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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 22.0° F  Overcast
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Blizzardgate strikes Madison!
After the storm comes the torrent of criticism

Credit:Eric Mischo

I think it's safe to say that top honors in the headline-writing department won't be going to the Wisconsin State Journal for last Thursday's editorial: "Storm Troopers Perform Well."

No, not those storm troopers, silly. The editorial was a platitudinous tribute to "dedicated workers - utility linemen, snowplow operators, ambulance teams, tow-truck drivers and, yes, newspaper carriers," who "stayed on the job" during the recent snowstorm. (A drove of letter-writers quickly pointed out that their newspaper carriers did not actually stay on the job.)

But the headline might just as well have referred to the jackbooted commentators who unleashed their rage in comments posted with online stories about the storm. Woe to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and the rest of the "Spandex crowd running Madison into the ground," as one correspondent put it.

Commuters stuck in traffic Thursday morning weren't just upset about the weather. As the city struggled to clear the roads, they saw conspiracies afoot. Some even suggested a "blizzardgate" cover-up at city hall.

Cutting back salt on the streets to protect the lakes is a plot by bureaucrats more concerned about fish than human lives. The snow wasn't cleared because of a budget overburdened by fancy projects like the Edgewater, a new Central Library and, most hateful of all to the legions of worked-up State Journal readers, bike paths!

"The mayor would not need chains for his bicycle from the clean, clear bike path I have seen the last couple of days," a Madison poster who goes by the name "Mister_A" wrote darkly. "It is fairly clear that he is car-hostile and the inability to maintain and clear streets only leads to the inevitable conclusion that we need commuter rail."

Hey, for all we know, maybe the storm was caused by commuter rail!

To be fair, the 14.1 inches of heavy, wet snow that came down on us last week was, according to the State Journal, "the sixth-largest two-day snowfall in 60 years." Salting was ineffective as more heavy snow fell.

As the snow kept piling up, city officials decided to keep 30 plows clearing residential streets instead of shifting them over to salt the main roads.

Meanwhile, rush-hour traffic kept packing down the snow. Then temperatures dropped. Main roads that were never fully cleared turned icy. On Thursday, cars were sliding backwards down East Washington Avenue as they tried to climb the hill to the Capitol.

On the upside, the neighborhood streets were plowed. In hindsight, the mayor wished he'd split the snowplow fleet, keeping half in the neighborhoods and sending half to clear the big roads. On realizing his error, he issued an apology: "I take responsibility for it, personally."

"We knew going into it that it would result in some pretty slippery streets coming Thursday morning," he said. "But they were worse than I thought they would be."

The mayor has ordered a top-to-bottom review of snow plowing operations to figure out how the city can do better.

That all sounds pretty straightforward. But you have to look more closely to see the nefarious patterns: environmentalist mayor, crisis brought on by severe weather...get it?

Who does this guy think he is to let nature get in the way of a 10-minute rush-hour commute?

People who are furious that they must drive slowly in 14 inches of snow have nothing but contempt for those bike-riding, tofu-eating elitists who run Madison. These are the kind of people who want you to be inconvenienced to help stop global warming. The nerve!

Actually, if you weren't determined to act like nothing out of the ordinary was happening, the snowstorm was kind of fun. The kids had the day off from school and dove outside after putting their snowsuits on over their pajamas, to play in the massive drifts.

During the long spate of dry winters, up until the last three years, I used to worry that my kids would roll their eyes as I reminisced about what winter was like back when we had a lot of snow.

So we took the day off to go tobogganing and stopped to watch a flock of migrating swans fly overhead.

Somewhere on 151, an angry commuter sitting in traffic was tapping on his iPhone, ranting about government bureaucrats and trying to foment a right-wing takeover of local government.

I'm glad it wasn't me.

Ruth Conniff is political editor of The Progressive.

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