Political Storms!

Politicians Boosted (or Ruined) by Natural Disasters (PHOTOS)

From Mike Bloomberg to Ray Nagin, politicians whose careers were forever changed by their storm response.

AP Photo (3); Getty Images (1)

AP Photo (3); Getty Images (1)

With Hurricane Sandy crashing the presidential campaign’s last week, we’re reminded that natural disasters can have a devastating effect on politics. From Michael Bloomberg to Ray Nagin, a look back at politicians whose careers were forever changed by their storm response.

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

Kathleen Blanco—Former Louisiana governor

On Aug. 27, 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco told reporters: “I believe that we are really prepared. That’s the one thing I’ve always been able to brag about.” Later that day, Blanco petitioned President Bush for federal aid, having determined that the magnitude of the coming disaster was too much for the local or state government to handle. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency took much of the blame for the slow and inadequate response to the devastated New Orleans and surrounding Gulf area, Blanco also admitted that she was responsible for many of the mistakes made before and after Katrina wreaked havoc. For example, despite warnings from experts that a proper evacuation of New Orleans would take 48 hours, Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin didn’t order a mandatory evacuation until 20 hours before the storm hit. Near the end of her term in 2007, she announced that she would not seek reelection, instead pledging to “work without interference from election-year politics.” She was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in 2006, but the governorship was the last political office Blanco would ever hold.

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

Ray Nagin—Former New Orleans mayor

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s political career wasn’t immediately destroyed by Hurricane Katrina—he was actually reelected in 2006, though most of the city’s residents were displaced at the time of the vote. It was during his second term, however, that Nagin received the most criticism, particularly for the increase in violent crime in New Orleans post-Katrina and his sometimes controversial plans to rehabilitate the city. Nagin’s final term ended in 2010, and he went on to become a public speaker and an emergency preparedness consultant. As recently as this year, though, the former mayor was under federal investigation for allegedly exchanging contracts for favors from vendors while in office.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Photo

Marion Barry—Former Washington, D.C., mayor

Before Marion Barry was caught on tape smoking crack and arrested for illegal drug possession, the D.C. mayor came under serious scrutiny for leaving the nation’s capital to dig out from under 26 inches of snow in 1987 while he attended the Super Bowl, got a manicure, played tennis, and partied for six days in California. Many in Washington were outraged that, after the first storm hit, the mayor did not cut his trip short to handle the emergency weather at home. But he received even heavier criticism when he decided to remain in the Golden State after hearing that another, bigger blizzard was headed toward the capital. This incident hardly killed his political career, however—it pales in comparison to some of Barry’s other, more notorious indiscretions.

Louis Lanzano / AP Photo

Michael Bloomberg—New York City mayor

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have been on guard for Hurricane Sandy, but perhaps that’s because he’s been caught unprepared for bad weather in the past. Right after Christmas in 2010, New York got slammed with a blizzard, and the mayor was nowhere to be found. It was soon discovered that he’d been at his vacation home in Bermuda during the storm and, upon returning to New York, was immediately scrutinized for the inadequate blizzard cleanup that left the city stalled under 19 inches of snow.

AP Photo

Michael Bilandic—Former Chicago mayor

For some, the failure of the Bloomberg administration to plow New York City efficiently out of the 2010 Christmas blizzard evoked memories of another politically influential snowstorm. In January 1979, 18.8 inches of snow covered the 7 to 10 inches already blanketing Chicago. The two-day blizzard knocked out the city’s power and damaged the brakes and motors on city trains—with many Chicagoans stranded onboard. Snow and garbage was left in the streets for months, and Mayor Michael Bilandic was blamed for the city’s poor response. Although Bilandic took responsibility, saying, “We all learn from our mistakes. I’ve made them, and I freely admit it,” he was unable to repair his reputation with the people of Chicago. In the mayoral primary that followed the blizzard, Jane Byrne focused on the snowstorm as her primary point of attack against Bilandic and became the city’s first female mayor.

Ernest K. Bennett / AP Photo

Herbert Hoover—Former U.S. president

It was a natural disaster that helped propel Herbert Hoover’s political career. In 1927, the Mississippi River flooded for months, pouring up to 30 feet of water from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico and leaving more than a million people homeless. Hoover, who was in charge of disaster relief for President Coolidge’s administration, used his success in rehabilitating the country after the flood to help launch his campaign for the presidency the following year. However, his failure to follow through on the promises he made while campaigning on his relief work is believed to be what cost him a second term in the White House.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Greg Nickels—Former Seattle mayor

Greg Nickels lost his bid for a third term as Seattle’s mayor after his handling of a 2008 snowstorm left him appearing disconnected from the people he governed. Seattle residents were stranded in their homes, the streets unplowed, while Nickels, who’d been criticized for caring more about his position as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors than his elected office, said he though his government deserved a “B” grade for its response to the snow. Later investigations showed that Nickels was not on top of most of the problems caused by the storm, including facilitating communication between the Seattle Department of Transportation and the bus system.

AP Photo

John Lindsay—Former New York City mayor

Michael Bloomberg certainly wasn’t the first New York City mayor to fail at cleaning up after a disastrous snowstorm. In February 1969, 15 inches of unexpected snow fell on New York. Poor maintenance had left about 40 percent of the city’s snowplows unusable, and the city’s environmental protection administrator was out of town and incommunicado. People were trapped inside as the snow was left piled high on the streets, blocking buses, taxis, and garbage trucks from getting through. Queens was hit particularly hard, as it was one of the last boroughs to receive help. When Mayor John Lindsay finally made his way there in a limousine, he was booed, and one woman yelled at him, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Lindsay was reelected later that year, but his success in politics was short-lived thereafter. A career Republican, he changed parties in 1971 and attempted to grab the Democratic nomination for president a year later and failed.