It was a year dominated by two spoiled sons of Queens and a Brooklyn native whose life was transformed, he said, by a beating he absorbed in a police station-house in Jamaica that left him determined to be a cop who wouldn't act like a brute.
And while Eric Adams finished the year ascendant, using his speech the night he scored a landslide victory for Mayor to proclaim it a message to anyone who had struggled through life and been treated as if they couldn't rise from humble or difficult circumstances, Donald Trump and Andrew Cuomo, two more-fortunate sons during their adolescence, stood as cautionary tales that no wealth of advantages could protect them if they refused to grow up.
Both had crashed because for too long they got away with believing that the laws governing other people didn't apply to them. Mr. Trump's disgrace was greater—even if the now-deposed Governor eventually faces criminal charges, they won't approach the level of trying to overthrow the U.S. government. The former President seems to have a viable future as the Republican nominee for President in 2024, but as further facts have begun emerging from the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into the events of Jan. 6, chances are that the cult Mr. Trump has created within the party won't be enough to save him from the judgment of the voters, no matter how long he can drag out the court proceedings to come.
In several respects, Mr. Adams's Democratic primary win last June—which virtually assured his November triumph over GOP nominee Curtis Sliwa—was a referendum on some of the pivotal issues that confronted Mayor de Blasio, and his understanding that, particularly after the incumbent's divisive stands on many of them, what voters wanted was someone with a sure sense of where the middle should be rather than an ideological warrior.
He Moved the Needle
Mr. de Blasio on key criminal-justice issues allowed himself to be pushed left by the fear that he would lose faith among fellow progressives if he didn't. It was why he put aside his initial reservations about closing Rikers Island as impractical nearly five years ago and will leave office at the end of the year with the move facing just as many hurdles—and the jail system indisputably in worse shape than it was then.
He sold out his own Police Department 18 months ago, first by agreeing with the City Council on $700 million in cuts to its budget at a time when crime was rising as part of a deal that included a harebrained plan to move School Safety Agents out of NYPD jurisdiction and under the control of the Department of Education, which had surrendered that responsibility in 1998 because it handled the program so poorly.
Then, against the urging of his top police commanders, a couple of weeks later he signed into law a bill that left street cops open to criminal charges if, while trying to place someone under arrest, they compressed that person's diaphragm. The Mayor brushed aside their warnings that such a law would inhibit officers from doing their jobs properly, saying that the moment demanded a dramatic gesture.
It was an example of cowardice rather than boldness, something that was underscored when Rory Lancman, the City Councilman who for the previous five years had failed to get a vote on a measure making chokeholds by cops illegal, acknowledged once the bill was enacted that he added the diaphragm-compression feature to the bill knowing that in the wake of the George Floyd protests a few weeks earlier, Mr. de Blasio lacked the spine to call that aspect overkill and risk being embarrassed by an override if he vetoed it.
The Mayor's ears had been ringing over criticism from the left of his tepid attempts to defend officers against claims of brutality in their response to demonstrators. While the responsibility for taking both budgetary and legal actions to punish the NYPD rested jointly with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Mayor's job is to prevent passions from forcing government actions that are likely to harm rather than heal. Mr. de Blasio lost sight of that out of fear that he wasn't keeping up with the movement that propelled him to power eight years ago.
Adams Knew Where He Stood
Unlike the man he will succeed, Mr. Adams has never held citywide office. But Brooklyn is as diverse politically as it is ethnically and racially, and the 22 years he spent in the Police Department before being elected a State Senator 15 years ago and then Brooklyn Borough President ingrained an understanding of both institutions and people whose views don't necessarily dovetail with his that Mr. de Blasio lacks.
By the time the Democratic primary field for Mayor began to take shape a year ago, two of the leading contenders, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Maya Wiley, Mr. de Blasio's former Counsel, had already aligned themselves with the Defund the Police movement. While Mr. Adams was not the only one of the serious contenders for the party's nomination who thought it was a bad idea, he was the one who made his opposition a key component of what became his signature issue during the campaign: that the NYPD could be reshaped to make sure it was more even-handed in the rougher areas of the city provided it was managed well enough to stem the rise of crime that began shortly before the pandemic.
Mr. de Blasio gained office in 2013 in no small measure due to a campaign ad in which his teenage son Dante told viewers that he was the person who would put an end to the abuses of minority residents under stop-and-frisk. As emotionally effective as the spot was, that sort of bad policing had been in retreat since the spring of 2012, when then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly essentially instructed officers in a department-wide memo that the days of quotas for stops were over and it was time to make them only when warranted.
