Jesus, what a year.
Assuming everybody survives, you can tell your grandkids you were there when all the laws of probability got repealed. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series, Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize, Anthony Weiner made an unexpected and unsought return to politics, a slew of celebrities died off and—of course—Donald Trump got elected president of the United States.
As usual, New York saw the best and the worst of it all. Here we give our attention to the latter. This was a year that produced a ream of obvious losers, and by that we don’t just mean the children of the ’80s who saw scores of their childhood icons suddenly depart this Earth (and another one weirdly win the White House).
Enjoy, and stay tuned in the New Year for our list of winners.
1. The Clinton campaign team
There’s just no getting around this one.
Yes, Hillary Clinton faced prejudice and sexism, and inherited a badly atrophied Democratic Party apparatus from President Barack Obama. Yes, it’s virtually certain the Russian government and Wikileaks conspired to damage her chances. And yes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 11th-hour revelation about its discovery of emails “pertinent” to its investigation of her private server on Weiner’s laptop deflated her poll numbers on the verge of the vote.
But that the race was at all close to begin with, even in this era of extreme polarization, is shocking.
“Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” she famously asked in September.
Hopefully, she was screaming that question at her top campaign staffers every second of every day.
Their opponent was a collapsing human science fair volcano, whose entire strategy consisted of randomly sputtering up the words “great,” “deals,” “wall” and “winning,” along with whatever offensive falsehood happened to come bubbling into his head at the moment. Tabloids had feasted on tales of his of moral and financial bankruptcy for decades, bestowing on him the lowest favorability rating of any major party nominee in history.
In the history of bungled campaigns, Trump’s fell somewhere between Alf Landon in 1936 and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. His first campaign manager was a goon who menaced and even assaulted reporters. His second campaign manager had been on the payroll of a hostile kleptocratic foreign regime.
The Republican primary was a surreal house fire. The GOP convention was a sad circus full of dying elephants and incontinent clowns. Trump’s first debate performance resembled a Tourettic warthog in the grip of an amphetamine fit. And just one month out from the election, a videotape surfaced of the candidate relating his deep personal fondness for grabbing women “by the pussy.”
All of it—all of it—was broadcast on national TV. How could this happen?
Clinton’s team has noted, correctly, that she triumphed in the popular vote. This is a bit like a K.O.-ed boxer arguing after a fight that he would have won on points. Sure, but that’s not really how it works. Do they really want to convince people that their genius strategy all along was to wring every possible Democratic ballot out of New York and California?
To venture a theory about how we wound up here: after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, a consensus developed among Democratic politicos that Obama had perfected an unbeatable formula for winning the presidency. Since he couldn’t run a third time, the 2016 nominee needed to be Obama 2.0. Clinton’s handlers decided to shoehorn her into this role.
But this was an unnatural fit, and only stiffened existing distrust of the former first lady, who had long borne the reputation of an insincere opportunist. And the attempts to replicate Obama’s effortless appeal were ham-fisted at best: for instance, they decided early on to plant their campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, the epicenter of millenial cool. But they stationed themselves in Brooklyn Heights, which was last hip with the youth when Normal Mailer moved there in 1962 (and for an idea of what “cool” meant in those days, five years earlier Mailer had published an essay titled “The White Negro”).
What, besides being Obama’s heir apparent, was the animating argument for her candidacy? Smashing the glass ceiling? No doubt that is a vital cause, and long overdue, but is it enough to stake a presidential campaign on?
Remember, Obama’s 2008 bid was never explicitly about electing the first black president—he avoided mentioning race at all except under duress—it was about “Hope” and “Change.” Yes, those slogans were broad and even vacuous—like “Make America Great Again”—but they resonated with millions of Americans eager to escape the struggles and scandals of the Bush years.
Clinton’s campaign eventually arrived at the tagline “Stronger Together,” an obvious response to the ugly divisiveness of Trump’s run. Once again, she had allowed other people to define her.
This lack of a compelling inner purpose showed even as she coasted through the last months of the contest, when her opponent appeared to be in the middle of a prolonged and painful public suicide.
The Democratic Party had adopted the most left-wing platform in recent memory, but Clinton barely ran on it. Instead, she all but vanished from the spotlight to milk donations in private from the ultra-rich. For a running mate, her team picked the political equivalent of a packet of mayonnaise: flavorless and inoffensive, but not something anybody ever asked for. And they paid scant attention to the people she had shown the greatest strength with in 2008: blue collar whites. Going by appearances, her sole guiding imperative was to play a pale caricature of Obama whenever in front of a camera, endlessly invoking the historical nature of her candidacy and talking about the “coalition of the ascendant” as if they were the only people in the country who counted.
