The year began with a former Mayor running for President, moved into spring with him gone from the race but the incumbent Mayor joining the Democratic primary trail, and wound down with the incumbent limping home from the campaign while his predecessor had second thoughts about his second thoughts.
While all of that was going on, another former Mayor traveled the globe wreaking havoc with U.S. diplomacy on a mission that seemed as contrived as O.J.’s search for the real killer.
What is it in the water at Gracie Mansion that makes its most-recent past and present occupants seek new adventures on the national and international frontiers? Did David Dinkins get an unexpected blessing in being denied a second term: remaining well-grounded and someone old acquaintances are always glad to see, rather than lugging delusions of grandeur into exotic places?
The Tale of Three Mayors was not the only riveting saga to confront us in 2019. The year began with the U.S., and Federal employees in particular, in the grip of a government shutdown that began three days before Christmas and didn’t end until a month after it.
January was also the month when Mayor de Blasio, asked why a pay gap of more than $30,000 existed between Emergency Medical Technicians and Firefighters, touched off a firestorm that has subsided but still rages quietly when he replied that “the work is different.”
A Tale of Two Sentences
February began with former Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook being sentenced to 58 months in Federal prison for taking a $60,000 bribe in return for investing $20 million in union funds in a hedge fund that subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection. The year would draw to a close with the main witness against him—the man who handed him the payoff in a Hermes bag nearly five years ago—rewarded for his cooperation in that and other public-corruption cases by getting just 10 months behind bars for his own multiple crimes. The witness, Jeremy Rechnitz, admitted at his sentencing that he had been involved in so many scams that he had not been able to retrace his crooked steps sufficiently to file a tax return for 2015, but he seemed stunned that he would have to serve any jail time at all, even after the Judge bowed to his lawyer’s request and let him do half his sentence in his luxurious California home.
March kicked off with Michael Bloomberg deciding against seeking the Democratic nomination for President because he didn’t see a path to victory in the primaries, although he said he was confident he could win in the general election. By mid-November, he had reconsidered, prompting him to finally apologize—in a Brooklyn church that housed the nation’s largest black congregation—for the overuse of stop-and-frisk during most of his 12 years as Mayor.
It brought to mind the comment made by Bill Moyers, early in his journalistic career after spending 1965-67 as Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson, upon being told that another wealthy man who succeeded in New York politics, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, had declared he had no further interest in running for President after being booed throughout his speech at the 1964 Republican convention.
“I believe Rocky when he says he’s lost his presidential ambition,” Mr. Moyers said. “I also believe he remembers where he put it.”
(Sure enough, Mr. Rockefeller wound up flirting with another run for the GOP nomination in 1968 before bowing out in favor of Richard Nixon.)
Even as Mr. Bloomberg found himself being castigated by both leading Democratic contenders including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and rejected pretenders like Mr. de Blasio for trying to purchase the nomination with ad buys that quickly climbed toward $100 million in the final six weeks of the year, his quick ascension to 5 or 6 percent in the polls offered proof that money talks.
By mid-April, postal unions were rallying around the country at the tax-filing deadline against a White House plan to privatize some postal operations while also rolling back employee pay and fringe benefits. Ten days later, former Vice President Joe Biden entered the Democratic fray and quickly gained the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The news came as no surprise to ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who had spent the previous couple of months scouring the countryside in Ukraine looking to dig up dirt on Mr. Biden and make life hard for American diplomats objecting to his behavior, while also doing private business with the kind of rogues he had prosecuted in an earlier life.
In May, Larry Hanley, a larger-than-life bus driver who came straight out of Staten Island to become president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, died at 62. Two months later, another major union leader with a grand vision for workers, Hector Figueroa of Building Service Employees Local 32BJ, also departed too soon at 57.
Those deaths bracketed the sobering news in June delivered by Dr. Jacqueline Moline, the Director of the World Trade Center Health Program, that more than 50 percent of the city firefighters who spent time at Ground Zero on 9/11 and during the months-long cleanup that followed had a “persistent respiratory condition.”
