Updated 02/03/11 – 1:00 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Richard M. Daley on Thursday praised the efforts of city workers in digging out from this week’s blizzard, but said “we still have a long way to go.”
At a news conference at the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Daley said city workers “did a tremendous job and are still doing a tremendous job” responding to the third largest blizzard in Chicago history.
“Although the snow has ended, the effects of the snow will be with us for a while, so please be very careful if you have to venture outside,” Daley said. “We’re heading back toward normal conditions, but we still have a long way to go.”
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The mayor also defended his decision on Wednesday not to address the media in person, instead having his top aides provide updates on the cleanup efforts.
“I didn’t think it was necessary. These people speak for me,” Daley said, referring to his department bosses. “I’m one who delegates. I don’t sit here thinking I’m going to run everything. That’s a mistake.”
“This is not a Daley show,” the mayor added.
The mayor also noted that he was at OEMC for several hours on Tuesday and Wednesday during the blizzard and that he also went out on rides through the city to see the snow clearing efforts firsthand.
Several of the candidates running to succeed Daley as mayor have criticized the city’s handling of Lake Shore Drive during the blizzard, when hundreds of cars became stranded on the Drive, forcing the city to shut it down from Tuesday night until early Thursday morning.
Some of the candidates have said there needs to be a review of the city’s decisions about Lake Shore Drive and changes should be made to the city’s snow response plans to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.
Calling those critics “Monday morning quarterbacks,” Daley said the city always reviews its handling of major storms.
But Daley refused to second guess the decisions of his top aides during the blizzard.
“I have confidence in all these people making decisions,” he said. “All of them did a tremendous job. … They did a very, very good job.”
Daley said he believes the city needs to build more barriers along Lake Shore Drive and more breakwaters in Lake Michigan to protect Lake Shore Drive against high winds and high waves during major storms.
“We need barriers out in the lake to prevent the northwest winds coming in from Diversey all the way to Oak Street,” Daley said.
At the news conference, top officials from virtually every city department said they have been working around the clock since the start of the blizzard to keep the city running despite the heavy snow.
The city’s full fleet of 274 snow plows and 120 quick-hitch plows had been focusing on Lake Shore Drive and the city’s main arterial streets since the start of the storm on Tuesday afternoon.
Early Thursday morning, the city’s plows began clearing the city’s side streets, but Daley and other top city officials said they could not estimate how soon every side street would be cleared.
Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne said, “We’ll do it as quickly as we possibly can.”
In addition to the city’s 274 snow plows, Byrne said that 200 pieces of construction equipment such as back hoes and high lifts were being used to help with efforts to clear the side streets.
“We have been working non-stop since the storm hit,” Byrne added.
Meantime, the city’s airports were back up and running on Thursday, after most flights were canceled at both Midway and O’Hare International Airports after the blizzard hit Tuesday afternoon.
Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said officials expected Thursday would be a very busy day at both airports as airlines worked to arrange flights for those travelers who have been waiting for two days to get out of Chicago.
Andolino said that both of Midway’s runways have been up and running since Wednesday night. At O’Hare, two runways were opened Wednesday evening and, have gradually opened three others. By Thursday afternoon, officials expected to have six runways operating at O’Hare.
The Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago also were scheduled to reopen on Friday after both were closed for two days in a row due to the blizzard.
CPS Acting Chief Executive Officer Terry Mazany said that school officials have been working hard to clear the parking lots and sidewalks at all public schools.
“Because the majority of our neighborhood schools are located with side street access, we’ve had to focus much of our efforts on clearing the sidewalks, parking lots and delivery efforts,” Mazany said. “We’ve worked closely with Streets and Sanitation on prioritizing streets that lead into and out of our schools. This is clearly an enormous task and Streets and Sanitation has done a remarkable job.”
But Mazany said that busing for students would not resume until Monday. Only about 5 percent of CPS’s 400,000 students take school buses to school every day, Mazany said.
“Many of these buses transport special education students and they require special lifts in transferring of students that is not practical or possible with the level of snow that we have,” Mazany said. “That’s a risk that we’re not willing to take, therefore we will not resume busing until Monday.”
As many as 47 schools lost power during the blizzard, but Mazany said “only a few” were still without power as of Thursday morning.