Entering November, an unmistakable air of hubris emanated from the campaign’s various orifices. They had successfully replicated the magic Obama formula. Demographics and data were all that mattered. The Republican Party was finished.
And now, because of their arrogance, history’s most ill-prepared candidate is about to become its most ill-prepared president.
2. Rudolph Giuliani
Another election cycle gone by, and once again “America’s mayor” got rolled. Pundits have generally interpreted Trump’s rejection of Giuliani‘s bid to become Secretary of State as the cruel spurning of a constant friend and supporter.
In the moment he would have proved most useful—the run-up to New York’s April primary—Giuliani refused to get behind the man he famously kissed on camera 16 years before. Instead, he insisted to the Observer that he would endorse Trump only if Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out.
“If the primary is between him and [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz, I’ll support him,” Giuliani said at the time. “I certainly think he’s a better candidate than Cruz. But Kasich is still in the race, and I have a lot of respect for Kasich.”
Kasich, of course, at that time represented the last flickering hope of the GOP leadership and donor class. It still seemed possible—especially after Trump’s thumping loss in Wisconsin and inept efforts to tie up delegates in Colorado and Wyoming—that party elites might deny him the nomination.
Political opportunism is as much a lack of imagination as a lack of conviction: an unquestioning assumption that whoever holds power for the moment will hold power forever. Think of Giuliani’s endorsement of Mario Cuomo over George Pataki in 1994.
And so it was only after Trump’s shattering success in the Empire State more or less eliminated his rivals that Giuliani joined the clutch of desiccated has-beens clinging to the rampaging candidate’s hide (see also: Newt Gingrich). Scenting a last chance at relevance, the ex-mayor made innumerable bug-eyed cameos on cable news shilling for the candidate and gave a wheezing speech at the Republican convention in July.
To his credit (or, at least, to something), Giuliani hung on like a barnacle even when the nominee seemed to founder in the morass of scandal that engulfed him the last few desperate weeks of the campaign. The surrogate may have well wrecked his career on the public speaking circuit by uttering an unsolicited pro-Trump crack about “Mexicans in the kitchen” at a Manhattan awards dinner.
For all this, he apparently expected to get richly rewarded with the Cabinet post of his choice—leading the State Department, qualifications be damned. But then word began to trickle out about other rewards Rudy had received: rewards for his consulting work on behalf of suspect foreign clients. Cheap financial opportunism, after all, is the Siamese twin of cheap political opportunism.
What irony, that the man who once seemed determined to turn 9/11 into a punchline had taken cash from oil-glutted, jihad-sponsoring Qatar and from a banished Iranian political party the U.S. government has declared a terrorist outfit.
For that, Giuliani got thrown out in the cold without a coat.
3. Bill de Blasio
In the 2015 edition of this feature, the Observer wrote: “the only reason the mayor isn’t number one on this list is that he didn’t get charged with a crime.” At the time, the only individuals ahead of him were fallen Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and disgraced State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, both stripped of their positions and convicted on corruption charges thanks to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
A year later, de Blasio hasn’t been officially accused of any wrongdoing, but the buzzards have started wheeling overhead. Just like in the Silver and Skelos cases, the evidence against the mayor and/or a few of his aides has begun seeping into the press, doubtless courtesy of the prosecutor’s office.
A federal grand jury is contemplating federal claims that the administration granted “pay-to-play” public favors to individuals and organizations that sank cash into de Blasio’s now-defunct political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York—which advocates described as a “shadow government.” Meanwhile, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has another panel hearing arguments that the mayor and his closest political assistants deliberately circumvented campaign finance laws in their failed 2014 effort to flip the State Senate to the Democrats, by directing donors (many of whom also had business before the city) to funnel money into upstate party committees instead of into candidates’ individual campaign accounts—thus bypassing state contribution caps.
Compounding these problems is the ongoing, record-obliterating homelessness epidemic, and the rash of child killings that culminated earlier this month in the resignation of Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner Gladys Carrion. On the eve of the third anniversary of his inauguration, the mayor continues to blame these tragedies wholly on his predecessor and on “the tangle of bureaucracy.”