Putting Foes on the Road
In mid-summer, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney at a political dinner in his home state of South Carolina spoke of the salutary effects of shifting Federal functions to states far from Washington, D.C., leading many veteran employees to quit rather than uproot their lives and their families. “It’s really hard to drain the swamp, but we’re working on it,” he chortled.
In August, not long after several suicides in a short period brought to 10 the number of cops who had taken their lives so far that year (on average, the NYPD previously endured four suicides a year within its uniformed force), Commissioner James O’Neill fired Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who had been judged guilty early that month by the NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Trials of using a department-banned chokehold that was a factor in the death of Eric Garner five years earlier. Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch lashed out at Mr. O’Neill and the Mayor, accusing them of reneging on a deal that would have allowed Mr. Pantaleo to retire with a partial pension. He subsequently got union delegates to approve a vote of no-confidence in the Mayor and his Commissioner, who stepped down at the end of November.
In early September, a tempest in a tweetstorm was triggered when a local weather bureau in Alabama took pains to inform state residents not to believe dire predictions from the White House of a hurricane touching down there as well as in other Gulf Coast states. National Weather Service Employees Organization President Dan Sobien subsequently told this newspaper, with a mix of bemusement and exasperation, “I have never seen anything as bizarre in my entire life as what is going on in this country right now. It’s like the whole country drank the punch at a Grateful Dead concert.”
By month’s end, new alarms rose in the NYPD as the second officer this year was killed in a “friendly-fire” incident, this one in The Bronx.
In October, the City Council took two controversial votes.
The first one approved the closing of Rikers Island by 2026. Before the year was over, the Daily News reported that toxicity at the site, which had once been a city dump, raised questions about the feasibility of developing the property, which touched off other concerns about whether something in the soil and air accounted for an unusual number of cancer deaths among Correction Officers at relatively young ages.
Let King Off Lightly
The second one, at a point when national concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace had enveloped the State Legislature and the Council as well, was a vote by Council Members not to expel Andy King, whose behavior in that area—including implying that one staffer who complained about him had credibility issues because she had previously accused Vito Lopez, the late and notorious Brooklyn Assemblyman who had been the subject of numerous accusations by women who worked for him. Mr. King, who was suspended for a month, was so penitent after being allowed to remain in the Council that two months later he had yet to pay the $15,000 fine imposed against him.
In November, the state’s Public Financing Commission, theoretically created to implement public funding of political campaigns statewide as an anti-corruption measure, adopted recommendations that gave a light dusting on that issue and focused more on raising vote thresholds to remain on the state ballot high enough to jeopardize the continued viability of every “small” state party with the exception of the Conservatives. Governor Cuomo was believed to be the prime suspect behind a shotgun approach to threatening the existence of the Working Families Party, which he hadn’t forgiven for supporting Cynthia Nixon against him in the primary the year before.
December began with Transport Workers Union Local 100, which had waged an operatic battle with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over a contract and declared a proposal management made in mid-summer to reduce overtime costs “insulting,” agreeing to contract terms that included slightly increasing employee availability to curb overtime, while sharing some of the MTA’s savings with union members. It ended with just the third impeachment of a President in U.S. history, setting the stage for a U.S. Senate trial if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was sufficiently satisfied with the ground rules set by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to turn over the articles of impeachment.
Before embarking on our annual predictions for the year ahead, we’ll pause long enough to pay tribute to those whose actions deserve recognition, generally of the negative variety:
The They Done Him Wrong Award in Bipartisan Fashion Award to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose lengthy report on the 2016 election and obstruction of justice by the President was preemptively distorted by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and then ill-served by House Democrats, who ignored his statement that its findings offered 10 possible areas in which Congress could explore obstruction-of-justice charges.
The Multi-Tasking Isn’t for Everyone Award to First Lady Chirlane McCray, who took flak for both how little was accomplished by THRIVE-NYC, the program to help mentally ill New Yorkers that she has run at a cost of $1 billion for the past four years, and how much controversy she managed to create while running a city commission on statues for women of achievement that left top vote-getter Mother Cabrini off the list of the first seven honorees.
