National News

City Hall Planned to Quietly Replace Its Top Emergency Official, But Then Things Got Complicated

Posted December 4, 2018 6:55 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — It was not about the snow.

The de Blasio administration’s effort to replace Joseph Esposito at the top of New York City’s office of emergency management began several weeks ago, well before the freakish November snowstorm paralyzed the city, according to a City Hall official with knowledge of the discussions.

Mayor Bill de Blasio approved of the changes, which also included replacing the first deputy commissioner, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door deliberations. The shift was aimed at refashioning the agency to make it more data-oriented, and focused on longer-term planning and technology.

City Hall officials had decided that Esposito, a former top official in the Police Department, could be counted on in a crisis, but was not the right leader for the direction that de Blasio wanted to take the agency, which is in charge of coordinating the city’s response to emergencies like terror attacks or major storms. A transition was being discussed.

Then the plan went off the rails.

On Friday, Esposito was among a group of city agency commissioners and a deputy mayor, Laura Anglin, who gathered at the office of emergency management in Brooklyn for a report on the 6-inch snowstorm on Nov. 15 that stranded evening commuters and some schoolchildren in traffic for hours into the night.

The group meeting went smoothly, participants said, but afterward, Esposito and Anglin met in his office.

It did not go the way it was meant to.

Their exchange, centered around the snowstorm, became heated, the official said, and amid their back-and-forth, Anglin told Esposito about the plan for his resignation. She was not supposed to do so at that point, the official said, observing that usually someone does not get fired in their own office.

He did not take it well, the official said, but Anglin, as well as senior officials in City Hall, appeared to believe that he would follow what they termed an “order.” The first deputy commissioner, Calvin Drayton, apparently did so, accepting the request by City Hall that he resign.

Esposito did not see it the same way, according to a person briefed on the interaction, who said Esposito refused to go without being directly told by the mayor that he had been fired.

But de Blasio was not around to speak in person with Esposito: He had traveled to Vermont to attend a weekend gathering hosted by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Esposito tried reaching him, to no avail, the person said. They did not speak.

The City Hall official disputed that account, saying that Esposito did not try to reach de Blasio directly over the weekend, and did not tell Anglin that he wanted de Blasio to call him.

All City Hall or the mayor knew was that Esposito might want to reach out to him, ostensibly to complain about his dismissal. But they never heard from Esposito and never believed that Esposito wanted clarity from the mayor about his status, the official said.

De Blasio said late Monday in a statement that his administration had “started the process of leadership change at New York City Emergency Management,” but that Esposito, who met with de Blasio at Gracie Mansion earlier in the day, would continue in his post while they searched for a successor.

The City Hall official said it was always the administration’s intent to keep Esposito on board as the city conducted its candidate search. Drayton is also remaining on the job during the agency’s transition period.

By Tuesday, Esposito still seemed stunned and confused by the situation. As he arrived at work, he responded briefly to reporters outside.

“I’m sure the mayor has the answers you’re looking for,” he said, referring to a planned 3 p.m. news conference. “Things develop — what are you going to do?”