This is to say nothing of the embarrassments de Blasio suffered over the probes into bribes two of his donors allegedly gave top officers in his police department, and into his relationship with the anti-equestrian carriage group New Yorkers for Clean Safe and Livable Streets. Nor the collective horse laugh the political class had at his expense when the wheels came off his last feeble attempt to put that industry out to pasture in January.
Or his struggles in realizing his central mission of constructing affordable housing units, after otherwise friendly Council members blocked developments in their districts because of opposition from constituents. When the Observer spoke to Council insiders, they largely described the same recurring situation: the mayor’s office attempted virtually no local outreach, but simply expected the community and its representatives to automatically conform to its vision and its wishes. De Blasio answered residents’ objections with a dismissive sneer, asserting they did not know what was in their own neighborhoods’ best interest—but his planners did.
Then there was the unfortunate bit part he played in the Wikileaks dump of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private emails. The correspondence showed de Blasio groveling and fawning at the feet of the former first lady’s aides, desperate for whatever tiny shred of attention they threw him. The emails also displayed the Clinton staff’s utter lack of respect for the mayor, who they described amongst themselves as “insufferable” and “a terrorist.” This came out just months after the mayor found himself relegated to an undercard speaking slot at the Democratic Party’s July convention.
The mayor’s self-inflicted afflictions have multiplied so quickly this year it’s hard to keep track of them all, and we’re probably forgetting a few (we’ll give him a pass on the whole Harlem deer fiasco because, frankly, deer are rats with antlers and should be treated accordingly). But the common strand binding all the de Blasio debacles together is his voracious need to be recognized as a progressive messiah, obeyed at home and admired abroad. And his inner ring of aides appears to have formed a small cult around him, insisting he enjoys an ineffable mystic bond with “the people,” and that all who glimpse his pure beatific aura must fall into instantaneous ecstasies of awe and reverence, and speak of him afterward in only the most cringing and slavish terms.
How else to explain howlers like his claim that the five private consultants he corresponded with over email are “agents of the city,” and that their communications are thus privileged from Freedom of Information Law requests? Or his subsequent insistence that allowing one of those consultants, who also represents major real estate companies, to sit in on discussions of housing policy didn’t pose a potential conflict of interest? Or his quickly rescinded offer to furnish reporters with a list of every donor to the Campaign for One New York who didn’t receive special treatment from the city?
Like Trump, de Blasio acts as if his limited electoral successes are evidence he is riding the crest of a great and irresistible social tide, and that the polls proving his deep and intractable unpopularity are a kind of fluke, rather than the other way around. Like Trump, de Blasio lashes out bitterly and petulantly at anybody with the temerity to puncture this bloated and grandiose self-image, especially if that anybody happens to be a reporter. And like Trump, this extreme sensitivity betrays his obvious nagging insecurities.
All of that said, if he withstands Bharara’s withering scrutiny, he will almost certainly get re-elected next year. And just like in 2013, it will be more because of the failings and limitations of his enemies than any particular merit of his own.
4. Joseph Percoco/Alain Kaloyeros
Speaking of getting charged with a crime, this duo of ex-Cuomo lieutenants seems poised to again expose New Yorkers to the grimy sewer system that undergirds state government in Albany.
Bharara got the two indicted in November alongside six of Cuomo’s top campaign contributors for a pair of alleged interlinking corruption schemes. Percoco stands accused of using his former position of deputy executive secretary under the governor to solicit bribes for himself and a sinecure for his wife from two companies in exchange for his pressuring the executive bureaucracy to accommodate their business plans. The companies also coincidentally donated heavily to the governor’s re-election effort, which Percoco managed in 2014.
The U.S. Attorney has charged Kaloyeros, the former president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, with using his position to rig crucial economic development contracts so only “friends of the administration”—i.e. donors—could qualify. The nanotechnologist faces a separate, similar case against him from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
At the nexus of the scandals is lobbyist Todd Howe, formerly of the powerhouse firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, who has confessed to acting as an intermediary between the various parties. Through Howe, Bharara has obtained countless incriminating emails, in which Percoco and the operative refer to bundles of bribe money as “ziti,” in the style of The Sopranos.
All this might appear a little obscure to the average reader, but it is impossible to overstate how personally and politically damaging it might prove to the governor. In an administration that operated on intimidation, Percoco was the governor’s political muscle and physical body man, a goonish shadow that loomed beside Cuomo in public and scared his rivals and underlings in private. The pair have been inseparable since the reign of Mario Cuomo, and the governor famously referred to his old friend as “my father’s third son, who sometimes I think he loved the most.”