The Buffalo Billion Was Just a Warm-Up Act Award to Governor Cuomo, who appears to have orchestrated the Public Financing Commission into yet another misguided effort to accomplish his political needs that stands up well alongside his premature shutdown of the Moreland Commission and the effort to revive the upstate economy that resulted in contracts being steered, as if by magnets, to some of his bigger contributors.
The Michael Corleone Just When They Thought I Was Out, I Pulled Myself Back in Again Award to Michael Bloomberg, who like Mr. Rockefeller knew where to find his ambition when the need arose.
The Dionne Warwick Say a Little Prayer for You Award to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who continued to battle through the vicissitudes of old age to ensure that no Supreme Court vacancies opened up.
The Follies of Youth Award to Jona Rechnitz, who after being coached by prosecutors to avoid pointless quibbling in time for the second Seabrook trial, tried to convince his sentencing judge that a jewelry exhibition at which he was photographed with Kim Kardashian was not, in Page Six’s words, a case of him hobnobbing with the stars but rather a working man’s attempt to ply his trade.
The We Had the Experience But Missed the Meaning Award to the advocates continuing to argue for the elimination of solitary confinement for all inmates and the closing of Rikers Island as soon as possible, even as inmate violence within the jail system increased.
The Mayoral Olympics for Opening Yourself to Ridicule by Indulging Bad Habits Award has three winners: Bronze, Michael Bloomberg. Silver, Bill de Blasio. Gold, Rudy Giuliani.
Before unveiling our crystal ball, a brief review of last year’s prognostications is in order. We were way off in predicting that Rudy Giuliani would supplant Mike Pence as Vice President in time for the 2020 election, even if he has been a far-more-visible player in the Federal Government lately. We also forecast that the Federal Government shutdown would end after 12 days, 23 fewer than it actually lasted.
A Year Too Early?
On the other hand, our prediction that the Baltimore Ravens would beat the New Orleans Saints in last February’s Super Bowl, while wrong on both teams involved, may have been just a year premature. And while we had predicted that by last April the PBA would bring an improper labor practice against Mr. de Blasio for chilling its right to protest by not showing up at City Hall for three months because he was busy campaigning was just a few months ahead of schedule, even if the union didn’t go to court over it.
And those last two predictions instill us with the hope that some of the following calls might prove right in the year ahead:
Jan. 12—Shortly before Mayor de Blasio is due to deliver his annual State of the City Address, Council Speaker Corey Johnson calls reporters together to remind them that last year’s theme had been to make New York “the fairest big city in America,” then says, “The good news is that the Mayor can make the same promises he did last year, because he was too busy campaigning to accomplish any of them.”
Overhearing the remarks, Hizzoner calls out, “Very funny, Corey.”
Mr. Johnson, who is among the leading contenders to succeed him, fires back, saying, “You want funny, let’s go back to the start of last year’s speech, where you said about the First Lady, “I love her for a thousand reasons, but I have to say what she has done with ThriveNYC is breathtaking.”
“Not cool at all, Corey,” the Mayor responds. “And you can kiss my endorsement goodbye.”
Mr. Johnson replies, “I was hoping you’d say that.”
Jan. 25 and 26—After New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is overhead giving instructions to the team’s pilot Saturday on how to seed the clouds over Baltimore to produce a snowstorm the following day to slow down the Ravens quarterback, foiling the attempt to win what becomes known as the League Championship White House Bowl, Lamar Jackson runs for two touchdowns and throws for another pair to eliminate the defending NFL champions, 34-28.
Mr. Belichick is frank at his post-game press conference when asked about his elemental game plan. “Like I said after we played Jackson the first time in October, everybody’s had trouble with him,” he tells a questioner. “That made me think about Mark Twain’s line about how everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it, and it struck me: why not kill two birds with one stone?”
“But instead, the big Raven killed you,” a reporter said.
