Bob Hardt, NY1’s director of political news coverage, lives in the Rockaways in a large white house next to the washed away beach and the destroyed boardwalk. He spends his days watching the National Guard clear debris and the circus of cell phone charging stations and food trucks that have taken over Beach 94th.
Bob has a generator and his house is in tact, so his porch has become a meeting place where workers, stray officials, neighbors, and people who need a flushing toilet swap stories and potato chips and whatever other supplies have been trucked into the peninsula. It’s sorta like the stoop in that TV show 227, but with middle aged guys and a smart, funny woman named Diane.
“People don’t realize that this place is so big, as large as a small city in New England,” says Hardt. “If you had all of Hartford, CT without power, people would be freaking out. If you had significant portions of a small city living in housing projects with no way of getting outside, people would be outraged.
“A part of the problem is that people in New York don’t realize whats going on in their own backyard. The NYTimes is trying to tell people. NY1 is trying. Because, hey, do you really want to live in a city where someone freezes to death in their own home because we couldn’t take care of this situation?”
F*%k yes Bob Hardt.
If you’re in the Rock, try to spend some time on Bob’s porch. If you don’t get a chance to break granola bars with he and his buddies, read his thoughts below on the nuances of the crises created by Sandy, how the city responded, why he’ll never give to the Red Cross again, and why the hurricane could irrecoverably change the peninsula.
BOB ON THE ROCKAWAYS
Just like NYC, the Rockaways are segregated. Far Rockaway is black and the further west you go — as the street numbers get higher — the whiter it gets. Breezy Point had four black people in the whole town according to the last census. Not four black families. Four black people.
By the Cross Bay Bridge, smack in the heart of the peninsula where I live, is the most integrated part. There’s a high rise on 96th Street on the same block as Rockaway Taco. The Queens County clerk lives in the area. And you also have some low income housing.
I moved here in 1997 and bought the house I’m in now in 1998. It started out as a summer rental and then I fell in love. I had a place in Chelsea and was like, this is a waste of money. I was much happier going home to Rockaway and this community.
WHY BOB THINKS WE’RE FACING CRISES… YES, MULTIPLE CRISES
I assume that officials are afraid to say that people could die because they don’t want to yell fire in a crowded room. But that is the reality of not having power for four weeks in the dead of winter. That is the reality of what happens if no one goes door to door making sure people are taken care of.
I met a guy whose mother is in Dayton Towers, where you have a lot of elderly people, some of whom have pets, who didn’t evacuate and haven’t left. Many of them can’t leave because they’re disabled; and those are the people you need to watch. My big concern is that someone will find mummified 80-year-olds two months from now.
Another concern is the fact that so many people in this area have diabetes. In addition to the possibility of people freezing to death, you have to wonder how we’ll get diabetics insulin? How will we keep that medicine from going bad? How will we get people to dialysis?
Then there’s the issue of employment. For people who aren’t in danger of dying, transportation is not good. People have lost cars. They can’t shower and they can’t get to work. We don’t want them to get fired. We can’t have an employment problem on top of all this.
These issues we’re talking about are all interrelated, It’s not a matter of safety or health… Of landlord issues or employment issues. It’s all one big issue and health care, housing, and employment are all pieces. And then there’s the weather, which is getting colder. You’ll have more sick people in general.
If you have some money, like me, and you have fancy friends somewhere in the city you can avoid all of this. Most of these people don’t have those options. There was never anywhere for them to go, and there was never enough room in the shelters to take them in.
BOB ON THE OFFICIALS
First, the the National Guard has done an amazing job cleaning up. They’re working around the clock to get the debris out and make it safe to walk around. And city sanitation is doing a great job with the trash. These guys have all had to use mini bulldozers to move pieces of boardwalk and houses worth of ruined things. Even though cops aren’t supposed to hand out blankets, they’ve been doing it.
But I think we have to think about what’s going on with people who wake up in NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings. That’s just a bad situation
In defense of NYCHA, it is an insane number of buildings that lost power. They were aware that the storm was going to be terrible and the head of the authority is smart, but they got completely overwhelmed. If nothing else the NYCHA has to be transparent. It has to let the world know exactly what the problems are, where they are, and why or why not they’re taking care of them.