Even after Percoco left his post with Cuomo to work for Madison Square Garden this year, he continued to show up at the governor’s side at events.
Kaloyeros was the point man for Cuomo’s signature (and less than fantastically successful) economic development programs, most importantly the Buffalo Billion. It’s important to remember that the governor appoints 15 of the 18 members of SUNY’s board of trustees, effectively making the system an offshoot of his administration. Having SUNY buy up tracts of land and control new manufacturing facilities built on them had two key advantages: it let businesses move there and operate tax-free, and it allowed Cuomo to control the process completely.
Back in 2011, Cuomo worked with the State Legislature to block Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli from reviewing SUNY contracts in advance. It may have helped that Kaloyeros was an old friend of the disgraced Sheldon Silver.
Howe himself worked under Cuomo while the governor was Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s (Howe also enjoys the dubious distinction of being the only person in human history to repeatedly misspell the word “ziti”).
Cuomo has denied all knowledge of the corruption reputedly infesting his infamously micro-managed administration, and faces no formal allegations of wrongdoing. But should Percoco, Kaloyeros and company get convicted, it could be enough to wreck their old boss’s 2020 presidential chances—and maybe even his 2018 re-election bid.
5. Zephyr Teachout
Upstate’s 19th Congressional District is turning into a kind of Bermuda Triangle for ambitious progressives out of the five boroughs. It’s a problem of perspective and perception. From the vantage of Manhattan or gentrified Brooklyn, it resembles not a graveyard but a garden: a leafy preserve of cheap summer houses and cute college towns.
But in reality, for the most part, the 19th District is middle America: the blue collar Democratic city of Kingston sutured onto a sprawling expanse of thinly inhabited but virulently Republican turf. Beyond the facades of trendy restaurants and upscale antique stores on the hipsterized main drag of Hudson, New York stretch rows of gray paintless houses and dirty streets. Pricey organic farmers markets in New Paltz and Rhinebeck belie hundreds of acres of trailer parks and abandoned land spreading to the north and west.
A skilled liberal candidate might channel the class resentments of the bulk of the population there, except that population knows full well that the people they resent most largely vote Democrat.
Into this dynamic stepped Sean Eldridge in 2014. The pretty-boy husband of Facebook multi-multi-millionaire Chris Hughes, Eldridge transplanted their tender coupling from a neighboring district (to which they had only recently relocated from SoHo) and set down shallow roots in the 19th, which he watered generously out of their joint bank account.
Incumbent Republican Congressman Chris Gibson, a decorated Army colonel from a working-class background, reaped the benefit in the fall—cutting down the Democrat by an almost two-to-one margin.
When Gibson decided to retire after this term, another liberal drifted up the Hudson River to try and cultivate a budding political career: Teachout. A crusading Fordham University academic, she had become a left-of-center celebrity in 2014 by clawing away an embarrassing third of the Democratic vote from Cuomo in the primary for governor, giving him a rough shove in a more progressive direction. She’d spent the last several years living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, but had grown up in verdant Vermont, which abuts the 19th district.
She also seemed somewhat in tune with the area’s politics, backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the April presidential primary, which he lost statewide but won inside the 19th’s boundaries. Sanders returned the favor, declared her contest against ex-Assembly GOP Minority Leader John Faso “the most important congressional race in the country,” campaigned for her and urged his supporters to flood her coffers. Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and local Democratic politicos all aligned behind her.
Even Cuomo surrendered a tortured sorta endorsement.
Teachout pulled some media-savvy stunts—for instance, challenging the Wall Street hedge funders bankrolling Faso’s campaign to a debate. This won her boundless admiration in New York City progressive circles, but seemed to make little impact beyond the outer reaches of the blogosphere.
Faso, a longtime resident and former representative of the area, showed his understanding of its cultural currents in his counterattacks. He labeled his opponent “Professor Teachout” in every ad, and depicted her as just another left-wing carpetbagger looking to impose an urban tax-and-spend agenda on hard-up local homeowners.
In the November presidential election, the 19th fell to another unpolished populist with an outer borough accent and a rural appeal. Teachout fell too, losing to Faso by nine points—a politically lethal two-in-a-row electoral failure.
6. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Cuomo’s ambitious infrastructure agenda, including the demolition and reconstruction of LaGuardia Airport, seemed to promise several fat years for the bi-state Port Authority, which runs most points of entry into New York City. But first, the authority had to endure the drought and famine of 2016.
Dreamed up by early 20th Century reformers as an ideal paternalistic, technocratic administrator for New York and New Jersey’s shipping terminals, the Bridgegate trial revealed to the nation that the entity has in fact long served as a nest of the kind of patronage and petty politics its creators hoped to stamp out. With a board jointly appointed by the governors of both states, the authority has notoriously developed two parallel chains of command, and neither escaped the scandal unsullied.
One of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s top operatives at the authority, David Wildstein, admitted in court to having conspired in 2013 with his Christie-picked boss Bill Baroni and the Garden State governor’s then-deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly to shut down lanes on the George Washington Bridge, which the Port Authority owns. Wildstein claimed it was an act of retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, who had refused to support Christie for re-election—and that the governor knew about the plot, and found it hilarious. (Christie’s ex-chairman at the Port Authority, David Samson, pleaded guilty to separate charges that he used his position to force airlines to run a flight service more or less for his exclusive use).
The outgoing Jersey governor has, of course, pleaded innocence and ignorance.
It was Patrick Foye, Cuomo’s executive director for the authority, who learned of the unauthorized traffic disruptions and called them off. But as the drama played out across the Hudson this fall, though, the New York power structure came under fire as well.
Wildstein maintained that it was his “understanding” that Cuomo helped concoct the cover story that the closures were part of a botched study—and prevented Foye from testifying alongside Baroni to the New Jersey State Legislature. The New York governor has denied and dismissed such allegations, but suffered a memory lapse when asked how he learned about the incident.
Back in October, Foye admitted to the Observer that the scandal had besmirched the prestige of the entire organization.
“I think the ongoing trial, which I’m not going to comment on, has done significant damage to the brand equity and the reputation of the Port Authority,” Foye said.
And remember, he was talking about an entity most famous for owning and operating toilets the average person would refuse to defecate in.
On the subject Eighth Avenue bus station, plans to raze and rebuild it have also recently run into the rocks of politics. Manhattanites, led by Cuomo-aligned Congressman Jerrold Nadler, have panicked that the project could devour their home blocks and demanded the new structure instead go up in the wide open pastures of New Jersey. The Jersey leadership retaliated by threatening to hold the LaGuardia project hostage unless the terminal stayed in the city.
This culminated in Cuomo’s vice chairman, Steve Cohen, first boycotting a board meeting in November—then resigning his post entirely. Not exactly a good government progressive’s fantasy of efficiency.
7. The Nassau County GOP
Speaking (again) of getting charged with a crime, the feds came down on Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto just a few weeks out from Election Day. The charges are, by now, standard stuff: bribery in exchange for government aid and contracts, a no-show job for Mangano’s wife, a failed cover-up, wire fraud. (The co-conspirator, oddly enough, is also tied to the de Blasio corruption probes, proving again that money knows no political loyalties).
But they came at a particularly fragile moment for the local GOP, and all but broke its hold on power in November. For years, and arguably since the days of Al D’Amato, Nassau County machine has served as the fulcrum of Republican politics in New York State. It gained a reputation for shifty dealings, but did a remarkable job of staying influential and relevant in the face of changing attitudes, voting patterns and demographics.
Some of this owes to canny political maneuvering on the part of Mangano and his allies in the State Legislature. Sharing a business-friendly outlook and a large donor base with Cuomo—not to mention a common enemy in Thomas Suozzi, the Democratic county executive Mangano unseated in 2009—the Republican pol reportedly struck a pact with the governor. For years, the Republican “Long Island Nine” in the State Senate stayed out of the way when Cuomo looked to pass liberal social policies like gay marriage and gun control, and supported his fiscally conservative agenda on taxes, education, public sector unions and regulation.
Cuomo in turn refused to lend money or political support to Democratic candidates that threatened the Long Islanders’ power. Mangano backed Cuomo for re-election in 2014 over Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and even got a cute cameo in a montage of elected officials praising the governor ahead of his State of the State speech this past January.
But last December’s conviction of Dean Skelos, a Rockville Centre Republican, marked the start of a string of disasters for the party. Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky captured the fallen pol’s State Senate seat, despite Cuomo again refusing to get involved on a fellow Democrat’s behalf. This must have gotten the governor’s attention, because for the first time in memory, he actually did a little tentative fundraising for his own party’s conference.
