FEMA: How do you like me now?

If Katrina was the nadir for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, then Sandy is its brightest moment since New Orleans. Up and down the hurricane-battered Northeast corridor, local, state, and federal first responders have received praise for their efforts. But foremost among the cheerleaders is Chris Christie, the irrepressible Republican governor of New Jersey, who waxed effusive about the federal response.

Even though Christie is a Mitt Romney supporter, he gave President Obama a big shout-out for contacting him late Monday night to talk about disaster relief coordination. Color Christie very impressed that Obama gave him his number at the White House to use if he “needed anything.”

“The folks at FEMA, [Administrator] Craig Fugate and his folks, have been excellent,” he added.

Cue more gold stars for FEMA’s Sandy relief efforts from someone who should know: Retired Army Lt. Gen. General Russell Honoré, who brought order to New Orleans after the initial Katrina debacle.

Give no brownie points to Michael (“Heckuva job Brownie”) Brown, the infamous former FEMA director whose name has become synonymous with the federal government’s failures during Katrina. Brown, who had no emergency management experience, declared that President Obama “responded too fast” to Sandy, a statement that caused jaws to drop from coast-to-coast.

What FEMA has going for it today is that the agency is run by masters of disaster. Fugate is not just any emergency management professional: He came to FEMA from a stint at the helm of Florida’s emergency management agency. In the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, he dealt with seven named storms.

After the post-Katrina round of finger pointing, FEMA received more resources and tweaked its mission so that the agency can respond proactively to disasters before the calls come in from local and state governments.

The Christian Science Monitor argues that emergency managers at all levels have learned to pull together their operations more skillfully. But though FEMA’s value lies in its high level of expertise, the response effort still has to be coordinated by local and state governments and private organizations.

But the politics of disaster perch on shifting sands as Mitt Romney has discovered. He has hunkered down in a bunker of his own making by refusing to answer reporters’ questions about FEMA and assuring that this Republican primary season exchange would get plenty of air time through the extended Sandy news cycle:

CNN’s John King: “FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?”

Mitt Romney: “Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

Romney has made the calculation that FEMA questions, at 14 and counting on the campaign trail, will just go away.

Until he comes up with a coherent response, however, what’s more likely are responses like this withering fusillade from The New York Times: “Does Mr. Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency? Who would make decisions about where to send federal aid? Or perhaps there would be no federal aid, and every state would bear the burden of billions of dollars in damages.”

Romney compounded his FEMA problems with a photo-op of donating relief supplies to the Red Cross, which prefers donations of money or blood. The episode promoted Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald to ask if Romney was even familiar with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency’s stance on unsolicited goods.

Sandy has also prompted inquiries into Romney’s record on Bay State natural disasters. Politics 365’s Jason Johnson found that “local elected leaders’ opinions… tilt slightly to the positive side.”

But Johnson also spotlights a Salem News story featuring former Peabody Mayor Michael Bonfanti.  “He showed up for the pictures and told me he would provide assistance. He didn’t,” Bonfanti said, speaking about the aftermath of May 2006 flooding that left downtown Peabody under 5 feet of water. “It makes me wonder what he would do if he was in charge of New Orleans.”

When catastrophe strikes, people will continue to expect FEMA to act fast. If superstorms like Sandy are the new normal, then the feds’ response has to be even faster. See Chris Christie for details.

                                                                                    –GABRIELLE GURLEY


Lots of power outages remain, but relief that the state was spared the worst of Sandy’s wrath is the overall sentiment. Keller@Large, who spent most of the storm at the MEMA bunker in Framingham, said the hurricane spotlighted government and the media at their best.  Utility companies on the Cape are getting good grades on their response to the outages.


New England Compounding Center sent hospital customers reports showing its lab was free of harmful levels of bacteria or mold, even though internal tests showed otherwise, the Globe reports.

A state audit found that lax controls at the Southeastern Massachusetts Convention and Visitors Bureau resulted in conflicts of interest and financial discrepancies, including the theft of more than $11,000 by an independent bookkeeping contractor.


Members of the Weymouth firefighters union say staffing levels are at a dangerous low while the number of calls and response time are increasing, especially with the development of the former naval air base.

The Fall River City Council narrowly approved a residency requirement for employment but postponed implementing the bylaw until it is negotiated with the city’s unions.

The Bridgewater Town Council reappointed the interim town manager to a third term after the town counsel determined the charter language restricting the number of terms to two was “ambiguous.”


The scheduled fourth debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren is off after Brown refused to reschedule the face-off, which was originally slated for last night but cancelled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. On the heels of a Globe poll showing a tight race, a new Suffolk University poll has Warren with a 7 point lead, and Suffolk pollster David Paleologos pronounces that the challenger has the race in the bag. Warren is relying on a vast door-to-door field operation whose roots go back to Michael Dukakis’s recapturing of the governor’s office in 1982. The AP calculates that outside groups have poured $5.6 million into the Senate race, although none of it has been over the airwaves. Meanwhile, famed civil rights leader US Rep. John Lewis comes to the Bay State to campaign for Warren. The Salem News endorses Brown. CommonWealth offers a kaleidoscope examination of the Senate race.

The Gloucester Times reports that Peter Torkildsen, the Republican whom US Rep. John Tierney defeated to first win office, is behind a PAC supporting Republican Richard Tisei. To deal with sequestration, the Eagle-Tribune reports that Tierney would favor modest reductions in spending along with higher taxes for the wealthy and a reduction in corporate and farm subsidies. His Republican rival, Tisei, says he would favor spending cuts in the military and Medicare, but no increase in tax rates, although he favors revising the tax code. In an interview with the Lynn Item, Tierney says he has brought home the bacon for the Sixth Congressional District.

In an editorial, the Eagle-Tribune backs Paul Magliocchetti, an independent from Haverhill, for the state Senate seat vacated by Steven Baddour of Methuen. The paper made no endorsement in the race between Sen. Barry Finegold and Republican Paul Adams.

His newly unsealed testimony in the divorce proceedings of Staples founder Tom Stemberg reveal Mitt Romney’s uncertainty about the office supply start-up. Meanwhile, his campaign buys ad time in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota. Chrysler and GM both push back against the Romney campaign, which has been, the Atlantic says, “lying about the auto bailout.” New York magazine calls Romney’s take on the auto bailout “insanely dishonest.” Wait. Does Tagg Romney now want to punch New York and the Atlantic? Washington, DC-area residents have their cell phones besieged by anti-Obama text messages.

Expect more ads from advocates who back the assisted suicide ballot question.


A Quincy developer appeals the rejection of a 40B affordable housing project by the Andover Zoning Board of Appeals, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A New York Times op-ed column promotes a George Romney approach to limiting the mortgage interest deduction.

Caesars is exiting the lucrative Chinese casino market of Macau, putting more pressure on its US operations at a time when most large casino operators are chasing growth overseas. Caesars is involved in the bid to construct a casino at Suffolk Downs.


The state’s new reading law targets a daunting problem, says Irene Sege, of Strategies for Children, in a Perspective for CommonWealth.


One of the new turbines in Fairhaven was shut down by an internal sensor triggered by Hurricane Sandy and cannot be restarted until officials locate the problem.


May the force be with them: Walt Disney Company is buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion and immediately announced plans to release Star Wars: Episode 7 in 2015 and release subsequent episodes every two or three years after that.