From the State of the State in January to the announcement of the GOP-IDC Senate coalition in December, 2012 was a year to remember in New York politics. While most of America’s attention focused on the presidential election, the Legislature once again gerrymandered the state’s lines—despite Mayor Koch’s protests—and New York’s Republican voters went to the polls for an unprecedented three primaries. In the elections, new stars rose in the political firmament, while old ones set. Meanwhile, in Albany, pension reform was passed, while a minimum wage hike failed. The legalization of casino gambling was fast-tracked, while the push for hydrofracking was slowed. And, as always, there was ample scandal and corruption to keep investigators and prosecutors busy—with malefactors like Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate finally being brought to justice, and Brooklyn boss Vito Lopez weathering a sudden and precipitous fall. Finally, there was the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, which put all of the year’s triumphs and tribulations into perspective. As the year draws to a close, City & State looks back on all that occurred to present to you our 2012 Year in Review.
A new year brought a rollout of new agendas for both the governor and the mayor of New York City. Gov. Andrew Cuomo went first, emphasizing the need for “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.”
In his State of the State address, Cuomo called for the legalization of casino gambling, the construction of a new convention center in Queens and the dismantling of Manhattan’s Javits Center to make way for new development. The governor also announced $1 billion in economic development aid for Buffalo, a public works program highlighted by the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and plans for an “energy highway” traversing the state. Additionally, he expressed his support for public financing of campaigns, and said that the state needed to reduce pension benefits for future retirees. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also served notice he would make a minimum wage hike a top legislative priority in 2012.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out his plans a week later, vowing to improve the city’s struggling public school system while instituting a merit-pay system awarding top teachers and threatening to remove poor ones.
In his budget address in mid-January, Cuomo expounded on his proposal to reform the public pension system—drawing angry opposition from unions—and to tie school aid to the creation of new systems to evaluate teachers. In order to close a $2 billion budget gap, the governor said he would reduce planned spending increases and streamline state agencies.
• Lobbyist Richard Lipsky pleads guilty to bribing crooked pol Carl Kruger (New York Post)
• Eastman Kodak files for bankruptcy (New York Times)
• Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey to retire (Washington Post)
• The 63rd Senate District: Location details leak, but more questions pop up (WNYC)
City Comptroller John Liu said in late 2011 that he was “embarrassed” that one of his chief fundraisers was busted by the feds for allegedly steering money to Liu’s campaign through straw donors, and vowed to give a full accounting of his campaign finances.
But when Liu’s 25-year-old campaign treasurer, Jia “Jenny” Hou, was arrested in late February for funneling illegal donations the same way, Liu initially declined to comment, then stuck up for her, saying she was “capable as compared to anyone of any age.” He added, “I’m not hanging anyone out to dry.”
Federal authorities booked Hou on two counts of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. She was alleged to have instructed wealthy Liu donors how to evade limits on individual contributions, failed to disclose the identities of 59 campaign contributors for several years, and withheld incriminating documents despite receiving government subpoenas.
Hou, who has not yet gone to trial, could face up to 60 years, but sources believe that prosecutors will lean on her to cough up Liu’s role in his campaign fundraising. Others believe she is a fall guy for Liu aide Chung Seto. Hou told friends that New York was a “cruel city”; in a post on a Facebook-like Chinese social networking site, she said she could only trust her conscience and no one else. Liu continued to campaign actively for mayor for the rest of the year, though pundits and public officials have described his bid as a long shot.
• Greg Kelly cleared: “Mutual lust” nixes claim by rape accuser (Queens Courier)
• Timothy Cardinal Dolan receives red hat in Vatican City: Dolan one of 22 bishops elevated by Pope Benedict (New York Daily News)
• Bloomberg defends NYPD spying (New York Daily News)
• State Sen. Mark Grisanti and wife “ambushed” by Seneca Nation businessmen (New York Post)
It was business as usual in Albany in March, just done more efficiently.