Then came the arrests of Mangano and Venditto, which seemed to have acted as a drag on the campaign of the latter’s state senator son, who lost his re-election to Democrat John Brooks by a few dozen votes. We’re down to the Long Island Seven now.
To be fair, it’s virtually certain that Republican State Senator John Flanagan of Smithtown will hold onto his role as State Senate Majority Leader, if thanks only to one or more defecting Democrats. But a bitter fissure has apparently opened between Cuomo and GOP leader over the former’s combined legislative pay hike and ethics reform proposals. Meaning the county party might not be able to count on the governor to protect its power or its policy priorities going forward. And the island’s diminishing share of the Republican majority also means that its delegation may have to make more concessions to their hard-right upstate counterparts.
On top of that, Suozzi is now headed to Congress.
8. The State Senate Democrats
Which brings us to this crew. In a presidential election year, in a state that Hillary Clinton won by more than 20 points, with the long-awaited support of Cuomo, the State Senate Democratic Conference managed to pick up a grand total of one seat—and that was thanks to a last minute assist from the Justice Department. It also lost a seat in Western New York, and held onto recently vacated deep-blue Westchester-Bronx district. And this in spite of bleeding its campaign account into the red.
Meanwhile, the rival Independent Democratic Conference expanded its ranks at the mainline caucus’s expense, having peeled off Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton on the eve of Election Day and secured a loyalty oath from Upper Manhattan State Senator-elect Marisol Alcantara. The IDC has worked out some form of power-sharing arrangement with the Republicans every session since 2012, and will likely do so again—in fact, the narrower GOP majority may only increase their clout. (Technically, Democrats now outnumber Republicans, but State Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn has always caucused with the latter).
The splinter faction also has more money in the bank than the regular Dems, meaning they can fend off any planned primary challenges. It will also look less glaringly white in group photos, which is always a political plus. Alcantara is especially valuable because of her ties to the Rev. Al Sharpton and Congressman-elect Adriano Espaillat, both powerbrokers in their respective communities.
Mainstream Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has been reduced to begging Cuomo to broker some kind of unity accord between her conference and the various renegades. But Cuomo, seeing nothing in it for himself, has refused.
Even if some kind of miracle deal emerged, and the Democrats cobbled together a one-seat majority, they probably couldn’t stop their own members from running off to take other jobs.
9. City political machines
The Nassau County GOP wasn’t the only storied establishment left hurting this year.
Retiring Congressman Charles Rangel‘s old Harlem clubhouse collapsed in June, when Espaillat felled his anointed successor, Assemblyman Keith Wright. Wright serves as chairman of the badly etiolated Manhattan Democratic Committee, which previously could only claim to predominate north of 96th Street, south of 155th, west of Lexington Avenue and east of Morningside Park. Now it can’t even say that.
The substantially stronger Bronx Democratic Party backed Wright to represent the House district, which spans both boroughs, but the organization failed to deliver votes for him on its own turf.
In Lower Manhattan, Sheldon Silver’s apparatchiks lost control of his old Assembly seat in September to Working Families Party-backed candidate Yuh-Line Niou. Alice Cancel, the former speaker’s favored successor, had defeated Niou in an April special election—with plenty of help from his former allies and employees. But that triumph proved short-lived.
You can notch Niou as a victory for Congressman Joseph Crowley, the Queens Democratic boss, seeing as she came out of the office of Assemblyman Ron Kim and won with the support of former city Comptroller John Liu—both allies of Crowley.
But even as Crowley moved up in the House this fall, he still struggled to assert influence in the southeast corner of his own borough. With the help of the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman and local powerbroker, he went to war against State Senator James Sanders. But the combined political muscle and fundraising proved insufficient to lift local community board chairwoman Adrienne Adams over Sanders in the September primary.
Crowley backed another community board leader, Bryan Block, to fill the empty post of late Assemblywoman Barbara Clark. But he couldn’t build Block up enough to actually take the seat, as the candidate came in third behind local lawyer Clyde Vanel. A former Sanders staffer, Vanel has long been a nuisance to the Queens machine, having unsuccessfully challenged County favorites like Clark and councilman-turned-State Senator Leroy Comrie in the past.
All these machines will need to shake the rust off if they hope to run the City Council after next year.
10. New York City
Yeah, we’re totally screwed.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.