Winners & Losers of 2019

From Amazon turning tail to polling at zero for the presidency, here are the highest highs and lowest lows for New York politicians this year.

Ocasio-Cortez, the social media star, helped catapult the case against Amazon into the national spotlight.

Ocasio-Cortez, the social media star, helped catapult the case against Amazon into the national spotlight. Aaron Schwartz/Shutterstock

When elected officials climb high enough on the political ladder in New York, they tend to arrive at the same conclusion: I could be president! Most of them end up being wrong, but it doesn’t stop them from trying. This cycle alone, New York’s junior senator and New York City’s mayor have jumped in (and out) of the Democratic presidential primary, followed by a belated campaign launch by New York City’s previous mayor. New York’s governor was widely rumored as a potential contender but opted to hang back. Meanwhile, a New York tech entrepreneur has been doing surprisingly well in the polls. And let’s not overlook the current first-term occupant of the White House, who is a longtime New Yorker – even if he’s technically a “Florida Man” these days.

Of course, we’ll have to wait until next year to see how it all shakes out. What we do know is who had a strong enough – or dismal enough – 2019 to land on our annual list of the biggest Winners & Losers of the Year.

WINNERS

[[{"fid":"9793","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Michael Gianaris & Jimmy Van Bramer If Western Queens had a team of Avengers brought together by their shared love of progressive ideals and hatred of powerful corporations, that lineup of mighty heroes would feature Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. In what amounted to one of the biggest New York political stories of the year, this trio spearheaded a movement of progressive politicians and community organizations to oppose Amazon’s plan to build a second headquarters in Long Island City, which the company promised would bring 25,000 new jobs and billions in investment – as well as a taxpayer-funded helipad for Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man.

Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the so-called HQ2, this progressive trio immediately came out against it, calling the deal corporate welfare and warning that the development of a megacampus in Long Island City would exacerbate gentrification. Like any team of superheroes, each had their own unique role to play in taking down their foe. Ocasio-Cortez, the social media star, helped catapult the case against Amazon into the national spotlight. Van Bramer played a bit of a sidekick, helping stir up fury at a New York City Council hearing where an Amazon executive refused a request to stay neutral in the decision of workers to unionize at the planned site. The real silver bullet, however, was Gianaris’ nomination to the state Public Authorities Control Board, an obscure panel that could have blocked the project. Just weeks after state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins nominated Gianaris for the seat, and he gave every signal that he would move to block the deal if given the chance, Bezos ultimately made a hasty retreat from Queens. For better or worse, this mighty trio represents the reason HQ2 will not materialize in Queens, and in taking down the behemoth company and its $100 billion man, they have – so far, at least – lived to tell the tale.

[[{"fid":"9794","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"3"}}]]Melinda Katz – Queens politics continued its run as the hottest show in town this year, and as the final act concluded, it was Queens District Attorney-elect Melinda Katz who was standing in the spotlight and taking a bow. And what an impressive show it was, with Katz acting as a prosecutor, a progressive and a political insurgent. The entire cast was great – who could forget Judge Greg Lasak’s turn as the straight-talking tough cop? – including high-profile cameos by national figures like U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Of course, like so many great performances, Katz was elevated by her co-star. The previously unknown Tiffany Cabán, making her debut on the political stage, absolutely dazzled audiences in the first act. But her lack of experience showed after the primary night intermission, and Katz’s commitment to the craft stood out in the courtroom drama of the second act. Already well-known for previous roles as “Queens borough president” and “New York City councilwoman,” history will remember Katz for this winning performance.

 

[[{"fid":"9795","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"4":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"4"}}]]Carolyn Maloney – Rep. Carolyn Maloney may have been in Congress for more than a quarter century, but she rose to new heights this year. She became part of the tenacious trio of Democrats heading the impeachment inquiry in November when her peers made her chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Sure, she’s not getting the same attention that Rep. Adam Schiff is, but she’s now holding a key position at a historic moment – and is the first woman to lead the key committee. But while she’s touting her new role opposing President Donald Trump, she also found a rare ally in him earlier this year. He signed her bill extending health care benefits for 9/11 survivors, which also managed to get through a, shall we say, divided Congress. In February, she pledged to wear a firefighter’s jacket until the bill passed, even donning it over her gown at the Met Gala. And it must’ve felt good for her to take it off in the stifling heat of July, when she finally succeeded and the bill was signed.

 

[[{"fid":"9796","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"5":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"5"}}]]Andrea Stewart-Cousins – The state Senate majority leader kept her Democratic conference together in what turned out to be an extremely productive legislative session. There were plenty of doubts following the 2018 elections that state Senate Democrats could hold a majority together, considering their disastrous stint in power a decade ago, but Stewart-Cousins showed it could be done. She kept intraconference conflict behind closed doors and pushed back against the governor’s attacks on the conference. The results speak for themselves: a nonstop sequence of legislative victories that are setting the Democrats up to win an even bigger majority in 2020. She couldn’t have gotten this all done without Cuomo and fellow Wonder Twin Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. However, both men have been ensconced in power for years – and it was only when a black woman entered the room that things really got done on rent regulations, climate change, voting rights, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, the state DREAM Act, reproductive rights and a litany of other issues. No wonder Democratic senators sing her praises every chance they get.

[[{"fid":"9797","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"6":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 308px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"6"}}]]Jumaane Williams – You knock him down, but he gets back up again. Jumaane Williams had been on something of a losing streak, falling short to Corey Johnson in the race for New York City Council speaker, and then losing his lieutenant governor challenge against Kathy Hochul. But no backpack can weigh this man down, and this year he finally won the office of New York City public advocate – first in a special election and then again in November, just to make sure voters knew he still had it in him.