During the primary debates, Ms. Wiley attacked Mr. Adams over his support of stop-and-frisk in a limited form. She was on shaky ground on two fronts. The Brooklyn Borough President had been a prominent critic of unjustified stops and a key witness in the 2013 trial at which a Federal Judge found the NYPD had frequently deployed them in violation of the Constitution. And by comparison, she had been practically silent about officer abuses during her tenure as chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
One of the more-fascinating aspects of their face-offs was that Ms. Wiley, despite her high-powered legal background, was the candidate who relied on emotional appeals on the subject, while Mr. Adams, a struggling student in school until he was diagnosed with dyslexia and an ex-cop known for occasional incendiary remarks was the one taking the nuanced position that stops, when conducted under the boundaries set by a 1968 court decision, were both legal and a useful crime-fighting tool.
Didn't Shy From Hawk
Following his election, when Hawk Newsome—who founded the New York chapter of Black Lives Matter along with his sister Chivona—predicted, "There will be riots, there will be fire and there will be bloodshed" if Mr. Adams made good on his pledge to reinstate the NYPD's Anti-Crime Unit with a special focus on getting guns off the street, unlike Mr. de Blasio, his successor responded in kind to the fiery threat.
"We're not going to surrender to those who are saying, 'We're going to burn down New York,' " Mr. Adams said early this month at a Police Athletic League fundraiser. "Not my city."
He then added, referring to vandalism in Middle Village, Queens after Kyle Rittenhouse's acquittal in Wisconsin, "We're not going to have a city where anarchists come from outside our city and go into a community such as Queens and destroy the community for their own selfish needs or desires."
Mr. Adams had seemed presumptuous when he anointed himself "the new face of the Democratic party" following his narrow primary win early last summer. But margin of victory aside, it was hard to dispute his larger point that he had won by taking positions and focusing on issues that cut across racial lines and brought him the kind of support among centrist voters that nationally Democrats had often been lacking in recent years because support of causes like the Defund the Police movement appealed only to the party's hard-left wing.
His support for an expansion of charter schools rankled the United Federation of Teachers enough that union President Michael Mulgrew in early June urged members to leave Mr. Adams's name off their primary ballots, hoping to tip the first citywide election using ranked-choice voting to Mr. Stringer. But it was hard to argue with Mr. Adams's statements that he favored charter schools because the good ones did far better in educating black and brown children in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
Union Yoked to Mayor
The UFT, after 20 years of adversarial dealings with Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, had sought to forge a strong relationship with Mr. de Blasio. That effort paid its first dividend when, just four months after he took office, it reached a solid deal on a contract that was 54 months overdue. But this left it yoked to the Mayor during his second term even as he and his Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza, took an ideological position on transforming the school system while doing little to upgrade basic student performance in the neighborhood schools Mr. Adams said had egregiously failed their students.
It's hardly the only place where he has been sharply critical of Mr. de Blasio's stewardship. In introducing Louis Molina as his choice for Correction Commissioner, the Mayor-elect said a prime reason the jails were in such terrible condition was "lack of leadership," and pledged that upon taking office he would reverse his phase-out of solitary confinement, echoing the sentiments of union officials that it was a necessary punishment for the most-violent inmates as a curb on their assaultive behavior.
Mr. de Blasio has taken such rebukes in stride, insisting he and Mr. Adams want the same things and have a good relationship. The suspicion is that he is rolling with the punches because he's hoping that at least some of his successor's voters will back his upcoming run for Governor if he doesn't say anything to suggest that these not-so-small digs at his expense remind him of his relationship with Mr. Cuomo up until the then-Governor had bigger things to worry about than torturing him.
The degree to which their roles have reversed over the past 12 months is startling. At this time last year, Mr. Cuomo seemed a good bet to top his late father Mario by winning a fourth term as Governor, with a huge campaign warchest at his disposal and a glowing reputation for his daily press briefings on the coronavirus to go with a $5.2-million advance for a memoir about his work to cope with the pandemic. About the worst that was being said was that it took a certain hubris to write a book declaring glorious victory when it wasn't clear, even with the availability of vaccines, that the crisis had passed.
But then January came and State Attorney General Letitia James issued a report stating that Mr. Cuomo had significantly undercounted the number of nursing-home deaths. A month later, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa told Democratic state legislators that the administration had withheld an accurate count the previous summer out of fear that it would be used by Mr. Trump in the midst of his re-election campaign to attack Mr. Cuomo and Joe Biden, and her remarks wound up in the New York Post.
