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CHRISTIANSTED — The story the Virgin Islands Free Press broke about Michael Bloomberg and Kenneth Mapp apparently got under the governor’s skin.
Former New York mayor and CEO of Bloomberg Group Michael Bloomberg gave an interview to the NBC television network in which he discussed his organization’s role in the hurricane recovery.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp went ballistic on social media after the story and video appeared in our Jan. 12 article (see link below).
MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle asked Bloomberg several times questions that pointed to a greater role for the organization in recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria than several territorial institutions have previously stated or publicly disclosed.
MSNBC released the interview on Jan. 11, two days after Government House announced the appointment of Bloomberg LP founding partner and St. John resident Thomas Secunda to Mapp’s Hurricane Recovery Task Force.
NBC’s Ruhle attempted to credit Bloomberg with the 90 percent restoration of power cited by the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA).
“Mayor Mike, 90 percent of the lights are back on in the Virgin Islands,” Ruhle said at one point. “How did you do it?”
“Well, I didn’t do it,” Bloomberg said. “What I did do was help get people who knew what they were doing to go down and help.”
Bloomberg told Ruhle the story of how Mapp was a directionless leader who didn’t seem to know what he was doing.
“We got with the governor and the governor there was someone who said, ‘Look, I need help,’” Bloomberg said.
The former two-term New York City mayor also seemed to take credit for the large number of utility linemen that arrived to help restore power.
“He (Gov. Mapp) said, ‘Tell me what to do,’” Bloomberg said of Mapp. “We helped them write contracts. He wanted to hire 25 linemen to put the power back. We said ‘No,’ and we got 1,000 linemen to fly out there.”
The Virgin Islands — as well as other places in the United States — frequently lack the expertise necessary to deal with federal recovery funds, Bloomberg said. His group — and experts that helped New York rebuild from Hurricane Sandy in 2010 — was able to help fill in the gap, Bloomberg said.
“That’s what is missing when we have these disasters around the world,” he said. “The world can come together and provide funds, but it’s expertise that you need and management to make sure that the moneys are well spent to make sure that whatever is fixed stays fixed.”
At other points during the interview, Bloomberg praised Mapp’s willingness to work with private institutions, which he said contrasted with Puerto Rico, where officials have not yet formally asked for help.
“We went down there and we met the governor, who said ‘I need help,” Bloomberg said. “He was willing to let us come in.”
Bloomberg also said his company’s group had liaisoned with local citizens to help with the territory’s restoration.
“We got the people, the citizens of the three islands, to make sure they were a part of it,” he said. “It wasn’t just a bunch of people coming in from New York saying, ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that.’”
In a Facebook post usually associated with the governor under the name “Ken Mapp,” Mapp rejected Bloomberg’s account of recovery.
“I was taken aback by the interview as the facts and public record contradicts the former Mayor’s assesement (sic) of his help to the US Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” the Facebook post reads in part. “Let’s be clear. I met the former Mayor at the King Airport with Tim Duncan just following Hurricane Irma. Mayor Bloomberg was on his way to St. John to visit one of his partners of Bloomberg LP. I escorted Tim Duncan and the former Mayor to view the destruction at Tutu High Rise apartments.”
Mapp said he never asked Bloomberg directly for help.
“At no time did I say to Mayor Bloomberg, ‘Tell me what to do’ or ‘I do not know what to do,’” Mapp wrote. “At no time did I say to Mayor Bloomberg that I was hiring ‘25 linemen’ and he suggested more. At no time did the Bloomberg Foundation fly in or had any responsibility for bringing in any linemen for power restoration in the US Virgin Islands.”
“The Bloomberg Foundation has been helpful to the USVI community, but what contract did the Bloomberg Foundation help me or the government write and execute and for what purpose?” Mapp wrote. “By the third week following Hurricane Irma, the Public Finance Authority issued RFPs for technical and financial assitance (sic) support consulting entities. Comm Val Collens headed this initiative in New York and subsequently, Witt O’Briens and Ernst & Young were contracrted (sic) through VIPFA to assist with our work with FEMA.”
Mapp also said he had never estimated that the number of required linemen would be 25.
“I was on St. Croix during Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and was Lt. Governor during Hurricane Marilyn in 1995,” he wrote on Facebook. “Following both of these storms, VIWAPA brought in several hundred linemen to restore power in the territory. Given this experience; which Virgin Islander would not know that ‘25 linemen’ would be insufficient to restore power in the territory following a hurricane?”
Beth DeFalco, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg Philanthropies, the wing of the Bloomberg group involved in recovery, declined to comment.
Government House communications staff did not respond to requests for comment
The difference in Bloomberg’s and Mapp’s accounts wasn’t evidence of the rift between Mapp and Bloomberg, nor was Mapp calling Bloomberg a liar, said Franklin Johnson, one of Mapp’s senior policy advisers.
“We have no problem with the Bloomberg organization,” he said.
Johnson avoided a specific question about the Facebook post.
“I can’t explain that, but we have no problem with the Bloomberg organization,” he said.
The governor told The New York Times on Jan. 9 that his administration had initially estimated recovery would require 250 linemen and would take until April, though he also noted “that would be completely unacceptable,” according to the article. The article also says the Bloomberg group suggested a more aggressive power restoration strategy, and the Mapp administration agreed.
Cas Holloway, global head of technical operations for Bloomberg LP, told NY1, a 24-hour New York-central news channel on Christmas, that WAPA had initially planned to hire 35 linemen.
“We said, ‘How about 600 or 800?’” the article quotes him as saying. “Then we worked with them and FEMA to get that done.”