The wrath of Hurricane Sandy spread to Washington this week, as the state’s congressional delegation hoped they’d walk away with a cool $60 billion but instead they got a New Year’s kiss of death. Congress kept the country from tumbling over the fiscal cliff, but the clock struck midnight before the region could collect its promised disaster relief. Lawmakers of both parties said Speaker John Boehner betrayed them, but House leaders pledged there would be a vote on Sandy aid this month, now that a new Congress has been sworn in. Before we turn our attention to Albany’s new Legislature, here’s our winners and losers.
Michael Backus – Not only did Backus easily gain the recently vacated Oswego County clerk seat – defeating Phillip Vasho, 65, by about 7,500 votes – he still has time on his side. After being sworn in on New Year’s Day, Backus, 29, became the youngest county clerk in New York State and is a rare fresh face in the position, which had been held by his predecessor for over three decades. Clocking in at just under three decades old, Backus, a staffer for Assemblyman Brian Kolb and the chair of the Oswego GOP Committee, had just two months to campaign and build enough supporters to back him in the race he eventually won decisively.
Preet Bharara – The Manhattan U.S. attorney announced that his office collected $3 billion in criminal forfeitures in 2012, setting a new record. The bulk of the money came from two settlements totaling $2.2 million dollars related to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and another $500 million from a contractor involved in the CityTime scandal. Most funds will be given to victims, while the rest will be put back into the government. Bharara is striking fear into the hearts of white collar criminals, and if they’re not careful he could break the record again next year. Who said crime doesn’t pay?
Hillary Clinton – It was the clot heard ’round the world. The Secretary of State spent New Year’s Eve in New York-Presbyterian Hospital after her doctors found a dangerous blood clot between her skull and her brain during a routine MRI following her well-publicized concussion. The country held its collective breath. Fortunately, perhaps the most admired woman in America received her treatment, is making a speedy recovery and could return to work next week. Let the presidential speculation continue!
Peter King and Michael Grimm – The two Republican congressmen were walking soundbites this week, as both treated House Speaker John Boehner like their personal punching bag for stalling a $60 billion Hurricane Sandy federal aid bill that would have greatly helped their districts, which were hit hard by the storm. King went so far as to advise New York and New Jersey residents not to donate “one penny” to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, while Grimm said that he felt “betrayed” that House Republicans declined to vote on the Sandy bill because of lingering discontent over the fiscal cliff deal. Speaking of the fiscal cliff, Grimm and King also showed courage by bucking their party in voting for a bill that was widely deemed as a “loss” for Republicans, but that prevented significant tax hikes for most of their constituents. These guys got elected to fight for New Yorkers, and they showed a lot of spunk this week.
Rudolph Giuliani – Hizzoner is back in the spotlight thanks to the bullet train-fast rise of former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. Giuliani, who hired Lhota as deputy mayor in his administration, said he would play an active role in his protégé’s campaign for the Republican nomination. And yes, another Republican mayor could be a tough sell to New York’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, but Lhota could probably use the advice of a bare-knuckled political tactician who isn’t afraid to go to war with whomever emerges from a bruising Democratic primary. Who knows? A future Mayor Lhota may even return the favor.
John Boehner – It’s awfully hard to piss off nearly every single New Yorker in one fell swoop, but the House Speaker managed just that this week. The response from Democrats to Boehner’s failure to bring a Sandy relief package to the floor for a vote was to be expected, but the beating he took from the members of his own conference was shockingly severe. When you add those hit to the defeats he took in the fiscal cliff negotiations—failing to get the votes for his own measure and uncoupling deficit reductions from the tax cut battle—the fact that Boehner was re-elected yesterday to spend two more years as Speaker herding his unruly colleagues seems almost as much like a punishment as a reward.
Pat Deyle – The treasurer of the Herkimer County Snowmobile Association must have felt a cold chill when the state comptroller found out that he was falsifying documents and shifting thousands of state dollars from one snowmobile club to another one that he runs. Deyle, who admitted to cooking the numbers to maximize funding for the county’s snowmobile trails, hasn’t been charged with a crime, though the case was sent to the local DA.
Nirav Shah – A document leaked from the state health department this week concludes that hydrofracking can be done safely in New York, and while the eight-page summary is reportedly a year old, it still spurred criticism about the Cuomo administration’s lack of transparency and raised fears that Shah’s health department is relying on old research and not fully exploring the risks of natural gas drilling. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation said the document is out of date and will be updated, and Shah’s department is currently doing a more in-depth health study, but the report is sure to come up again if hydrofracking gets the green light.
John Tkazyik – When he was elected mayor of Poughkeepsie in 2008, John Tkazyik came into office armed with a formidable brigade of veteran lawmakers as partners to push the city’s interests: U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, state Sen. Steve Saland and Assemblyman Joel Miller. But this week Poughkeepsie suffered a massive power outage, with all three of these longtime elected officials’ leaving government and taking with them the clout of their seniority—a collective total of 60 years of service in their respective bodies. At a time when Poughkeepsie, like so many municipalities across the state, is struggling for mandate relief, it’s a big blow for Tkazyik and his fellow regional leaders to lose their strongest advocates for assistance.
Dennis Walcott – Two words: teacher evaluations. Walcott and the teachers union have been sparring over reaching a deal on evaluations for weeks now and there seems to be no end in sight. The inaction on a deal got Gov. Cuomo involved this week, as he blamed both sides for failing to reach an agreement and reiterated that the city would lose out on $250 million in state funding if they miss the hard deadline, which he definitively said he would not extend. That’s not the only fight that Walcott has on his hands, as he now faces the possibility of a citywide school bus driver strike, which would affect 150,000 students. We’re sure that all parties involved in these battles have legitimate gripes, but considering what’s at stake, it’s time to stop bickering and make a deal.