Lindsey Boylan, a former aide whose December accusation that the Governor had behaved inappropriately toward her had led to leaks of her personnel file that limited coverage of her claims, around that same time posted a piece on Medium spelling out in greater detail the ways in which he had sexually harassed her. Another aide, Charlotte Bennett, who said Ms. Boylan's piece gave her the courage to come forward, spoke to the New York Times about her belief that Mr. Cuomo had groomed her for a sexual relationship, including questioning her about whether having been sexually assaulted in college made it difficult for her to be intimate with men.
Just Kept Hitting Bottom
The clamor grew among much of the state's Democratic establishment for the Governor to resign, and he decided the only way to slow its momentum was to request that Ms. James examine the allegations against him. Perhaps he hadn't grasped that her report on nursing-home deaths was a declaration that she wouldn't give him any free passes out of gratitude for his help in her being elected Attorney General in 2018. Or maybe he was so desperate at that point that he just wanted to stop the bleeding long enough for him to recover.
But accusers kept coming forward as two outside attorneys tapped by Ms. James began their probe. When they got around to questioning Mr. Cuomo last summer, he seemed determined not to ask for sympathy, instead using macho bluster to fend them off. His accusers were forthcoming, and he was evasive, and the two attorneys reached a logical conclusion: he hadn't offered a credible defense because he didn't have one.
A week after the report was issued, at a point when the State Assembly appeared ready to impeach him as it wound down a probe that also took a look at his handling of issues related to the nursing homes and how negotiations on his book may have affected the disclosure of information about the deaths, the Governor announced he would resign Aug. 24.
The Lieutenant Governor whom he had excluded from his inner circle, Kathy Hochul, stepped in, and got high marks on her first day in the job by promising that she would put an end to the toxic work culture that Mr. Cuomo had created, enabled by the loyal aides he referred to as The Mean Girls.
The Assembly report was issued this fall and did more damage to his reputation. When the disgraced former Governor, largely through his lawyer, continued sniping at Ms. James and claimed she had withheld large segments of the testimony from her inquiry that would exonerate him, the Attorney General released thousands of pages of documents. Most of the new material merely confirmed what was already known, but it added a casualty to the list: his younger brother Chris, who at the time had CNN's most-watched nighttime talk show, "Cuomo Prime Time."
Drew Him Into Web
Chris's testimony indicated that Andrew had prevailed upon him to take a role in his defense against the attacks. This required a violation of journalistic ethics, including Chris making calls to determine which reporters might be working on stories that could potentially damage the ex-Governor, while advising top staffers on how to hit back against his accusers.
CNN, which had been feeling journalistic heat for months about the brothers' relationship, responded to the new revelations by suspending him. A few days later, after a former CNN staffer claimed through her lawyer—who also represented Ms. Bennett—that Chris had sexually harassed her, he was fired from a job that paid him $6 million a year.
And yet for all the damage that Andrew Cuomo had done—to the victims of both his sexual harassment and his verbal abuse; to his career and reputation and those of his brother; and to his father's legacy, with a move afoot to take Mario's name off the Tappan Zee Bridge—none of it comes close to the harm done by Donald Trump.
He had summoned supporters to the mass rally at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 with the promise that it would be "wild," then egged them on day by warning, "If you don't fight like hell, you're not gonna have a country anymore!"
The most-crazed among them were led forward by his command, "Let's go to the Capitol!" Except, of course, for the craziest one in the bunch, who left The Ellipse and returned to the White House to watch the carnage he had wrought.
The Capitol Police Officers were badly outnumbered by the mobs that were determined to push past and get their hands on those Mr. Trump had targeted, including Vice President Mike Pence, whom they seemed prepared to hang outside the building, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Reinforcements from the Washington, D.C. Metro Police weren't enough to even the odds., Delays in getting the National Guard to the building until after the worst of the fighting was over triggered speculation about whether allies of Mr. Trump had kept them from interceding.
The mad charge into the building, the damage done to property there and video of officers being set upon with bear spray and various weapons by the most-committed among the insurrectionists shocked some of the congressional Republicans who until then had enabled Mr. Trump, if not outright supporting him, into something approaching outrage at his behavior.
Parties to Treason
Yet many of them still balked at the business that had brought them to the Capitol that day, and prompted the mad President to summon his followers to the building to try to prevent a peaceful transition of power: the certification of the Electoral College results. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell spoke angrily of Mr. Trump's irresponsible behavior; his House GOP counterpart, Kevin McCarthy, had angrily assailed the President in mid-afternoon about the monster he had turned loose. But when it came time to vote, 147 congressional Republicans voted against certification.
