2014 Winners and Losers
2014 Winners and Losers
The holidays are a time to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the next. So at City & State, we made a special list of who had the best and worst 2014. Of course, many politicians had lots of ups and downs, so we took into consideration the entire body of work as we formulated our 2014 Winners and Losers.
Preet Bharara - Manhattan’s U.S. attorney got smacked in the face last month, when a federal appeals court overturned his insider-trading convictions of hedge fund managers Anthony Chiasson and Todd Newman. But Bharara is still on a roll, aggressively chasing Wall Streeters and landing close to 90 criminal convictions for white-collar crime. In addition, he has taken on Bill de Blasio, joining a class action lawsuit against the city for alleged excessive force on the part of the New York’s correction officers. This on top of his relentless probing into Albany corruption, which has continued to land him accolades throughout 2014.
Andrew Cuomo – Sure, Cuomo saw his approval ratings decline, his meddling in the Moreland Commission opened him up to attacks from opponents like Rob Astorino and Zephyr Teachout and he failed to get the landslide reelection victory he undoubtedly wanted. But the governor easily raked in millions of dollars in campaign contributions, won a second term with a comfortable double-digit margin, and now has four more years to continue shaping New York to his liking. It wasn't a knockout, but Cuomo was clearly a winner in 2014.
Benjamin Lawsky - Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky may be stepping down to join the private sector early next year, but not before having helped federal regulators bag billions of dollars for the state—the result of settlements with major banks that flouted U.S. regulations on his watch. (While only a state official, Lawsky can revoke banking licenses here in New York—a bargaining chip to be reckoned with in the epicenter of the global economy.) The combined $5 billion-plus windfall is a boon for the governor and state lawmakers alike, who are now saddled with the enviable task of deciding how best to spend all that extra dough.
Bob Linn - When Bill de Blasio was sworn in as mayor of New York City he took control of a government with more than 300,000 employees—and all of them had expired contracts. The task of negotiating those deals, without breaking the bank, fell to Bob Linn. One year later he has reached agreements with unions representing more than 70 percent of the city's workers. The glaring absence has been the police and fire unions, which will be tough to lock down in the current climate, although he did strike a deal recently with a number of unions representing some police, fire, sanitation and corrections employees.
Eva Moskowitz – The fight between charter schools and traditional public schools has long been on the backburner of education debates, and when Bill de Blasio—a critic of charters—was elected mayor of New York City, many charter school advocates had concerns about the future. Then Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged as a huge supporter of charters, changing their fortunes. The face of the movement has been Eva Moskowitz, who has seen her Success Academies schools reap huge benefits thanks to her ally in Albany. Four more years of Cuomo can only be good news for her.
Kim and Terry Pegula - When Ralph Wilson, the founder of the Buffalo Bills, died in March, there was a decent chance that someone—ahem, Jon Bon Jovi—would buy the team and move it out of the city. And even if you think that was a longshot, the fear was palpable in Western New York. Buffalo is finally rebounding from decades of industrial decline, but its people still need the Bills as a crucial part of their identity. For months, they waited anxiously to find out if they still had a football team. And then Kim and Terry Pegula, who already owned the Buffalo Sabres and were building an ice rink and hotel resort next to the Sabres’ arena, got the winning bid, promised to keep the Bills in Buffalo, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Mark Poloncarz - When Winter Storm Knife cut through the small towns in southern Erie County, the county executive was faced with one of the most daunting challenges of his life, and it was high stakes. If he blew it, he would have undoubtedly been on our losers list. But with only hours to figure out how to deal with the seven feet of snow, the hundreds of stranded cars and the countless senior citizens who might need urgent medical care, Polonacarz immediately took action. Multiple Erie County lawmakers and leaders praised Poloncarz for mobilizing county workers, hiring private snowplowers, standing up to the NFL and telling anxious Erie County residents exactly what was happening.
Al Sharpton - Just when it might have seemed that America was evolving into a “post-racial” society, a series of ugly incidents reignited racial tensions. Eric Garner's death at the hands of the NYPD and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., created a level of outrage not seen in years. And among those leading the protests was the Rev. Al Sharpton. If anyone doubted his influence before 2014, they cannot now. He has a direct line to President Obama. He is a trusted advisor to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. And while he still has many, many detractors who argue he does more to harm than heal relations, no one can argue that his relevance has grown vastly.
Dean Skelos – Facing a formidable array of foes—Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, some of the state’s most powerful unions and even his former governing partner, state Sen. Jeff Klein—Skelos stood his ground. And on Election Day, the Senate Republican leader not only turned back the Democratic bid to seize power in the upper house, but he won nearly every competitive seat and ultimately secured an outright majority. The lesson in Albany? Don't mess with Mean Dean.