In 2010, 138 legislators signed a pledge to turn the once-a-decade redistricting process over to an independent panel. But in 2012 they ignored that promise and carved up the state’s district maps minutes before a midnight deadline to protect themselves and increase their respective parties’ chances of electoral dominance—for Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the state Senate.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed the Legislature to control its own destiny in exchange for a constitutional amendment that would make the redistricting process independent in 2020. Critics pounced, including former Mayor Ed Koch, who derided Albany as “the most devious Legislature in America.”
The Legislature also created a new pension tier that would save municipalities an estimated $80 billion over the next 30 years, increase employee contributions, raise the retirement age one year and scale back benefits for workers.
And by the end of the month, a full 24 hours before its deadline, the Legislature approved a $132.6 billion budget. Cuomo lavished praise on lawmakers, calling the Capital a “model of function” after undergoing a “dramatic and almost unbelievable turnaround” since he had become governor. Albany leaders agreed. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the budget process was a “breath of fresh air,” and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he was “very proud” of the government. But Senate Democrats said they felt left out of the negotiations and called the budget “a joke.”
• Bob Turner undeterred by new congressional maps (New York Observer)
• Contractor strikes $500 million deal in city payroll scandal (New York Times)
• Senate GOP Majority’s Dean Skelos: Ed Koch redistricting plan would unfairly favor Democrats (New York Daily News)
• March Madness: Queens Democrats back Grace Meng for Congress (Queens Tribune)
• Matt Doheny, upstate Republican, caught canoodling (New York magazine)
April was the cruelest month—for a state lawmaker convicted on bribery charges. State Sen. Carl Kruger gave an impassioned, tearful speech begging for leniency after pleading guilty to four criminal counts of bribery and corruption in December of 2011. Kruger accepted nearly $1 million from real estate interests and hospital executives in exchange for sponsoring legislation and allocating government funds. He and his secret longtime companion, gynecologist Michael Turano, were ensnared in a wide-ranging corruption scandal that included lobbyist Richard Lipsky and hospital CEO David Rosen. Both Kruger and Turano asked for mercy from the court for their crimes.
Prosecutors demanded a sentence of 9 to 11 years. Federal District Court Judge Jed Rakoff sentenced Kruger to seven years, citing his “many good deeds,” but said it was difficult to overlook the evils of bribery. “We have only to look at other countries,” he said, “to see that once corruption takes hold, democracy itself becomes a charade, justice becomes a mere slogan camouflaging a cesspool of self-interest.”
In a short statement, Kruger said his actions will overshadow his legacy. “I have no one but myself to blame, and that reality will haunt me for the rest of my life,” he reflected, before receiving his sentence and reporting to federal prison in New Jersey. Kruger’s Senate seat, left open by his expulsion from the chamber, changed hands twice over the course of the rest of the year.
• Cuomo spokesman: L’Affair Liz much ado about nothing (Albany Times Union)
• Out of Towns: Veteran Rep. Ed Towns to retire (Brooklyn Paper)
• Former Sen. Kruger sentenced to 7 years for taking $500k in bribes (New York Post)
• With tweaks, Quinn’s living-wage bill aims lower (New York Times)
Few can resist the splendor of a May wedding. Council Speaker Christine Quinn wed her longtime companion, Kim Catullo, in Manhattan in the most anticipated ceremony (and toughest invite) of the wedding season. The mayoral hopeful’s nuptials were the first of a top city politician in years and the first-ever same-sex wedding of a high-ranking city official.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg even gave Quinn an early wedding gift, saying that the Speaker “would be a very good mayor.”
But several less glamorous stories also arose in May, with repercussions that would last for months.
A judicial panel signed off on the state Legislature’s redistricting plan for state lawmakers despite objections from several officials. The lines, especially those drawn by the Republican-controlled state Senate, were designed to help incumbents and to fortify the upper chamber against a Democratic takeover in November. Moreover, a new district was added to the state Senate, pushing the total number of seats to 63 and paving the way for what was expected to be an easy win by Republican businessman, Assemblyman George Amedore.
The New York Times published a story suggesting that Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes gave Hasidic sex abuse suspects special treatment compared with other perpetrators. Hynes vehemently denied the allegations, defending his practice to not name suspects while comparing the secretive dynamic in the close-knit ultra-Orthodox community to the Mafia. Hynes would go on to win a guilty verdict against a prominent Satmar leader by the end of the year.