There were Trump supporters at major media outlets who briefly were critical of his behavior, most-notable among them those under the banner of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which prior to the insurrection had tried through editorials to draw him back from the precipice. The New York Post a week earlier had urged him to abandon his push for "an undemocratic coup"; the Wall Street Journal had warned Dec. 28, "If you insist on spending your final days in office threatening to burn it all down, that will be how you are remembered. Not as a revolutionary, but as the anarchist holding the match."
After his deranged exhortations from The Ellipse had triggered the chaos and hatred—members of the mob whipped up by a man who wrapped himself in law and order except when it presented a check upon his power assailed the police trying to hold them at bay as traitors and used racial epithets against officers of color—that almost toppled a government, even Fox News, the cash cow of the Murdoch Empire that for a quarter-century had been promoting lies under the banner of "fair and balanced," unleashed a torrent of criticism against Mr. Trump.
But then they, and the establishment Republicans who had gone along with the President until he showed that when trapped, his sociopathic side came out, discovered that those they had regarded as loyal supporters were not proponents of law and order but rather cult followers. And as Fox News lost viewers to News Max and other right-wing propaganda machines willing to churn out whatever Mr. Trump wanted, the cable giant slunk back into the fold. Some of those Republicans who had denounced him, including Senator McConnell and Congressman McCarthy, did as well.
An effort to impeach the departed President failed, and those members of the GOP who had held to principle and voted for his removal found themselves ostracized and targeted for primaries in next year's elections.
The Pack is Back
Pretty soon, Trump hard-liners in Congress were back to blaming the insurrection on Antifa, or claiming that what happened at the Capitol was no worse than the damage done by Black Lives Matter protesters. And soon, Mr. Trump was receiving visits from Members of Congress at Mar-a-Lago, including Mr. McCarthy, seeking his blessing, while he began talking about running again in 2024.
Such a run in one sense is less-plausible than Mr. de Blasio's bid for Governor or the possibility of a Cuomo comeback. There's a strong possibility that Mr. Trump sometime over the next year will be indicted for crimes that range from inciting the insurrection against the government to financial fraud on matters ranging from his taxes to falsifying the value of his properties.
But unlike the city's departing Mayor and its disgraced ex-Governor, Mr. Trump could probably gain his party's nomination even if his only hope of avoiding prison was to win election. And his chances of doing so have been helped along by his pushing the Big Lie about last year's election being rigged in favor of Mr. Biden so relentlessly that the great majority of his supporters believe it. They are on board with the efforts throughout the nation to pack local election boards with Trump supporters who will enable voter suppression and wink at vote fraud committed on behalf of Republican candidates next year and in 2024.
That has been the scariest aspect of the past year: that an attempt to steal an election to improperly perpetuate Mr. Trump's power has, for the moment, had its biggest impact in redoubling the efforts of his minions to steal future ones.
It has created a paradox among the leaders of the New York Republican and Conservative parties. They called for Mr. Cuomo's ouster for lies and illegal behavior, yet they have already united behind U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin—who was among the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the Electoral College results—as their candidate for Governor against Ms. Hochul or whoever else captures the Democratic nomination.
For more than a decade, Mr. Cuomo's domination of state Democratic politics was often embarrassing, but his excesses eventually triggered reactions by forces within the party: first in the election of a crop of new State Senators in 2018 who wouldn't fall meekly in line with him, and this year from most of the party's establishment because his behavior had been revealed as not only intolerable but a threat to its continued political control.
GOP Riding Without Brakes
No such trigger mechanisms have kicked in where Mr. Trump is concerned. The national Republican Party apparatus, including its media wing, is so tightly bound to him that after Liz Cheney on the House floor Dec. 13 read aloud a Jan. 6 text from Sean Hannity to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows imploring of the President, "Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol," the Fox News host accused her of trying to "smear" his reputation by disclosing the contents.
And so this should be a nervous time not only for Democrats but for anyone who cares about the preservation of democracy in this country. Joe Manchin's concerns about Build Back Better may legitimately reflect those of his West Virginia constituents or his own financial interests and those of his big donors, but bringing him around—on issues that also include voting-rights bills meant to offset reactionary measures passed by local legislatures in many states—may be the only way Democrats can maintain their threadbare majorities in both houses of Congress.
The alternative of Republicans regaining control of both the executive and legislative branches of government by the 2024 elections brings to mind the remarks of Micheal Ray Richardson, a talented-but-erratic Knicks' guard of four decades ago, when the team encountered a late-season slump.
"The ship be sinkin'," he told reporters.
Someone asked him, "How low can it go?"
"Sky's the limit," he replied.
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