Zephyr Teachout – The Fordham Law professor seemingly appeared out of nowhere earlier this year as a threat to steal the Working Families Party line from Cuomo. She fell short after Cuomo pulled out all his tools to outflank the political novice, but she didn't go away, going on to challenge Cuomo in the Democratic primary. No one was surprised when she didn’t win, but Teachout forced Cuomo to appease liberal voters who might have largely been ignored without a primary challenger. Additionally, she has remained a relevant political figure even after the election. Teachout’s name (and it’s a memorable one) just might be heard again and again in the future.
Rob Astorino – When Astorino emerged as the Republican gubernatorial challenger earlier this year, many people doubted that he would be able to build the momentum needed to beat Cuomo in the fall … and they were right. All year, Cuomo faced corruption accusations and low likeability in polls and yet still coasted into a comfortable victory because Astorino wasn't able to raise the money necessary to get his message out—and, in part, because voters simply rejected his message. Either way, this is probably a year he would like to forget.
Bill Bratton - New York City’s police commissioner, who was ostensibly brought in to reform the NYPD on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s behalf, is now trapped in the middle of a roiling, race-fueled debate-turned-pissing match, pitting police unions, right-wing pundits and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani on the one hand against thousands of demonstrators and nearly the entire City Council on the other. One thing both sides of the debate seem to agree on is their dislike for Bratton. Having held the job of NYPD commissioner before, Bratton probably thought he had a handle on what he was getting himself into, but this has to be more than he bargained for, and probably not a chapter he wanted at the end of his long career.
William Boyland Jr. - After years of legal troubles, an acquittal, a trial on new charges, the former Democratic assemblyman from Brownsville, Brooklyn, was convicted in March of all 21 counts against him, including bribery, extortion and mail fraud. The scion of a prominent Brownsville political family, Boyland was not only called out by the judge for disregarding the terms of his bail and texting a witness during the trial, but also for his arrogant and disrespectful behavior throughout. He now faces up to a dozen years in prison, but that hasn't stopped him from skipping sentencing hearings, which probably didn't help his case when he finally heads to the state penitentiary.
Dennis Gabryszak – If we had a “New York State’s creepiest legislator” list, the former assemblyman would win the No. 1 spot without question. If you don’t believe us, just check out this video. Gabryszak was yet another member of the state Legislature who was accused of sexual harassment by staffers. To the relief of many in Albany, he resigned shortly after the allegations and lawsuits emerged. Now, all we can try to get that video out of our minds.
Michael Grimm - It may be a surprise to find a congressman who got re-elected with no help from his party and relatively little campaign cash winding up on the losers list. When you throw in the fact that he threatened to throw a reporter over a balcony in the U.S. Capitol and pleaded guilty to federal felony tax fraud, yet he still has his seat in Congress, you might think he's the luckiest lawmaker in the country. But while Grimm may feel like he is sitting pretty right now, his actions in 2014 have been an indelible stain on his reputation. Even members of his own party want nothing to do with him.
Steve Israel - Admittedly, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was always going to have a bad year. He could see the political winds were against the party. But he probably didn't envision the disaster that played out on Election Day. Democrats lost fourteen seats in the House, and if that weren’t enough, Israel spent the year going through a divorce that made its way onto the tabloids. It's just not a good year for the Long Islander.
Tom Libous – State Sen. Tom Libous, the GOP’s deputy leader, has long been a power broker in Albany, and in recent years has enjoyed a strong working relationship with the governor. But his luck turned this year, which was marked by a federal indictment for lying to investigators and two recent decisions that he fears will be major disadvantages for the economy in his Southern Tier district—the ban on hydrofracking and the failure to secure a casino bid.
George Maziarz – By George! The No. 3 Republican in the state Senate may be the biggest target to come out of the Moreland Commission, thanks to suspicious campaign spending and reporting turned up by investigators. Maziarz, who abruptly decided not to run for another term, insisted he did no wrong—but the feds aren’t so sure.
Sheldon Silver – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Democratic conference will be larger next year thanks to gains at the polls, and there appears to be no threat to his leadership. But sexual harassment scandals in his conference—involving Micah Kellner, Vito Lopez and Dennis Gabryszak—continued to embarrass Shelly, not to mention ex-Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa’s marriage fraud and the embezzlement conviction of ally William Rapfogel, the husband of top Silver aide Judy Rapfogel. Then again, maybe there’s actually another Sheldon Silver to blame.
Ruben Wills - A lot of politicians throughout the state found themselves on the wrong side of the law in 2014, and deciding who to put on this list was tough. In the end the Queens Democrat made the cut because his alleged crimes are the sort that politicians generally don't recover from. Wills is accused of using taxpayer money to go on shopping sprees to buy, among other things, a Louis Vuitton bag. Wills still has his seat on the City Council, but you may not know that because he has only been present a quarter of the time since he was arrested, making his constituents losers as well.