Some New Faces in Albany
Generally speaking, incumbents in Queens politics don’t have much to worry about. Nestled securely in their seats, sitting elected officials are usually safe from political upstarts and challengers, and serve the public as long as they wish or until those pesky term limits force them from office. That was until 2008; the elections this year saw a number of Albany politicians lose their jobs. First, there was State Senator John Sabini, who lost his seat to Councilman Hiram Monserrate. Monserrate actually ran unopposed after Sabini struck a deal to give up his seat in return for a post running the state’s gambling and racing interests. Then there was Assemblywoman Ellen Young, who after only one term was defeated by Grace Meng, who challenged Young in 2006, but was forced to drop out after some issues were raised about her residency. Then there was Councilman Joseph Addabbo, Jr., who took on State Senator Serf Maltese, who very nearly lost his seat in 2006 after defeating no-name challenger Albert Baldeo by just a few percentage points. Sensing a weakness, the Democratic Party tapped Addabbo for a 2008 run, and the move paid off. Addabbo defeated Maltese, and the Democratic Party gained control of the State Senate for the first time in decades. (Although, it has apparently been all-for-not, as evidently the members of the New York Democratic Party can’t get along amongst themselves, either.) And the upsets might not be over just yet. In Northeast Queens, Councilman James Gennaro challenged State Senator Frank Padavan in a race so close that it is still undecided. Padavan holds a lead of approximately 600 votes, but there are still some 1,800 votes uncounted. Whether they will eventually be counted is now an issue before a court, and we’ll have to wait until 2009 to see who will be representing that portion of Queens up in Albany.
In our 2008 elections recap, we said incumbents generally serve until they choose to leave office or term limits force them out; that’s only partly true. The other option is just to change the term limits law, which is exactly what the Bloomberg administration and the City Council did in 2008. With the mayor and most council members being forced out of office, they decided that they just weren’t ready to let go, so they extended the number of terms they could serve from two to three years. A few council members are challenging the move in the courts, noting that city voters have twice approved a referendum that would cap the number of terms at two. That challenge will likely take a while, so for now it’s “Bloomberg ’09.”
Score Two for Queens
Development is always a big story in Queens, but 2008 gave the borough two major projects in the form of two Points. This past year, the city gave the okay to both the Hunters Point South and Willets Point redevelopment plans. The former was met with little resistance outside of affordable housing advocacy groups, and changing the name to Hunters Point South to distance the project from the oft-contentious Queens West was a wise public relations move. The latter, on the other hand, was far from a slam dunk. The City Council threatened to put the kibosh on the whole deal right up to the last minute, at which point a deal was struck between one of the council holdouts and the Bloomberg administration that would satisfy all. Well, almost all. A number of small businesses in the Iron Triangle will likely not go without a fight, and the ultimate transformation of Willets Point will no doubt be a long and messy process that will take years to complete.
Off-Track Betting Gets Back On Track
The ubiquitous green awnings that let bettors across the city know they can place their wager just about disappeared from the city for good. Off-Track Betting was a good bet to close its doors for good earlier this year, as the mayor threatened to call it quits on the gambling operation, which the way it is organized has been a losing proposition for the city. Actually, several betting parlors did in fact close their doors, and pink slips were sent to OTB employees across the city, but a last-minute deal was reached and betting on the ponies was once again as easy as walking to your friendly neighborhood OTB.
Doomsday on the Downtown Train
If 2008 was any indication, 2009 is not going to be a smooth ride when it comes to mass transit. Just before the close of the year, the MTA passed a budget that would increase fares across the board and hit riders hard in the pocketbook. But it wasn’t just bad news for people who take subways and buses – drivers would also get socked under the plan, as the MTA also proposed charging a toll to cross the East River to help the authority close a budget gap that is in the billions of dollars. (Who needs congestion pricing?) That was just the proposed budget, and some of the harsher measures could be staved off if the city and state can step to the plate and pony up a little more cash for the MTA. Of course, with both the city and state governments crying about their own financial troubles, it may take a good old-fashioned Washington, D.C.-style bailout to save the city’s commuters.
It’s the Economy Stupid
The wave of economic stability the city was riding after the horrific events of 9/11 finally crashed this year. Few things tanked as hard as the economy in 2008, beginning with the foreclosure crisis that affected homeowners who took advantage of sub-prime loans and continuing with the crash on Wall Street at the end of the year. The cumulative effect of the crisis won’t be known until sunnier financial days, but it is already taking its toll on the city and state budgets, which had to be slashed to cope with a fall in revenue streams.
The streets of Queens were tense, but relatively nonviolent after three cops charged in the death of Sean Bell were found not guilty in the spring of 2008. Bell was killed outside Club Kalua in Jamaica in November of 2006, the night before he was to get married. There were conflicting reports about what happened that night, but undercover cops monitoring the club said that they believed Bell was armed and dangerous when they opened fire. Bell was killed and two of his friends were seriously wounded that night, but no gun was ever found. After the verdict, protests shut down and clogged several major streets across the city, but protesters stayed calm and there were few arrests.