NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—As more than two feet of snow piled up in the Hub City over the weekend of January 23, the city was being led by an acting mayor.
It was the largest single-storm snowfall in the recorded history of New Brunswick, with some 28 inches of precipitation reported.
During the storm New Brunswick Today passed along complaints from our readers to City Hall, such as: "Between ward and powers street by the train tracks we need help so we can get bread and milk for the kids and there's other people need supplies too."
On Monday morning following the storm, a Mayor's Office spokersperson responded:
We've heard from a number of residents who were unhappy with the speed in which their streets were plowed. We've had 24 plows working since Friday night to clear snow and salt roads. I don't mean at all to underplay the frustration of being homebound, but we're doing the absolute best we can to plow and salt roads to return our travel routes to normal.
The Mayor's Office also revealed that it was the city's Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin who was at the helm of the city during the historic storm, not Mayor James Cahill.
"The Mayor did not issue the travel ban," said spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw. "Tom Loughlin did, as acting mayor. Mayor Cahill is out of town on personal business, Loughlin is filling in as acting Mayor in his absence."
Loughlin, who has served as business administrator since 1993, was in charge of the city's embattled Water Utility from 2007 to 2012, during the same time period when authorities say an employee began falsifying records to cover up problems.
Loughlin and Steven Zarecki, his brother-in-law and longtime head of the city's Department of Public Works, led the city's response to the epic blizzard, which included the opening of an elementary school for two nights as an emergency shelter.
However, while downtown New Brunswick and certain major roads were passable, many of the side streets throughout the city were overwhelmed by the snow.
New Brunswick Today asked our Facebook followers to rate the city's performance during the storm and quickly garnered more than 250 responses in English and Spanish, nearly all of them negative:
"Horrible. It's like they don't care about the people," wrote one commenter.
"My street looks the same as it did Saturday morning," said someone else.
"The worst," responded another.
"ABSOLUTELY USELESS AND MISERSBLE……I LIVE NEAR ST. PETERS……YOU WOULD THINK THEY WOULD CARE SINCE THIS ROAD LEADS TO THE HOSPITAL."
"What cleaning? Terrible"
Another person elaborated:
"A hitman can clean up a job better than you guys."
Still, others were upset by matters beyond the removal of snow, particularly the city's towing of vehicles.
"Thanks for towing my car last night outside of my house. I'm loosing 2 full days of work because of it," wrote one commenter.
"There was no warning, and no snow when you actually did it. This is borderline robbery. You treat your hard working citizens like garbage."
All the while, seven-term Mayor James Cahill was in Florida, where the weather was 75 degrees and sunny.
Cahill says his administration, under the leadership of his Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin, handled the storm to the best of their abilities.
"I was in Florida. I went to visit a friend," said Cahill, in an exclusive interview with New Brunswick Today on February 2.
"I make the same guarantee every year that by June 1 we will have no snow on our streets," joked Cahill, a Rutgers Village resident, who has been Mayor since 1991.
Asked if he was happy with the results under Acting Mayor Loughlin, Cahill said, "It is a frustrating time so it is hard to be pleased with the results, knowing that it's difficult. It's just plain and simple difficult. But I'm pleased with the effort," said Cahill.
"I'm happy with the way it was handled."
The mayor managed the response to the storm from afar by communicating "through phone…with the city administrator, and other personnel in the city, and with the school folks."
"We got some really experienced personnel that really knows how to deal with snow removal," said Cahill.
But Cahill said anytime the city gets more than 1o inches of snow, it "starts to get difficult because there is no place to put it."
"People particularly in streets where there's no driveways, people park on the street, become frustrated, and understandably so," said Cahill.
Schools were closed on January 25 and 26, and students ended up getting a 5-day weekend because of a previously scheduled day off for students on January 27.
Schools re-opened Thursday, January 28, two days after Cahill returned to the Hub City from his Florida trip.
"We stayed on top of things and then I was home the next day–well, two days later–and was able to, you know, continue the process," said Cahill.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.