And New York City Councilman Lew Fidler finally conceded to Republican David Storobin months after both men traded leads during a tumultuous recount following a heated special election to replace convicted former state Sen. Carl Kruger.
• NYRA president out of saddle over scam (New York Daily News)
• Assemblyman Vito Lopez wins control of four upstate Hasidic summer camps (New York Post)
• Ex–state Sen. Hiram Monserrate pleads guilty in “slush fund” case (New York Post)
In New York, the primary is often the only election that matters—especially for congressional races in New York City.
The June primary signaled the anointing of Democratic Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries as the party’s next rising star. His path to Washington was cleared after Rep. Ed Towns announced he would retire earlier in the year. Jeffries crushed his rival, Councilman Charles Barron, winning three out of every four votes in his sprawling Central Brooklyn district.
In Queens, Democratic Assemblywoman Grace Meng fought off Assemblyman Rory Lancman and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, winning the chance to become the state’s first Asian-American in Congress.
In Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel declared victory over state Sen. Adriano Espailla. Rep. Nydia Velázquez rolled over City Councilman Erik Dilan, who had the backing of Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Vito Lopez and much of Williamsburg’s Hasidic community.
Outside of the city Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney won the chance to take on Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth in the fall. And in Western New York Chris Collins, the former Erie County executive, took a step toward reviving his political career by winning the Republican nomination for the congressional seat held by Rep. Kathy Hochul.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Wendy Long triumphed over Rep. Bob Turner and Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos in a bruising Senate primary. But her candidacy against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was described as a long shot.
• NY mayor blasts sugar ban critics: “That’s a lot of soda” (Reuters)
• Prescription drug bill I-STOP passes both chambers (Albany Times Union)
• Cuomo defends ties to ally backed by gambling group (New York Times)
• After Genting talks dissolve, some doubt convention center will be built in Queens (Queens Chronicle)
• House member’s aide who wrote about tossing acid at women quits (New York Times)
The primary race between Rep. Charlie Rangel and his top challenger, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, went into extra innings in early July as the gap in votes between the two narrowed considerably after Election Day. The venerable congressman had declared victory on primary night, but as his lead fell to about 800 votes and reports of voters having being turned away at the polls cropped up, Espaillat filed a court challenge, blasted the New York City Board of Elections’ handling of the race and called Rangel’s victory a “phantom election.”
The contest reflected the growing clout of Hispanic voters in a redrawn district that has long been a bastion of African-American power, as well as a decline in Rangel’s might after his censure by the House for ethics violations. Still, Espaillat conceded defeat on July 9, just in time to run for re-election to the state Senate, where he faced another contentious matchup against Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, a fellow Dominican who had sided with Rangel. Despite losing to Rangel, Espaillat’s performance could position him as a strong contender again in two years.
As the Rangel-Espaillat battle wound down, a contentious labor dispute with Con Ed was heating up. On July 1, the utility company locked out some 8,000 union employees and relied on managers to carry out the work. On July 26, Gov. Andrew Cuomo persuaded both sides to end the stalemate as severe storms loomed on the horizon, and a new four-year contract sealed the end of the nearly four-week standoff.
• Weiner “bares” regrets in return to the airwaves (New York Post)
• Sen. Marty Golden holding event teaching the “feminine presence” (City & State)
• Edible Arraignments! Grace Meng’s father arrested for alleged fruit basket bribery (City & State)
• Lenihan to step down, again (Artvoice)
Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s world came crashing down in August with allegations that he had sexually harassed several young female staffers. The Democratic power broker, who denied the claims, was censured by the Assembly leadership and booted from chairing the Housing Committee, and shortly announced he would not seek re-election as chair of the Brooklyn Democratic party. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was also tarnished by the scandal for approving a secret payment earlier in the year, including $103,080 in state funds, to staffers who claimed Lopez had harassed them.
It was a surprising turn of events for Lopez, who had been under scrutiny for an his connections to a nonprofit he had founded and the taxpayer money that flowed into its coffers. Many politicians, including the governor, called for Lopez’s resignation, but he held on and eventually won re-election easily. In December a redistricting plan that would have helped him was shot down, but he may be eyeing a run for City Council next year. Still, Lopez is not out of the woods yet—a special prosecutor, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, is still investigating him.
