The chaotic and confused firing of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito — which dragged out over three days and as many meetings with two different City Hall officials — was all part of a long-term plan weeks in the making, Mayor de Blasio insisted Tuesday.
“Weeks ago, I approved a change in leadership at the Office of Emergency Management. I want to be very very clear, this has nothing to do with the storm,” de Blasio said at a police headquarters press conference.
The sad saga has stretched for days since Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin fired Esposito in a meeting on Friday. That went so badly Esposito left not believing he’d actually been fired and demanding it come from the mayor.
“Under normal circumstances, that conversation proceeds in a very straightforward manner. People are professionals, people are mature adults,” de Blasio said. “Something went wrong in that conversation. That’s the bottom line.”
In retrospect, it was a job de Blasio — who was out of town hobnobbing with Sen. Bernie Sanders in Vermont — said he should have done himself, noting Esposito’s three decades of service to the city, including as the NYPD’s chief of department.
“There’s a lot going on, and there’s times when you sort of stop and think very, very carefully about something, and I think if I would have done that, I would have put two and two together,” de Blasio said. “Now in the, you know, cool light of day, it makes all the sense in the world I should have just done it myself.”
While de Blasio said the shakeup was planned in advance, it’s unclear whether that “plan” called for doing it Friday.
“I was not focused on the tick-tock of exactly how and when she was going to have it,” de Blasio said when asked if he knew Anglin would tell Esposito about the regime change Friday.
De Blasio said he didn’t realize until Monday how bad the situation was. He said he did not hear from Esposito that weekend.
“I had heard Friday that it had been an emotional conversation, an intense conversation … but did not understand until Monday when more information was provided that the situation had involved so much misunderstanding,” de Blasio said.
But even Monday, after the news went public and City Council members rallied around Esposito, de Blasio did not sit with Esposito until 2:45 p.m. at Gracie Mansion — and a source said that even after the more-than-hour-long meeting, Esposito was still unclear of his own fate. The mayor had to call him back a second time Monday night.
Pressed about why, if the firing was already planned weeks ago, he needed to hold two meetings Monday to do it, de Blasio said emotions were running high.
“This was an emotional situation, when people are emotional sometimes, people have to catch their breath, have to have a chance to think. We had a good first conversation, we had a productive second conversation, we all agreed on where we’re going,” he said.
By the time that meeting was over, Esposito’s dismissal was being explained by the mayor’s office as a “process of leadership change” — that involved Esposito staying on during a search for his successor and the administration “exploring additional opportunities for Commissioner Esposito to remain in the administration.”
Several of de Blasio’s ousted commissioners went on to get other jobs in the administration at the same salary — and de Blasio himself noted it’s a “basically across the board reality” that he might offer someone a different spot if their current one isn’t working out.
“I think that would have been a natural conversation on Friday if everything hadn’t gone crosswise,” de Blasio said of finding another gig for Esposito. “When Joe ad I sat down in the cool light of day, it immediately lent itself to that kind of conversation. Where there things that we could think about here as we thought it through and the answer was yes and that conversation is now proceeding.”
De Blasio would not say why the well-regarded commissioner had to go, but said he wanted more from OEM “on a strategic level.”