Williams has a knack for turning negatives into positives, using the momentum and higher profile from running alongside gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon in 2018 to help propel him to success in the public advocate special election. He’s even perfected turning getting arrested into a kind of art form.

Public advocate may be a pretty powerless role, but Williams need only look at where former New York City Public Advocates Bill de Blasio and Letitia James are now to see what other victories might lie in his future.

LOSERS

[[{"fid":"9798","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"8":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"8"}}]]Bill de Blasio – This was the year New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio became a national laughingstock. The punchline of a joke about an oblivious politician, a wide-eyed gladhander who can’t see the truth. A man on an ego trip in Iowa while his constituents were stuck in darkened skyscrapers. When he joined the presidential race in May – late in the game – where did he fit? Bernie Sanders, but younger? Elizabeth Warren, but taller? Cory Booker, but with a black son? Jay Inslee, but less handsome?

The voters didn’t find much to like. De Blasio never topped 2% in a Democratic primary poll – and those were the good ones. Among New Yorkers, who know him best, he polled at a cool 0%. How did his campaign stay afloat? Money. And how did he get that money? By tiptoeing through an ethical minefield. They didn’t want you, Bill, they wanted something from you. So de Blasio once again spent 2019 in an ethical gray area, getting checks from the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council while insisting that his support for their favored legislation was just a coincidence. He wouldn’t take money from a developer doing business with the city, but donations from their family members were A-OK. It’s the same de Blasio we’ve always known, just gone national.

And back home, it was more of the same. His wife’s mental health program got its budget slashed after being diagnosed with a failure to Thrive. He couldn’t pass his marquee paid vacation bill. He couldn’t convince Amazon to follow through on its plan to build a second headquarters in Queens. Even though the cop who put Eric Garner in a chokehold finally got fired, not a single New Yorker liked the way it went down. And it probably cost the mayor his favorite police commissioner.

De Blasio ended his presidential campaign a weaker man, with his city’s political class – and we keyboard warriors in the press – more emboldened to insult the lame duck. His favorability rating may be 13 percentage points deeper in the dumps, but at least he has fond memories of campaigning in Red Sox country to get him through the next two years.

[[{"fid":"9799","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"9":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"9"}}]]Chris Collins – Has a year truly passed in New York if at least one politician isn’t on their way to the slammer? In 2019, the politician most likely to be headed to prison is former Rep. Chris Collins, who tried his damndest to fight insider trading charges before pleading guilty in October and resigning from office. He had initially pleaded not guilty to the 2018 indictment and maintained his innocence. “Why would I ever enter a plea deal?” Collins asked in July, months before entering a plea deal. He even kept his options open to run for reelection. The real kicker is that those close to him believe he only changed his plea – which came as a shock – to help protect his son, who was also wrapped up in the charges. Perhaps if he simply hadn’t tipped off his son, Collins wouldn’t potentially be facing years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. And now the special election to replace him is threatening to tear apart the western New York GOP.

[[{"fid":"9800","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"10":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"10"}}]]Rudy Giuliani – Despite his newfound mobster ethos, the former New York City mayor broke Jimmy Conway’s cardinal rule this year when he ratted on himself and his client. Rudy Giuliani acknowledged pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son during an appearance on “Cuomo Prime Time” in September – an admission that acted as a catalyst for President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry. Soon after, incriminating reports about Giuliani began to surface, alleging that he ousted the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and set up his own unorthodox foreign policy channel. Now everyone is second-guessing his sanity, and with good reason. He’s been answering prank texts from reporters, floating the idea of recording an impeachment podcast – and he even flew to Ukraine during the impeachment hearings. While things aren’t looking good for Giuliani, Trump may well stay in the Oval Office – and could potentially win another four years. But at least one thing is certain – Giuliani’s once sterling reputation has been “whacked.”

[[{"fid":"9801","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"11":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"11"}}]]Andy King – New York City Councilman Andy King is known for his colorful suits and bow ties, but the Bronx politician has quickly fallen out of fashion. In October, his colleagues voted to punish him with a 30-day suspension and a $15,000 fine – although he appears to be shying away from paying up and the City Council is considering suing to get the money. The unprecedented move by the City Council was in response to a number of ethics violations substantiated by an investigation conducted by the council’s ethics committee, which found that King used council resources to finance his stepdaughter’s dream wedding in the U.S. Virgin Islands, allowed for his wife Neva Shillingford-King to have a substantial hand in the hiring process at his district office, and retaliated against staffers who had accused him of harassment. Despite being openly urged to resign – and a legislative push to expel him that fell short – King instead kept up a public political presence in his district during his suspension and is now back in City Hall, despite making enemies with other council members.

[[{"fid":"9802","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"12":{"format":"default"}},"attributes":{"style":"height: 300px; width: 300px; float: left;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"12"}}]]Roger Stone – The longtime GOP operative violated a cardinal rule of the political dark arts when he got convicted by a federal court in November. The lengthy prison sentence he now faces for obstructing congressional investigators is bad enough, but the sequence of events that led to that legal reckoning is what makes Stone a true loser. First came the made-for-TV raid on his home and perp walk. Then came the court-issued gag order that prevented Stone from speaking publicly about the case. President Donald Trump could still pardon his longtime buddy, but he better move fast if he truly wants to help Stone when it matters. Washington, D.C., is in the midst of an impeachment battle. Political operators of all persuasions are getting ready to pull all the strings they can to manipulate the proceedings. Where is Roger Stone? It goes without saying that he’d prefer to be playing some dirty tricks. Becoming irrelevant is what he has truly feared all along, and that is what he has become.

WINNERS:
LOSERS:
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