Politics takes temporary back seat to Hurricane Sandy -- Gazette.Net


In an election season, even politics temporarily was swept away by Hurricane Sandy.

Elected officials have to do their jobs well without being seen as politicizing disaster relief efforts, said Todd E. Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.

Two U.S. Senate debates in Maryland were canceled this week due to Hurricane Sandy. Although in theory they could have impacted the race, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) of Baltimore long has been favored to win re-election, with Republican Daniel Bongino and independent and former Republican Rob Sobhani splitting the remaining votes, Eberly said.

“We had a natural disaster, but guess what, we had campaigning in the middle of the Civil War so we can have campaigning after a hurricane,” Eberly said.

How well politicians respond in the wake of a storm is going to impact their political futures, he said.

Any success the administration had in directing storm operations can be attributed to better communication and lessons learned from previous emergencies, said Raquel Guillory, communications director for Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“During 9/11, there was a period of time when we couldn’t communicate via our cell phones,” Guillory said. “Now we have the ability to communicate with people in the field like never before.”

O’Malley’s official Twitter account pushed out about 110 tweets during the course of the storm, some updates from around the state and some preparation and safety tips from other agencies.

The news conferences at the emergency operations center in Reisterstown were streamed live online, and that was essential for news outlets statewide, Guillory said.

“Everyone across this state was affected by this storm,” she said. “In part because we knew this was coming, unlike the derecho, we had things ready to go.”

The derecho, a sudden and powerful storm that swept through the region in late June, wiped out power for much of the region for days.

The Reisterstown headquarters played host to officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Maryland State Highway Administration and other state agencies, as well as representatives from electric companies Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Cardin met with O’Malley and Maryland Emergency Management Agency officials to discuss how the federal government could assist the state in the recovery, said Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky.

“You have to set the politics aside because people’s lives are at stake,” she said.