It’s like what the Transit Authority did. It said what was going on, set realistic expectations, and didn’t lie. This is why the Long Island Power Authority has been so infuriating. As a rule, people hate being not told things and they have being lied to. Just don’t do that.
The official response is what will keep tragic things from happening in the long run. They know there will be dead bodies if they don’t take care of this stuff. Can they get the lights on? The heat? Can they get clinics running and get health care to people who have no money? Can they get people to and from work?
WE’RE INTERRUPTED BY A KNOCK ON THE DOOR. A WOMAN OFFERING HOT SOUP, WHICH LEADS US TO BOB ON THE GRASSROOTS VOLUNTEERS
I’m so impressed by the response of ordinary people. Many of the jobs they’re doing are really unpleasant, like going to Dayton Towers and going door to door to get people the things they need.
Three blocks from here, volunteers cleaned out a woman’s basement.
I know there are stories of people being turned away, but everyone needs help of some sort. I am so impressed that individuals are just knocking on people’s doors and asking, “what do you need?”
The government has done a good job with the work they’re responsible for — getting the trains running, pressuring the utilities companies, launching investigations. But the volunteer stuff will make you cry over how nice people have been. Without grassroots volunteers, people would have already died.
What drove me nuts was that huge fundraiser with Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga that gave money to the Red Cross, that group you give money to every year. That’s bullshit. What the fuck is going on with the American Red Cross? I’ve literally seen one Red Cross vehicle and I‘m out riding my bike everywhere. It was like Where’s Waldo when I saw them; and I talked to their guys and yelled at them. But I know it’s not their fault. Someone in some office somewhere is making bad decisions. Even so, I don’t think anyone should ever give money to them again.
Let’s be real. The Sikhs, and Occupy Sandy, and this hippie woman who just gave me soup are out there doing the work of keeping people going. I’m not some crazy Ayn Randian who thinks that the people must do for themselves. I’m just saying that we wouldn’t be surviving without people taking care of one another because some larger organizations haven’t done their job.
My dad just sent an email saying that he’s donating the money he’d set aside for Christmas presents to Occupy Sandy.
BOB ON SEPARATING TRUTH FROM FICTION
I speak only for my neighborhood, but the fear has subsided. Right after the storm everyone was like, “Don’t answer the door. I wish I had a gun.” There was looting on the first night, but nothing insane like in 1977 and the blackouts.
People are still concerned and no one is out ofter dark, but I don’t think you have to worry about the Warriors coming through the hood and taking your daughter away.
You see the high rises, where I hear again and again there’s crime, so it’s not the same everywhere.
But it’s really hard to separate truth from fiction. And there’s probably a little truth in the fiction. There’s so much crazy bullshit being passed around. Someone asked me what time the curfew started. There’s no curfew. I’ve heard we’d be evacuated. Well, that’s sure as hell not happening.
This is when you know that the press serves a purpose, that radio is essential. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but you need reported stories.
BOB ON THE FUTURE OF THE ROCK
If I had to assign some long-term investigative stories, I’d want one on what worked and what didn’t, at every level, from coordinating volunteers, to the federal, state, and local response. This will shape how we coordinate for the next disaster.
I’d want a separate story on the performance of these massive, multi-billion-dollar relief agencies.
I’d want to know if evacuation would have worked. What would’ve happened? I don’t want anyone to think that people who stayed got what they deserved. Could 130,000 people have feasibly left and been absorbed by the rest of the city? That’s a population the size of Hartford; and that’s just the Rockaways. The nearest evacuation center is in Ozone Park and it’s just a high school. That’s not gonna hold everyone.
And then there’s the fight for how we should repair the Rockaways. What’s the Marshall plan for this community? For Staten Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey? Will we rebuild and be better than ever due to the great planning by the greatest city and the greatest country in the world? Or will we do a patch job?
What is the plan for this community? Will it be the town that was destroyed by the storm? Or will it be the town that came back better than ever. And what about how we use the land? Should we rebuild the boardwalk? Just think about how bitterly we argued over what to do with Ground Zero. This will be on a smaller scale, but it will be a widespread discussion that happens across three states and dozens of communities.