Mayor Bloomberg Should Apologize for Body Snatching

04/01/2011 09:45 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2011
  • Dan Collins New York Editor-at-Large, The Huffington Post

Mayor Bloomberg has never been known as the soul of sensitivity.

The cranky billionaire once chewed out a reporter in a wheelchair for making noise during Bloomberg's remarks at a press conference. (The reporter's tape recorder started playing when it was accidentally knocked to the floor by a passing photographer.)

And the mayor's recent joke about "a bunch of people that are totally inebriated" hanging from the balcony of the staid American Irish Historical Society fell flat with the audience who had gathered at the society's elegant town house for an event marking the 250th anniversary of the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Bloomberg apologized to the Irish. He said he was sorry if his tongue-lashing offended the handicapped reporter - a non-apology that suggests all the fault lies in the oversensitivity of the victim.

And now, here we are again.

The three-term mayor should have apologized Big Time to the family of the late George Wong, a New York City police officer whose corpse was carted off by the city when the Medical Examiner's office discovered - to its apparent horror - that Wong's work as a police officer at ground zero in 2001 had been listed as contributing to his death from gastric cancer.

The city has tread a painful line when it comes to 9/11 responders - honoring the dead while protecting itself from the financial consequences that would arise if everyone who was downtown on the fatal day and later passed away was assumed to be a victim of the Ground Zero air.

Its current official position is that cancer is not among the diseases that can be definitely linked to the witch's brew of deadly toxins that rose into the air from the site of the World Trade Center in the weeks following the 9/11 attack. The cause of Officer Wong's death is now "pending," according to the city.

The families, of course, tend to presume that their premature losses are due to the loved ones' service to their city. That's all the more reason to be respectful and treat them with all possible delicacy. Which certainly didn't happen in the case of the Wongs.

The M.E. phoned Wang's family during the wake to demand his body. After the mourners left the funeral home, the corpse was carried off for what was described as an "external examination" since the family refused to permit an autopsy.

"I was really upset. They took the body again to cut it or whatever... It's not respectful for the Chinese," Wong's 73-year-old mother told the New York Post through an interpreter.

You really have to wonder why the sensibilities of a grieving family were less important than making a legal or medical point.

George Wong, 48, was buried on Wednesday. Mayor Bloomberg didn't make the funeral. He defended the M.E.'s handling of the matter and said, "I'm sorry that anybody felt upset about it."

That's the same form of non-apology the wheelchair-bound reporter got: the mayor regrets that his/the city's reasonable action disturbed some unreasonable individuals.

Bloomy is definitely trapped in third-term Devil's Triangle. Disasters keep occurring and he keeps making them worse with his reluctance to admit things aren't perfectly fine.

There was the December blizzard that paralyzed much of the city, when the mayor insisted: "The city is going fine. Broadway shows were full last night. There are lots of tourists here enjoying themselves."

When a municipal scandal erupted, in which four consultants supposedly slaving away on an automated timekeeping system were charged with stealing $80 million from the city. Bloomberg described it as a good example of "how big projects have big things that slip through the cracks."

Bloomberg's repeated claims of remarkable achievements by the city school system have been called into question by the state math and reading scores released last year. Only 43 percent of public school students passed the English test, and 54 percent passed the math test - rates lower than those achieved by city students in 2006.

"While it's not as good as we would like to have it, it's certainly not bad," Bloomberg said of the scores.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

"I think it's more than apologizing. All of us know that a lot of heroes lost their lives at Ground Zero and many are still sick and dying," City Councilwoman Margaret Chin told HuffPost. Chin said the mayor should have reached out to Wong's mother "and offered his condolences and comfort."

But the pattern keeps chugging along.