• Court nixes taxi plan (Wall Street Journal)
• Bx. pol Rivera hired unqualified boytoy to run her nonprofit, which she used as personal piggy bank (New York Post)
• State senator from Queens is warning of her arrest (New York Times)
The September primary elections—for Republicans, the third primary of the year—were an opportunity for voters to weigh in on the fate of a number of state lawmakers whose legislative and personal track records had been subject to controversy and in some cases legal scrutiny.
State Sen. Roy McDonald—one of four Republican senators to vote for gay marriage—endured a grueling campaign against his opponent, Kathy Marchione, who made the election a referendum on that vote. State Sen. Shirley Huntley faced off against an emboldened candidate in City Councilman James Sanders, who had no qualms about pointing out Huntley’s poorly timed arrest in August on corruption charges to help bolster his chances of defeating her. Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera tried to fend off a challenge from the relatively unknown Mark Gjonaj, months after it was alleged in the tabloids that she had hired her boyfriend to run her nonprofit and embezzled funds from the organization to pay for romantic dinners.
All three of the candidates would go on to lose their elections, some in ignominy like Huntley, who refused to concede to Sanders and avoided the press on Election Day. McDonald, after a lengthy recount, fell by an excruciatingly thin margin, an unfortunate end to an otherwise successful career in public service. And in what was perhaps the biggest upset given the margin of victory, Gjonaj defeated Rivera by 11 points, sending another ethically compromised legislator packing.
• Vito Lopez crony Frank Seddio takes job of disgraced Brooklyn Democratic Party boss (New York Daily News)
• Councilman Jumaane Williams in new NYPD dustup (New York Daily News)
• Speaker Silver’s office punishes male staffer who defended boss in blogs under female guise (New York Post)
• Congressman’s S.I. campaign office vandalized (NBC New York)
• Shelly in crosshairs of Vito Lopez probe (New York Daily News)
After emerging relatively unscathed from last year’s Hurricane Irene, New York City would not be so fortunate in 2012 as Superstorm Sandy made its way up the Eastern Seaboard on Oct. 29 and thrashed the tristate area, causing unprecedented damage and inundating many sections of the city with flooding. Large portions of lower Manhattan were left without power, as well as many areas of Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens. Many major subway lines were completely incapacitated due to flooding that in some cases reached up to the tunnel ceilings. More than 100 houses were burned to the ground in a fire that raged through Breezy Point, a coastal enclave in Queens. Senior and public housing residents were stranded in their homes for weeks without power or heat, as already overtaxed rescue and recovery workers worked tirelessly to restore the city. There were other bumps along the road as well, including an aborted attempt to run the New York City Marathon a week after the storm, and a sluggish response by utility companies in returning power to people’s homes.
While Sandy did not have the number of fatalities caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the fiscal repercussions have risen into the billions of dollars, and both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have made trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress for a federal disaster aid package. The leadership of city and state officials through the crisis has earned praise, but there is still much work to be done and larger discussions to be had about the future of the city’s aging flood and storm infrastructure and the role climate change will play in altering the way we view these events—not as random disasters but as a “new normal.”
• Senate candidate and landlord Bob Cohen sued five times by city (New York Daily News)
• GOPers rage as bank forgives LI Rep’s $93G debt (New York Post)
• Bloomberg starts “Super PAC,” seeking national influence (New York Times)
• Islanders bolting island for Brooklyn, Barclays Center (New York Daily News)
When the multibillion-dollar, months-long election cycle finally drew to a dramatic climax on Nov. 6, the Democrats wound up on top both nationally and in New York State—where a combination of President Obama’s coattails, changing demographics and a two-to-one statewide voter registration advantage over the GOP propelled the Democrats to pick up a seat in the House, several state Senate seats (two of the races remain undecided as of mid-December) and seven seats in the Assembly. It was an Election Day with many story lines—and lines to vote, too. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand completed her transformation to political superstar with a record-breaking tromping of lawyer Wendy Long; New York elected its first Asian-American (Grace Meng) and openly gay (Sean Patrick Maloney) members of Congress; the Democrats’ strong performance in the state Senate prompted a party leader to claim they had retaken the upper house; the state Tea Party was silenced; and groups like NYSUT, the League of Conservation Voters and NARAL fueled a surge in independent expenditures.
