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January 31, 2014

After snow, mayor, gov. play blame game

NORMAN — When the snow started falling Tuesday and cars lined up on the highways, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed were at an awards luncheon, smiling and back-slapping each other as the Republican governor introduced the Democratic mayor, who was named a local magazine’s “Georgian of the Year.”

Just 40 minutes earlier, the mayor declared via Twitter: “Atlanta, we are ready for the snow.”

Within hours, the metropolitan area was in gridlock with tens of thousands of people, including some children on school buses, stranded on icy, wreck-strewn roads.

Two days later, the ice was thawing, the children were home and abandoned vehicles were being reclaimed, yet Deal and Reed have scrambled to explain how it all happened after the National Weather Service — despite the governor’s claims to the contrary — clearly warned of a dangerous scenario.

Both men have played the blame game delicately, perhaps knowing political futures are sometimes made or squashed by storm preparations and response, and that the city that has a long and painful past of being ill-prepared for nasty winter weather.

Reed, who recently began his second term, holds ambition for a statewide run, possibly for governor.

Deal is running for re-election this year, and Democrats believe he is vulnerable.

On Thursday, the governor offered his clearest apology yet. He acknowledged he was sleeping in wee hours of Tuesday morning when the National Weather Service upgraded its warning for the entire metro area, and he said his administration didn’t prepare well enough.

“Certainly things could have been done earlier,” he said, pledging a full review of the state’s emergency planning. “We will be more aggressive. We will take those weather warnings more seriously.”

Since the storm, Deal and Reed have mostly alternated between qualified apologies and defensive explanations about what they do and don’t control, each of them carefully avoiding explicitly pointing the finger at the other, a reflection of their odd-couple political alliance on projects like a new downtown stadium and deepening a key port in Savannah.

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