Winners & Losers

Winners & Losers of 2023: Who flopped

A jurist who fell short, a certain lying former Congress member and a stressed-out mayor – all had a bit of a rough year.

Former Rep. George Santos was expelled from Congress, landing him on our Losers list.

Former Rep. George Santos was expelled from Congress, landing him on our Losers list. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Crime is down, school enrollment is up, jobs are rebounding, people are coming back to the subways. But in many ways, this hasn’t been an easy year for New Yorkers. The city and state have struggled to humanely house and provide resources for tens of thousands of people who arrived seeking asylum – and that has elected leaders deflecting blame and scapegoating one another. The Israel-Hamas war has been extremely painful for New Yorkers to watch and has highlighted divisions that were previously ignored. And our leaders disappointed us – as poll numbers show. But some politicos, whether through bad circumstances, bad decisions or bad luck, had a particularly rough 2023.

Presenting City & State’s 2023 Losers of the Year. (See the Winners of the Year here.)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams / Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Eric Adams

The stressed out mayor

No signature song, whimsical new photo pose or celebratory flag-raising can gloss over the reality that it’s been a bad year for New York City Mayor Eric Adams. The swaggering mayor’s sophomore year has been marked by a series of crises for both the city and Adams himself that are not only ongoing, but in at least one case threatens to upend his political future.

Adams opened and closed 2023 struggling to manage the influx of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to the city, and pleading for help from Washington, D.C., and Albany that has only arrived in dribs and drabs. Over 66,000 asylum-seekers are currently in city shelters – more than double the population in January. The administration has attempted to manage the continuing influx by engaging in a legal battle to roll back the city’s right to shelter and setting limits on shelter stays. That strategy has resulted in a majority of migrants who have reached their stay limit so far leaving the shelter system, the administration said, but it’s left others in a maddening (and increasingly cold) shuffle.

In part due to the cost of managing the migrant crisis, the administration has pursued multiple rounds of budget cuts, contributing to fraying relations with the City Council. And as much as Adams has pushed the narrative of leading a comeback from the COVID-19 pandemic, it likely won’t be the recovery of private sector jobs that sticks in people’s minds, but cuts to public services that low- and middle-income New Yorkers rely on and the elimination of vacant public sector positions amid a municipal workforce shortage. According to the administration, further budget cuts await in 2024.

On the whole, positive developments under the Adams administration – settling major public sector union contracts, a decline in murders and shootings – have been overshadowed by these crises. A federal takeover of city jails looks increasingly likely amid continuing violence at Rikers Island.

If much of Adams’ year has been taken up by the challenges of governing, it’s closing out with a political crisis. Federal prosecutors have launched a public corruption investigation into Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign, probing whether the campaign colluded with the Turkish government to accept illegal donations from Turkish citizens. Several campaign donors were also indicted earlier this year for a straw donor scheme, though Adams and the campaign weren’t implicated. This new investigation has come much closer to the mayor himself, though he hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing so far. Days after several people with connections to Adams and City Hall – including campaign fundraiser Brianna Suggs – had their homes raided by federal authorities in connection to the investigation, Adams was stopped by FBI agents and had his own devices seized.

The corruption investigation has sent strategizing on a primary challenge to Adams in 2025 into hyperspeed. Should a recent allegation of a 1993 sexual assault move forward into a lawsuit against Adams, it will likely only further encourage challengers.

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, Adams’ job approval rating sank to 28%. Nearly one-third of respondents thought he did something unethical in relation to the federal investigation, and 22% thought he did something illegal. Though only New York City Council Member Diana Ayala has declared interest in challenging Adams in 2025, at least half a dozen others – and not just progressives – are rumored to be considering it too. Whether Adams admits it or not, the hard part of being mayor officially got underway in 2023.

