City & State’s best political commentary of 2018

Some pieces respond to the news but are worth reading long after.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg Photo illustration Alex Law

Back in April, before he was a household name, before the sentencing, before he flipped on his boss, before turning himself in, City & State ran a commentary on Michael Cohen, and how he was a dim shadow of Donald Trump’s former fixer, Roy Cohn – and why he might come to regret it. Reading the piece now is like opening a time capsule: a prescient prediction of what was to come, and reminder of how much can happen in just a few months.

With so many strong op-eds by journalists, professors, think tank fellows and other public intellectuals to choose from, any year-end best-of list is sure to be incomplete and a bit arbitrary. But these columns stood out not only when they ran, but for being as fresh and relevant today as the day they were written.

Construction workers sweep at the second avenue subway line
Patrick Cashin/Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Responding to a spate of stories about construction unions feathering their nest with outlandish perks, including one member paid $70/hour to get coffee, the Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas explained why construction costs in New York City are so bloated. It’s not just that the workers are highly paid and enjoy such generous benefits, it’s that they need a constant influx of new workers to pay for retirement pensions and health care coverage. So, when technology creates efficiencies that allow a machine to do what 10 workers once did, the union demands work rules that keep those workers employed. The result? We get the machines and the workers – and out-of-control construction costs.

 

Penn Station
littlenySTOCK/Shutterstock
Urban planning expert Jonathan English delivered a withering rebuke to midtown Manhattan NIMBYs who don’t want new towers near Penn Station. Instead of blocking development that could help alleviate high prices for housing, office space, retail and hotels, English noted that the focus of local activists and elected officials should be making sure New York gets the new Penn Station it deserves.

 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo kicks off the Tax Fairness for New York Campaign to move to sue the federal government over the tax overhaul in February.
Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor
The federal tax overhaul passed in 2017 harmed New York by capping state and local tax deductions, but was it actually unconstitutional? Gov. Andrew Cuomo thinks so, and he filed a lawsuit in July. But Scott Lemieux, a constitutional law scholar, wrote that the arguments New York put forth are weak and that “liberals … should be very wary” of the way they would limit federal power if the Supreme Court agreed with them. It’s unusual to see liberals siding with the Trump administration over a Democratic governor, but Lemieux made a compelling, if counterintuitive, case that they should.

 

The West Wingnuts
By Aaron Short
Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr.
Graphic by Alex Law
Many New Yorkers long believed that their state deserved its turn in the national political spotlight – but this isn’t what they imagined it would be like. As veteran New York political journalist Aaron Short wrote, “Every day, it seems, a different crony of the president’s who hails from his hometown is on the screen, each brasher and more foolish than the next.” Short catalogued the embarrassing behavior by now-prominent New Yorkers such as Michael Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci. Since the piece ran in August, many of those identified in the story, including Rudy Giuliani, Jared Kushner and Melania Trump have made even more headlines for all the wrong reasons.

 

Michael Bloomberg
Photo illustration Alex Law
Discussing whether Mike Bloomberg will run for president – and can win – is a quadrennial tradition. So, rather than reinventing the wheel, we asked a fan and a critic of Bloomberg’s to each debate the merits of whether the former New York City mayor would actually be a good president. Drawing heavily on his tenure in the Bloomberg administration as an adviser to then-Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and then covering it for NY1 and WCBS-TV, Kirtzman argued that Bloomberg has the unflappable temperament, managerial acumen and commitment to tackling tough issues, such as climate change, that the next president needs. Albright-Hanna, a former presidential campaign staffer for Barack Obama and documentary filmmaker, countered that Bloomberg exacerbated inequality and unaffordability, hastening New York City’s loss of character, and would do so for the nation as commander-in-chief.
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