looking for someone who could deal with the “changing nature of the threats we face,” but the mayor did not elaborate on what those threats are or what has changed over the last four years Esposito has been OEM commissioner.
“Sometimes you can think someone is a good person who’s done a lot of good work and has strengths, but you’re still looking for something else,” de Blasio said.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson was left speechless by the ongoing personnel debacle.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. “I am in the dark, I think Joe Esposito has served the city for 50 years. He loves this city. He was one of the top uniformed members of the NYPD until he had to retired and reached the mandatory retirement age. He has been a great commissioner at the Office of Emergency Management. If there’s something else going on here that’s unrelated to the snowstorm I would like to know what it is.”
De Blasio says Esposito will remain in his position while a search begins for a replacement that better fits the mayor’s secretive expectations for OEM. The mayor added that the search is expected to take several months to complete.