The Patriot coach replied, “And we’re on to Honolulu,” and walked off the podium.
Saints Come Marching Back
Feb. 2—Mr. Jackson helps Baltimore grab a 21-point halftime lead, but the Saints come back to tie the game by recovering three consecutive onside kicks before the Ravens score to cap a 95-year drive that eats up the final 12 minutes for a 38-31 victory.
Feb. 3—As expected, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg wins the Iowa caucuses, but by a narrow margin over Joe Biden, who continues to build momentum and declares that “I’ve got my mojo working. That’s right, people: Joe’s got the Mo,” setting off a chant from his supporters that quickly becomes his campaign slogan.
Feb. 4—With Senate impeachment hearings stalled by Majority Leader McConnell’s refusal to meet Speaker Pelosi’s demand that witnesses be called to testify, the President decided not to appear before the House to give a State of the Union address.
Stepping to the podium, Ms. Pelosi explains the situation to those assembled in the House Chamber, then beckons to former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is sitting in the gallery as her guest. “As long as you’re with us, Mr. Bolton,” she calls, “why don’t you come downstairs and we can swear you in to testify so this won’t be a totally wasted evening.”
“Objection!” Mr. McConnell bellows.
“Sorry, Mitch, but this ain’t your House,” Ms. Pelosi responds, throwing the place into pandemonium that prevents Mr. Bolton from proceeding.
A White House tweet proclaims, “Another Dirty Dem Trick from CRAZY NANCY PELOSI THAT WON’T WORK.”
Asked by reporters for a response, the House Speaker says, “I will continue to pray for the President.”
“YEAH, RIGHT!!!!” he tweets in reply.
Feb. 11—Mr. Biden is the surprise winner of the New Hampshire primary with 28 percent of the vote, as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren split the favorite son/daughter and progressive votes.
Asked for comment, Mayor de Blasio notes that Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren between them got 43 percent of the vote, proving that America was looking for progressive solutions, and that Michael Bloomberg’s getting just 17 votes, all of them write-ins, showed that “the people know that billionaires aren’t the answer.”
Some Key Omissions
When a reporter reminds him that Mr. Bloomberg hadn’t entered the New Hampshire primary or done any advertising there, the Mayor replies, “I appreciate your input, but I reject its relevance.”
Feb. 29—A week after winning the Nevada caucuses with strong union support, Vice President Biden runs away with the South Carolina primary, getting 58 percent of the vote, with Pete Buttigieg and Mr. Sanders far back in second and third.
The beaming winner, told that Mr. Bloomberg’s expenditures on advertising for the Super Tuesday primaries have passed the $1-billion mark, replies, “Gee, I hope he doesn’t blow his whole wad by the New York primary and have nothing left over to support me in the general election.”
March 3—Senator Warren wins the Massachusetts primary and Mr. Sanders takes Maine, but the other 11 states give their votes to Mr. Biden despite a $3-billion ad blitz beginning the weekend before the voting by Mr. Bloomberg.
Asked how disappointed he was to have little to show for the saturation campaign besides a second-place finish in the California primary, the former Mayor testily replies, “You’re forgetting that I won the American Samoa Caucus in a landslide. We’ll build on that in the primaries ahead and ride our momentum into the convention.”
Sources tell Politico that Mr. de Blasio has put out feelers to the Biden camp about his willingness to be considered for positions including Housing Secretary and Health and Human Services Secretary should the former Vice President win the White House.
An anonymous campaign source responds, “We’re not sure we want to deprive New York City of the Mayor’s transcendent qualities.”
March 17—Mr. Biden wins all four primaries, including three in battleground states—Arizona, Florida and Ohio—that went Republican in 2016, after capturing Michigan a week earlier. Asked about Hillary Clinton not having campaigned in Ohio and Michigan during the general-election campaign based on an algorithm that showed her with the election in the bag, the candidate responds, “We’ll be running hard in all those states, and we’ll let Al go chase himself.”