Annie McDonough

Former Rep. George Santos / Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

George Santos 

The ex-con…gressman

At an 8 a.m. press conference on Nov. 30, the morning before the second vote to expel him from the House, Republican Rep. George Santos of Long Island was asked about his future plans. “Oh look I don’t know. The future is endless,” he said. “I mean you just never know. You can do whatever you want next and I’m just going to do whatever I want.” That pretty much sums up the dissembling member of Congress’ philosophy on life. Live in abundance, and you can shape your future as easily as Play-Doh. It’s kind of beautiful!

This year, Santos became only the sixth person ever to be expelled from Congress after his colleagues on both sides of the aisle voted overwhelmingly to kick him out. The expulsion followed months of investigations from the press and government entities into his past – investigations he called “bullying.” After journalists began to expose his fraud and fake resume, the first-term member withstood numerous calls for his resignation and even survived an initial expulsion vote. But as Santos left the U.S. Capitol after the expulsion, he said: “Why would I want to stay here? To hell with this place.”

We now know that Santos pays attention to our lists, because he claimed he was asked to be on our Long Island Power 100 list and he declined to be included. This isn’t entirely true. We did initially notify him that he would make the list. But our advisory board later objected on the grounds that his inclusion would tarnish the honor for the other people on the list and that due to his reputation, he didn’t actually have enough power to qualify. So we took him off – sans input from Santos. But Santos might be pleased to know that although we didn’t include him on that list, we did dedicate a separate list to him alone. It ranked some of his lies from least to most egregious. Some classics include the time Santos reportedly duped a veteran trying to save a dying dog and the time he claimed his mom was present when the twin towers were attacked on 9/11. The House Ethics Committee also made a Santos list in the form of a damning report on his campaign finance practices, including allegedly spending campaign money on luxury clothes and Botox – and not paying his staff. The Republican-led committee found “substantial evidence” that Santos “violated federal criminal laws.” The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District also made a list of 23 counts in a federal indictment in October. Those counts included identity theft in which he allegedly stole a donor’s credit card number to send himself money, money laundering and lying to the Federal Election Commission. Santos pleaded not guilty to all counts and has not been convicted of a crime.

Despite it all, Santos managed to become something of a pop culture icon. As he makes his exit from Congress, Americans across the political spectrum are paying him to record Cameo videos for their friends and earnestly awaiting a possible second chapter on reality TV.

Holly Pretsky

Former Department of Buildings Commissioner Eric Ulrich / New York City Council

Eric Ulrich

The freshly indicted fresh face

From the start, New York City Mayor Eric Adams populated his administration with a handful of controversial figures – pastors with histories of anti-gay views, a deputy mayor named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a corruption investigation and his own brother. The appointment of Republican Eric Ulrich – a former City Council member who flew relatively under the radar, was well-liked by colleagues and elected at just 24 years old – as a senior adviser didn’t garner as much attention, by comparison.

Yet Ulrich, who was later appointed commissioner of the Department of Buildings, became the first member of the Adams administration to definitively resign in disgrace. The resignation came in late 2022, amid reports that he was being questioned in an illegal gambling investigation from the Manhattan district attorney’s office. In the following months, that investigation resulted in bombshell indictments charging Ulrich with multiple felonies, including counts of conspiracy and taking bribes. Prosecutors laid out a pay-to-play scheme spanning years, dating back to his time in the council, alleging that Ulrich received all manner of benefits – cash, Mets season tickets, a discounted apartment and a bespoke suit among them – in exchange for promises to fast-track inspections, connect his benefactors to high-ranking city officials and place their family members in city jobs. Ulrich pleaded not guilty to the charges weeks later, but the book was already closed on his history with the administration, and with these indictments, probably any hopes of obtaining a position in the future that will allow him to wield that kind of influence again.

Ulrich is far from the only member of the administration who came under scrutiny this year. Former Department of Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins announced his resignation in February, while facing a quickly rising homeless population and an inquiry from the city Department of Investigation. Current members of the administration – senior adviser in the Economic Development Corp., Tim Pearson, and Director of Asian Affairs Winnie Greco – are also facing inquiries from the Department of Investigation.

