Swine flu worries return

May 15, 2009 2:09:15 PM PDT
"Three schools. Closed."

That's all our political reporter Dave Evans said, loudly, as he raced across the newsroom, Blackberry in hand, reading an email from a source.

He didn't have to elaborate. We all knew this had nothing to do with budget cutting. And everything to do with swine flu - oh, pardon me, I guess it's now being called H1N1. (Sorry, pork industry lobbyists, this outbreak started as a swine virus, and that's what we're calling it.)

Those three schools are all in Queens - the sort of Ground Zero of New York City's swine flu outbreak. Mayor Bloomberg made the official announcement last night. Tonight, two more schools in Queens and one more in Brooklyn have been closed. A total of 8,000 students now have an unplanned, weeklong late-spring vacation.

The Mayor is clearly trying to portray himself as out front and ahead of the outbreak, holding frequent news conferences and droning on about how we shouldn't panic, even though he's closing schools, sending thousands of students home for a week, and admonishing us to wash our hands regularly. Why would anyone panic?

The truth is that there are no new confirmed cases of swine flu - only people exhibiting flu-like symptoms. There are only five confirmed cases; the cases from last night. Attendance is down, perhaps because kids are scared? Perhaps because it's gorgeous outside and it's Friday?

(An interesting sidebar to all this: The Mayor was going to be in our newscast, but for a very different story: He got grilled by less-than friendly attorneys in a sex discrimination suit against the financial news conglomerate that bears his name. The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of more than 80 women, and it claims Bloomberg's company discriminates against pregnant women who later took maternity leave. )

And what, by the way, are parents supposed to do with their kids next week? Take off work? I can see the stories we'll do next week, about the mom or dad who loses a job because they took off to take care of their child who doesn't have swine flu.

Meanwhile, the Mayor may be cutting City services, raising fees and taxes, and laying workers off, but he's blowing through his own personal money at a record rate when it comes to running for a third term.

So far he's spent $18.6 million, that's a record, and nearly double what he had spent at a similar point in his campaign for a second term four years ago.

He already holds the Mayoral spending record - $85 million; he's on a pace to shatter that this year.

We'll have the latest on the swine flu, and the Mayor, tonight at 11.

And we'll have the latest on the appointment of New York City Health Commissioner Tom Frieden to be head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frieden is the second health commissioner of the City to take a high-ranking position within the Obama Administration. The other is Margaret Hamburg, who is about to be confirmed as head of the FDA.

Also at 11, several stories we're pursuing at this writing. The first is the recovery of four stolen ATM's from a pond at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. You may recall that last year we covered several stories involving the theft of ATM's in New York; some of the heists were caught on tape, with a big truck smashing through a plate-glass window and thieves making off with the machine. Carolina Leid is on the story for us.

And have you seen the video of the Colgan Air commuter plane, flying from Newark to Buffalo, and losing one of its wheels when landing? It was shot by a passenger, and it's frightening. It's the same route, and the same type of plane involved in the Continental Connection crash in February. Our investigative reporter Jim Hoffer is looking into problems with the plane.

And Tappy Phillips tonight has the story of a New York collector who consigned an original Peanuts strip drawn by Charles Schulz. The work sold at auction, but the owner got nothing. Not even peanuts. Until she got Tappy and 7 On Your Side.

I do have a great Schulz story. I went to Northern California in the mid-90s for Good Morning America to interview the legendary illustrator. He was already showing signs of Parkinson's, and slowing just a tad.

After the interview, we asked Mr. Schultz if we could photograph him drawing - "B-roll" is what we call it. He agreed, and in a matter of seconds, he drew a picture of Snoopy. "Do you have enough?" he asked. Yes, I said, and thanks Mr. Schultz.

And then he ripped the drawing of Snoopy off the pad, and tossed it into the wastebasket.

I gasped. Perhaps too loudly.

"Ah, um, ah, Mr. Schultz, can I have that drawing?"

"Well sure, it's just a picture of Snoopy."

"I know, but you drew it!"

And with that he fished it out of the trash (fortunately he didn't fold it before), and then signed it, and gave it to me.

Today, it's framed, and hanging in my son's room.

Schultz died in 2000, and every time I see that drawing, which is every day, I think of him. And how that drawing nearly went to the dump.

If you don't ask for it, you won't get it.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night plus Scott Clark with the night's sports, and Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast. You can also see Lee's "Blog or Bust" by CLICKING HERE.

I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11, right after 20/20.