More Cuomo Fine Print
March 30—A budget deal is reached between state legislators and Governor Cuomo. Veteran Albany hands who remember past budgets abolishing the Moreland Commission to investigate state corruption and creating a Public Financing Commission to punish people who annoy the Governor comb through the massive document to discover one significant last-minute addition: a bill stating that in the 2022 election, when the Governor will be up for a new term along with all state legislators, any vote in their favor will be considered to be a binding commitment to allow the recipients to continue in office as long as they feel like it.
Good government groups issue a rare joint statement declaring that this time, Mr. Cuomo has outdone himself.
In response he issues a press release saying, “I’m truly honored that my critics believe I’ve exceeded all their expectations for me. I’ll try not to let their flattery sway me from serving the people as best I can for as long as I can.”
April 2—After no-hitting the Baltimore Orioles the previous Thursday to launch the baseball season for the Yankees, $324-million man Gerrit Cole delights fans at their home opener by pitching a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The team starts the season winning 17 of its first 18 games, and announces that World Series tickets will go on sale in early May.
April 28—After building on his momentum with a victory in the Wisconsin primary three weeks earlier, aided by seven days of campaigning in a state Ms. Clinton never visited during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Biden wins the New York primary by three points over Mr. Sanders, followed by Ms. Warren, Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. Bloomberg, who spent $6 billion in his home state, half of it to buy two local TV stations and several newspapers, but got just 14 percent of the vote.
“This is what I get after apologizing for stop-and-frisk?” he exclaims in disbelief. “Don’t these people understand how hard it was for me to say I’m sorry about anything?”
Another Big Buy Coming?
He insists, however, that he still sees a path to victory, triggering speculation that his next move will be to buy Fox News.
May 19—Republican congressional leaders, growing nervous about Mr. Biden’s primary successes and the lack of a strong response from the White House, huddle with Vice President Pence and complain that this may be the wrong time to adopt a Rose Garden Strategy as if the general election was in the bag.
He tries to reassure them, saying, “This is what The Big Guy wants.”
June 2—Mr. Bloomberg scores an upset in the New Jersey primary, breaking Mr. Biden’s streak and prompting Sen. Cory Booker to announce his withdrawal from the race.
The former Vice President is philosophical about the setback, telling reporters, “Anything can happen in New Jersey.”
When Mr. Bloomberg is asked whether the $7 billion he poured into the Garden State primary made it too costly a victory, knocking him down to his last $40 billion, he questions the reporter’s math. “You seem to be forgetting,” he says, “that the 2017 tax cut was very good for me on both the personal and corporate side.”
June 23—In New York’s most-closely-watched congressional primary, City Councilman Ritchie Torres wins the Democratic battle for the nomination to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano over the lightning-rod candidates from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. and former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“I guess running as the sane, rational alternative paid off,” Mr. Torres says.
July 15—Despite Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts to persuade convention delegates to give him enough support to block Mr. Biden from gaining the nomination on the first ballot, the former Vice President gets the nod. He announces that his running mate will be Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, based on her promise to never again publicly use a comb to eat her salad.
“One eccentric on the ticket is enough,” Mr. Biden explains.
Times Stays Global
Aug. 1—The Yankees complete a three-game sweep of the Red Sox as Gerrit Cole pitches his sixth no-hitter of the season, improving the team’s record to 88-14 and reducing its magic number to clinch the American League East to 11. The Mets, meanwhile, extend their lead in the National League East to three games, bringing New York’s tabloids to a fever pitch about the prospect of a Subway Series.
In contrast, the New York Times continues to use wire-service copy to chart the two teams’ exploits because its entire sports staff is covering the final week of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Aug. 25—The Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. takes a peculiar turn when Rudy Giuliani, delivering the keynote address, borrows much of his material from a mix of Henny Youngman and Dean Martin’s “Live at the Sands” album.
“Take my ex-wife, please,” he says to hoots from the delegates. “She’s amazing—she’s 74 years old and doesn’t need glasses: she drinks right out of the bottle.”