Ulrich, meanwhile, has found other work to occupy his time. He self-published a children’s book in September titled “If Pets Could Vote …” – an intriguing (yet still currently illegal) premise.

– Annie McDonough

Gov. Kathy Hochul, left, with her nominee Judge Hector LaSalle, right. / Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office

Hector LaSalle

The almost chief judge

It was almost a very good year for Hector LaSalle – unfortunately, it turned out to be quite the opposite. Right at the end of 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated LaSalle to be chief judge of New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Historically, a nomination to the Court of Appeals is as good as a guarantee that you’ll get the position. Although the state Senate needs to approve the nomination, governors have had no real issues getting their appointees onto the court before, even if some lawmakers and activists have attempted to drum up opposition.

The state Senate had never outright rejected a gubernatorial Court of Appeals nominee before, but opposition to LaSalle came swift and strong, signaling that he may face unprecedented hurdles. And unfortunately for LaSalle, there is a first time for everything. Opposition to his nomination had grown in the days and weeks after Hochul selected him. Soon, organized labor began to demand that Hochul rescind his nomination over a few decisions he was a part of, and more Democrats began saying they would reject him.

And reject LaSalle they did – twice. First, members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted against advancing him to the floor for a full vote. And at first, Senate leadership said they wouldn’t give him that vote as he failed to move out of committee. Hochul insisted that LaSalle legally needed to receive a vote, and Republicans in the state Senate sued in order to make that happen. Eventually, Democrats did agree to hold the vote, when they decisively rejected him for a second time. Although it was a foregone conclusion, LaSalle still made the trip up to Albany to watch from the gallery as his judicial aspirations went up in smoke.

LaSalle still serves as an appellate court judge, a powerful position, but he could have made history as the first Latino to serve as chief judge. And he had significant support among many Latino politicians, officials and advocates – something that Hochul relied on when pitching her nominee – and from some political bigwigs like House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Instead, LaSalle made history as the first gubernatorial nominee to the Court of Appeals who was rejected by the state Senate, a major defeat right at the start of Hochul’s full first term after getting elected. Obviously, this is not the way he would have liked to be remembered.

Rebecca C. Lewis

Assembly Member Juan Ardila / Friends of Juan

Juan Ardila

The one who didn’t resign

In 2022, Assembly Member Juan Ardila told City & State that “when the left organizes, we win.” At the time, Ardila was a rising star in progressive politics and was fresh from edging out other more moderate candidates in the Democratic primary for Assembly District 37. Along the way, he racked up endorsements from left-wing heavy hitters like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and had the backing of the Working Families Party.

This year was a different story. In September, Ardila was accused by two women of sexual assault at a 2015 Halloween party. First reported by the Queens Chronicle, it was alleged Ardila began to forcibly touch an inebriated Fordham University student and exposed himself to another. Ardila attended Fordham University himself but had already graduated at the time of the party. Facebook messages obtained by the Daily News showed Ardila apologized to one of the women. Ardila initially publicly apologized after the initial reports were published, but then he reversed course and denied the allegations – even commissioning an investigation. Ardila has not been charged with a crime.

The reaction from lawmakers was swift and negative. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Grace Meng, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, Ardila’s former employer New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and other lawmakers called for his resignation.

In addition to the public shaming that followed the allegations, Ardila lost electoral support. Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC exited along with the member of Congress’ vote of confidence, as did the Working Families Party. Even worse for the Assembly member, the coalition that once supported him is rallying around his primary challenger.

Tenant and labor organizer Claire Valdez is backed by the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America, and in the meantime, Ardila is taking fundraising bruises and being stripped of responsibilities in the wake of the allegations.

As of now, Ardila is running for reelection. But he should be worried, the left is organizing.

– Austin C. Jefferson