NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited some of the neighborhoods hard-hit by the Christmas weekend blizzard and confessed Thursday that the city's handling of the crisis was "inadequate and unacceptable." But it was clear the anger wasn't exactly melting away.
The mayor had just declared a victory of sorts – three days after the snow stopped falling, every street had been plowed at least once, he announced – when a politician appearing with him stepped up to the microphone to complain.
"Even where I live, there's still about four inches" of snow in the roadway, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall told the reporters gathered at a recreation center.
Partially plowed, packed-down snow from the 20-inch storm could still be seen on at least one street nearby. Marshall said constituents were still calling her office to ask: "Where is the plow?"
Some streets were still impassable or unplowed.
Angelo Annunziata stood on his Brooklyn block on a snowpacked street, drifts still covering half the cars. A snowplow came through for the first time on Thursday afternoon.
"I work in Manhattan, and there they're running plows on clear pavement. All Bloomberg cares about are all the people coming in to Manhattan for New Year's," he said. "Well, we pay taxes like everybody else. This is ridiculous."
As he did earlier in the week, Bloomberg promised to investigate what went wrong. But he denied budget cuts had anything to do with the city's sluggish response. And while he said he would investigate persistent rumors that snowplow operators staged a slowdown during the storm, he said there was no evidence of such a protest.
Meanwhile, the New York area's three main airports were almost back to a normal, with only a few stranded passengers left. And for the first time since the storm hit, the city's hundreds of subway stations were all up and running Thursday – the day a fare increase took effect. The last of some 600 stuck buses had been cleared, as had most of the abandoned cars, the mayor said.
Bloomberg – a media mogul who has built a reputation as an able manager, adept at cutting through bureaucracy – defended the city's response to the blizzard earlier in the week but adopted a more conciliatory tone over the past few days as complaints of stuck ambulances and unplowed streets mounted.
"The response to the snowstorm was inadequate and unacceptable," he conceded Thursday. "Nobody is satisfied. We're accountable. I'm accountable."
Around the city, banks of plowed snow still made crossing some streets tricky. But for many, things were closing in on normal.
Janette Peralta rode the subway to work at a Manhattan nonprofit association from her home in Queens.
"I made it out of the house on Tuesday, but then I couldn't go anywhere" because a truck was stuck in front of her house, she said. So she, her parents and siblings stayed home.
"We got on each other's nerves, we watched TV and movies, we read a little bit," she said. "And I caught up on my sleep."
Some 1,600 plows plied the streets Thursday, while about 2,000 day laborers worked to clear snow from bus stops, crosswalks and the like, Bloomberg said.
The mayor said the city had made good on a promise to plow practically every street by Thursday morning – though some will need more plowing to remove all the snow, and abandoned cars were in the way on a few blocks.
The storm struck the day after Christmas in a city that has been planning to slash spending. But the mayor said: "The budget had nothing to do with this. We thought we had an adequate number of people, an adequate amount of equipment and the right training."
About 100 Department of Sanitation supervisors in charge of coordinating the plowing fleet are scheduled to be demoted Saturday. That ignited speculation that disgruntled supervisors had sabotaged the snow removal effort in revenge.
Bloomberg and other officials said they hadn't seen any evidence of a slowdown but would investigate. The heads of the two unions that represent Department of Sanitation workers said the rumors were false and insulting.
The rumors gained traction after City Councilman Dan Halloran said he had met with three sanitation workers who had complained that supervisors upset about the pending demotions had "basically been giving them a green light not to do their job."
The storm left some New Yorkers grousing that Bloomberg, a billionaire Manhattanite, is out of touch with the city's outer boroughs.
"My friend lives in New Jersey, and his street is perfectly clear. Three million people living in Brooklyn, and look at this situation," said Alexander Lisitsyn, shoveling out his driveway. "The mayor doesn't care about us."
The mayor made appearances Thursday in the four boroughs outside Manhattan, from a stop for soup at a Bronx diner to a visit with a Brooklyn family.
He got a friendly reception from Leonora Xhekaj-Murati, of the Bronx.
As a staffer involved in disaster planning at a risk-management firm, "I know what it's like to be criticized and ridiculed and criticized when things don't always go well," she said. "I think he did a pretty good job."
Associated Press writers David B. Caruso and Verena Dobnik contributed to this report.