Overshadowing these subplots was Superstorm Sandy, which displaced tens of thousands of voters and shook up New York City’s already shaky Board of Elections. Despite the determination of so many New Yorkers to cast their ballots and an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo permitting affected residents to vote at any polling place in the state, New York’s already dismal turnout levels tumbled to an all-time low, with about 12 percent fewer votes cast in 2012 than in 2008.
• Bloomberg cancels NYC Marathon after Post reveals resources being used for event (New York Post)
• Sandy causes Election Day issues in NYC (New York Daily News)
• State GOPers get boost—from Dem (New York Post)
• Crooked comptroller Hevesi gets parole (New York Post)
On election night in November state Democrats were unexpectedly euphoric, as it appeared they had exceeded their expectations and regained control of the state Senate. As the votes were tabulated over the following weeks, all that appeared to stand between the Democrats turning Albany into a one-party town was the outcome of the Stephen Saland–Terry Gipson race, which ended up going to Gipson, a Democrat, and the squeaker between George Amedore and Cecilia Tkazcyk, which remains undecided as of mid-December.
But on Nov. 13, newly elected conservative Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder earned the ire of his party by disclosing that he would caucus with the GOP. Then, the Independent Democratic Conference hinted that they might reject a Democratic majority too. On Dec. 4, the Senate Democrats’ worst fear came to pass as the IDC and the GOP announced that they were forming a coalition government, with Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and IDC head Jeffrey Klein sharing the unprecedented role of co–Senate temporary presidents—with the two men agreeing to alternate every two weeks in the position.
On the same day as the unveiling of the power-sharing agreement, Sen. Malcolm Smith revealed that he would be joining the IDC, despite having been on the receiving end—as majority leader—of the last coup that cost Democrats control of the Senate.
No one knows how this all will play out when the Legislature returns in January, but expect many more surprises in 2013. And there’s still plenty of time left in December for more startling revelations!
*Up to Dec. 14, as this issue goes to press
• GOP cuts unprecedented deal with five renegade Democrats to control state Senate (New York Daily News)
• Malcolm Smith joins breakaway Dems (Buffalo News)
• Public Advocate Bill de Blasio married to woman who was out and proud in the 1970s (New York Post)
• Andrew Cuomo lobbies for Sandy aid in D.C. (Democrat and Chronicle)
• Bloomberg asked Clinton to consider succeeding him as mayor (New York Times)
Tags: Adriano Espaillat, Andrew Cuomo, Anthony Weiner, Board of Elections, Bob Turner, Breezy Point, Carl Kruger, casino gambling, Charles Barron, Charles Hynes, Charles Rangel, Chris Collins, Christine Quinn, Chung Seto, Con Edison, corruption, Dan Donovan, David Storobin, Dean Skelos, Eastman Kodak, Ed Koch, Ed Towns, election, Elizabeth Crowley, Erik Dilan, Frank Seddio, Genting, George Maragos, gerrymandering, Grace Meng, Greg Kelly, Guillermo Linares, Hakeem Jeffries, Hiram Monserrate, Hurricane Sandy, Hydrofracking, Independent Democratic Conference, independent redistricting, James Sanders, Jia Hou, John Liu, Jumaane Williams, Kathy Hochul, Kathy Marchione, Kim Catullo, Kirsten Gillibrand, Lew Fidler, living wage, Liz Benjamin, Malcolm Smith, Mark Gjonaj, Mark Grisanti, Maurice Hinchey, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Grimm, minimum wage, Nan Hayworth, naomi-rivera, Nydia Velazquez, Pedro Espada, pension reform, primary, Republican, richard lipsky, Rory Lancman, Roy McDonald, Sean Patrick Maloney, Sheldon Silver, shirley huntley, simcha felder, soda ban, State of the City, State of the State, state senate, Superstorm Sandy, Tappan Zee Bridge, Terry Gipson, timothy dolan, Vito Lopez, Wendy Long