Remember how Mayor Koch always used to ask “How am I doin’?” Bloomberg could ask us the same after his dire warnings about Hurricane Irene, but he might not like the response.

To be fair, a unscientific poll at Gothamist shows opinion split on whether the city overreacted to the crisis. As of this writing, 51% of respondents said “no” while 48.9% said “yes” — statistically a tie. My guess is that a similar poll done now (after the storm passed, leaving NYC with little damage and no fatalities), would show a greater percentage of New Yorker’s in the “yes” camp.

Personally, I have a split opinion as well. I think the mayor and the city was right to err on the side of caution: evacuating roughly 300,000 residents from low-lying areas, shutting down mass transit, and warning all of us to stay inside and have food and water available.

But what about the tone of these warnings? Early on, when Bloomberg announced mandatory evacuations, his response to a question about compliance was puzzling and strangely dire. He said that people who didn’t follow the order “could die.”

In fact, the threat of possible death invaded nearly all of his press appearances. Over and over he lectured us that non-compliance to his preparation plan could kill us. When pressed for specifics he said, in one press appearance, that buildings might lose power, no longer have water, and elevators might stop working. Oh, and this could cause your death. Somehow.

If I was in an iron lung, maybe. But was it really necessary to keep warning the city about the philosophically indisputable notion that “you could die”? Sure, you can’t really argue with that. The possibility of death certainly increases with extreme weather … but the mayor’s tone was puzzling and seemed to offer little to balance this. The take-away message was simply “don’t be stupid, you could die.”

At one point Bloomberg seemed ready to have his own warnings vindicated by an accident he attributed to the storm. The quote is roughly three minutes into this appearance:

Here’s the quote, word for word:

“We don’t need people to die… unfortunately I was told about someone who fell off a ladder, earlier when they were trying to board up their house… They haven’t died yet, but, seriously injured and may in fact be fatal.

(my emphasis)

Odd that there isn’t a word here about hoping for the man’s recovery … in fact, it is an oddly cynical display of a (perhaps) unconscious wish that at least ONE horrible thing might be attributed to the storm. “They haven’t died yet” seems morbidly “hopeful” and disconnected completely from this man’s suffering … think hard and try to imagine any announcement of near-death injuries with such a disclaimer – it simply isn’t done.

“The brave soldier was seriously wounded in the IED attack… he isn’t dead yet.”

In fact it brings to mind this comedy classic moment:

As of this writing, there hasn’t been any followup on the condition of the “not yet dead” man in queens — not from the press, nor from Bloomberg’s office.

The New York Times dutifully quoted the mayor’s claim, but has done no follow-up:

The mayor attributed one casualty to the storm, a 66-year-old man who fell from a ladder while trying to board up windows at his house in Jamaica, Queens, early in the day. A Fire Department spokesman said the man, who was not immediately identified, was in serious condition at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.

As best as I can tell, this poor soul is STILL “not dead yet.” Neither is the mayor’s cautionary tale of a casualty “attributed to the storm,” which could just as easily be attributed to the hype generated by the city and the press ABOUT the storm.

Let’s hope this man is currently only as close to death’s door as the rest of us who survived the storm and the mayor’s grim lectures.

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