After quoting Mr. Martin quoting Joe E. Lewis saying, “You’re not drunk if you can lay on the floor without holding on,” the former Mayor takes a long swig from a Big Gulp cup and launches into the Vesti La Giubba aria from “Pagliacci.” Opera lover though he may be, Mr. Giuliani is way off pitch, and as delegates start fleeing the convention center, he begins heckling them.
Asked afterwards about the off-kilter performance by anxious GOP contributors and Members of Congress, Mr. Pence reiterates, “This is what The Big Guy wanted.”
Sept. 7—The general-election campaign unofficially begins with a carpet-bombing ad campaign paid for by Mr. Bloomberg on behalf of Mr. Biden. The President is particularly upset to learn that his fellow billionaire has bought up huge blocks of ad time on Fox News, particularly during Sean Hannity’s show.
His supporters are shocked when he doesn’t respond with a characteristic tweetstorm venting his anger, and are not mollified by Mr. Pence’s reassurance.
Sept. 29—The first presidential debate is held without the participation of the President, but he does not hold a fund-raising rally as he had when skipping a Republican primary debate nearly five years earlier.
A Nice Chat With Pete
In his absence, Mr. Biden takes advantage of it being held at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend to engage in a two-hour discussion with that city’s Mayor, Mr. Buttigieg, about his vision for America and how the divisions within the nation can be healed.
One media critic pans the event as lacking edginess and says it could have been spiced up by offering viewers a half-hour back-and-forth on their competing visions of New York between Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo.
The only response from the White House is to issue a statement pointing to the large drop in ratings compared to the first 2016 debate.
Oct. 20—With New York in a frenzy while the rest of the nation seeks out alternative programming, the Yankees, having won a record 131 regular-season games and swept both their playoff clashes, take on the Mets, who after 97 wins were pushed to the limit before winning the National League Division and Championship Series, in the first Subway Series in 20 years.
On Oct. 24, the Mets complete a four-game sweep when closer Dellin Betances strikes out Giancarlo Stanton with the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position.
“Who says baseball’s not a funny game?” Yankee radio announcer John Sterling remarks.
Oct. 22—After two presidential debates in which the incumbent was a no-show, Mr. Biden gets a surprise when Clint Eastwood walks onto the stage at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. carrying two folding chairs. Rather than standing at the podiums, the two men take seats after Mr. Eastwood, who turned 90 in May, says, “Kinda cruel to make guys our age stand up for two hours with no bathroom break.”
Mr. Biden disregards the opening question from one of the journalist moderators, instead remarking, “Ya know, Clint, it amazed me how in ‘Unforgiven’ you poked holes in all the old conventions of a western over the first two hours but then turned around and made it into a grand old shoot-’em-up in the final reel, except that the flawed hero walked off into a driving rain instead of the sunset.”
Mr. Eastwood smiles in appreciation, and the two men spend the remainder of the time discussing his evolution as a director, tracing the American ideal as reflected in the criminal-justice system. When the director says, “Just don’t ask me any questions about ‘Every Which Way But Loose,’ Mr. Biden responds, “Believe me, friend, there’s enough times people tried to make a monkey out of me that I’m happy to skip over that one.”
Anxiety on the Right
Following their conversation, which set viewership records among adults 55 and up, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell angrily demands of Vice President Pence, “When does the President get out there and start fighting back, before we lose everything on Election Day.”
“Trust me,” Mr. Pence replies. “This is how The Big Guy wants it played.”
Nov. 3—With organized labor delivering a near-unanimous vote for Mr. Biden, he wins 47 states and a landslide in the Electoral College. Democrats also regain control of the Senate and expand their majority in the House of Representatives.
The following evening, Chuck Schumer, on the verge of becoming Senate Majority Leader in January, shares a victory toast with House Speaker Pelosi, telling her, “Nancy, there were times I worried about how you were playing this, but I gotta say you repaid our faith and then some.”
She replies, “Aw, Chuck, don’t give me too much of the credit. I just did a lot of praying. The Big Guy did the rest.”
Happy New Year.
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