Into the Storm

The final week of a presidential election for any political reporter tends to be a blur. For the campaigns, for reporters and editors, for everyone involved, everything which has been anticipation, planning and predication rushes into action and culmination. For people who live politics it is exhilarating. But the suffusion of events, news and activity is so great that it is more like being carried along by a wave than anything you can experience or think about as it happens.

I was just discussing coverage planning with David Kurtz – what we had done in 2008 and 2012, what I had done alone in 2004 – when I realized I had somehow forgotten or maybe blocked out one of the central events, at least for us as an organization, of the days before the election. Hurricane Sandy struck New York City on October 29th, 2012. TPM’s offices are located in Lower Manhattan, just south of the line that marked the part of the city that would be without electricity for the better part of the week. I live near our offices. So I was in the blackout zone too.

Quite simply, the power never goes out in Manhattan in a storm. The organization of electrical lines, transformers and so forth just isn’t built that way. If it goes down, it’s back quickly. Until Sandy.

The oddity of the situation is that the part of the city in question was barely affected by the storm itself. I went down to street level late in the evening during the storm on the night of the 29th. There was an almost imperceptible drizzle and some gusty wind. That was it. I walked west toward the Hudson River, where the island gets down toward sea level, looking for the storm surge. I found it on 10th Avenue, which was under about a foot of sea water, slowly moving south, if I remember correctly.

The storm surge was the problem. Our part of the city was all but unaffected. But the flooding of a transformer station on the Lower East Side knocked electricity out everywhere. At first we assumed the electricity would be back shortly. We had maybe a day’s worth of battery backups and chargers. On the second day, we found out it would likely be days before power was restored. Being without electricity is almost a hassle. I couldn’t be offline and out of touch for the week before a presidential election. My wife and sons went out to stay with relatives on Long Island where there was still power. I started hunting for a hotel room. The one I found was a room in a boutique hotel in Times Square. It seemed to be one of the few rooms left in the city.

I camped out there for three or four days – I can’t rightly remember the precise number at this point – until the power finally came back on. Given what I do for a living, my need to stay informed on the latest information and write about it, as well as run our organization, it was the most bewildering experience, cut off from almost all information just when I needed it most.

We finally got back into our New York offices on Monday, the day before the election.