New York City OEM Chief Joseph Esposito to stay until successor is found

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Dave Evans has the latest on the status of OEM chief Joe Esposito.

New York City's head of the Office of Emergency Management chief remained on the job Tuesday, despite his reported firing over his handling of a recent snowstorm, and Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement saying Joe Esposito will stay on the job until a replacement is found.

Eyewitness News tracked down Esposito Tuesday morning, and when asked if he was fired from his job, he urged people to watch a news conference later in the day. But when pressed further, he added, "Things develop."

The mayor thanked Esposito for his "significant contributions to our city's safety" and said they look forward to "exploring additional opportunities" for him to remain in the administration.

"We have started the process of leadership change at New York City Emergency Management," de Blasio said in the statement. "Commissioner Joe Esposito will continue to lead OEM as we conduct a national search for his successor."

Earlier, multiple news reports citing anonymous sources said Esposito was fired by a deputy mayor on Friday over the city's response to an unexpectedly slippery storm Nov. 15 that halted buses, paralyzed roads across the metropolitan area and led to a rush-hour pileup that closed a level of the George Washington Bridge.

"It could have been handled better all around honestly," said the mayor, who admitted he made a mistake in assigning a deputy mayor to tell Esposito he wanted to take OEM in a new direction.

Esposito sent the following message to OEM staff Tuesday morning.

"As I'm sure you have heard from the media, the Mayor released a statement last night announcing that he is beginning a process of leadership change at NYC Emergency Management. While there are questions about what this means for the future of the agency, I want to assure you that I remain committed to serving as Commissioner until a new person is appointed to the role to ensure a smooth transition and consistent leadership.

It has been a great privilege to lead this agency for the past four and a half years, and together we have created an emergency management organization that is a model for other cities in this country and beyond. We've helped countless New Yorkers in our response to emergencies from power outages and fires to building collapses and terrorist attacks, and we're helped to prepare thousands of people and businesses for natural and man-made disasters. We have served beyond the boundaries of NYC, lending expertise and assistance to others in Puerto Rico, Texas, and North Carolina in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes.

The work that we do is important and impactful, and we will continue to stand out as a City agency that is dedicated 24/7 to helping New Yorkers in the most challenging of times.

I will always be proud of our work and of your commitment to responding to emergencies while preparing our city to manage emerging threats and risks. I am continually inspired by your dedication day and night to keeping New Yorkers safe, informed, and prepared.

I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of the residents of this great city, and I expect that we all will continue to work tirelessly to serve New York City and the millions of people who live, work, and visit every year.

The mayor said Monday he wouldn't answer questions about Esposito's status, rushing out of City Hall as his security detail blocked reporters from following him.

De Blasio canceled a weekly appearance on a local public affairs television show as reports of Esposito's ouster swirled. Asked about the commissioner's status Monday afternoon, De Blasio told NY1, "We'll talk to you later on." Later, Esposito declined to comment after emerging from a meeting with the mayor at Gracie Mansion.

Jillian Jorgensen, city hall bureau chief for the Daily News, tweeted that a member of de Blasio's security detail physically blocked her and two other reporters from following him out of City Hall.

Spokesmen for the mayor and the New York Police Department, which provides the security detail, didn't immediately respond to emails.

Meanwhile, Council Member Chaim Deutsch released a letter signed by 28 council members that called on the mayor not to fire Esposito. The letter said "Commissioner Esposito has done an outstanding job" and they are "shocked and dismayed that media reports indicate that Commissioner Esposito is to be ousted as a scapegoat" for the snowstorm.

New York City's emergency management commissioner is in charge of coordinating planning and response to all sorts of emergencies, from natural disasters to terrorism.

Esposito was out of town, on vacation, when the city's first substantial snow fell on Nov. 15. Some drivers spent the night in their cars on a jammed Bronx highway and some schoolchildren were stuck on buses for up to five hours, with the last one getting home at 3 a.m. Friday.

Public officials did no better keeping the streets clear in Westchester County or northern New Jersey, where students slept in one school overnight when their buses couldn't get through.

De Blasio, a Democrat, said forecasts had led city officials to expect just an inch of snow, meaning that city buses weren't equipped with snow chains and salters weren't out treating the roads ahead of the storm.

He pledged a full review of the city's response.

City Council President Corey Johnson noted in a series of tweets that the mayor's office hadn't explicitly blamed Esposito's office after the storm or at a subsequent council hearing.

"While there were clearly MAJOR issues as it related to the snow storm - I'm a little shocked that Esposito is being fired," Johnson tweeted. "I hope this isn't true. Esposito is one of the competent folks in City government."

Esposito has been in the post since 2014.

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