Well folks, it’s that time of the year again. That’s right, the season of year-in-review posts from every publication you read and probably your local deli, too. We’ve made it another spin around the sun and it’s time to briefly recap what we’ve seen in the world of New York politics and civics.
On a personal note, I feel a bit tickled to still be writing this newsletter. A year and a half ago, our publisher Mitra contacted me a bit out of the blue at a time when I was also having some personal struggles and was feeling burnt out from having spent a year covering the spread and impact of Covid-19 on detention and immigration enforcement (see here for an example of that coverage, but please only if it won’t put you in a bad mood). It sounded like something a little different and unconventional and I thought, why not, it’s just a temporary project running through the 2021 elections.
Fast forward and here we are, long past when we thought we’d wrap things up, and it’s been a delight. I have so appreciated the Epicenter folks and Mitra’s steadfast support, as well as their patience in dealing with my somewhat erratic schedule (for folks who don’t know, I’m also on the NY Daily News Editorial Board, I teach at CUNY and NYU, and I also co-write the immigration policy newsletter BORDER/LINES; for the record, I don’t recommend this lifestyle). Throughout it, we’ve written about everything from the scandal that felled former. Gov. Andrew Cuomo to climate change to surveillance to the rental market and much more, not to mention lots and lots about elections.
Prepare for a wild legislative season
Anyway, now that we’ve got the sappy stuff out of the way, what’s been happening this year? Well, the big news is we’re heading into it with a shiny new mandate for Gov. Kathy Hochul, who defeated challenger Lee Zeldin in the November election, albeit by a slimmer margin than Democrats were really comfortable with, and with New York pretty much single-handedly tossing control of the House to the GOP. Despite the dings, Dems still narrowly retained supermajorities in the State Senate and Assembly, which means the next legislative session will be a wild ride.
On one hand, Hochul’s full term and the holding on to supermajorities in both chambers gives them plenty of runway to pursue their priorities, but on the other, the losses are a bit of a wake-up call about their supposed stronghold status in New York. It may not be indicative of their political priorities being unpopular per se, but it certainly points to their messaging and overall political efforts leaving something to be desired, to the point that they’ve practically surrendered the discourse to the GOP on key issues like crime.
The future of the MTA is at stake
As far as what those priorities are, there are several big-ticket issues that will be closely watched, including what in the world is going to happen with the MTA, which has been hemorrhaging money in part due to decreased ridership (though as we pointed out in a recent editorial, also because it is excellent at spending vast amounts of cash very inefficiently). Instead of just plugging the gaps, some lawmakers are thinking bigger, with ideas like making buses fully free. There’s also the consistent specter of the affordable housing shortage, and on that front some of the ideas involve encouraging housing around transit hubs, not to mention just more housing overall.
New York City needs more housing
One thing on the agenda is some sort of replacement to the now-expired 421a tax incentive program, which despite being a persistent progressive bugbear — described as a public funds giveaway to developers — certainly led to the development of additional affordable housing. The other big question is what impact the remnants of the pandemic and the work-from-home revolution will have on housing and cities overall, with most people expecting some portion of central business districts in NYC especially to remain vacant permanently as employees increasingly expect remote work flexibility. That has dire implications for the tax base, though on the flip side of things, some believe that much of this empty commercial space can be converted into housing.
An activist Supreme Court
This year saw a rather activist Supreme Court, which handed down decisions altering a wide swath of our social contract. The most widely noted was of course the Dobbs decision that overturned the longtime precedent in Roe v. Wade, something a long time coming courtesy of a decadeslong, focused project of right-wing activists and political operatives. With the smoke clearing, though, it seems like they may have overplayed their hand, as the court nosedives in credibility and favorability and the decision energizes voters even in red states. The nationwide red wave that had been predicted was heavily blunted by both voter anger over these decisions and the prevalence of oddball Trump-backed candidates who mostly got pummeled in a sign of fatigue over the former president’s antics.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the extreme right isn’t on the march, it’s just less tied to Trump specifically. The MAGA ideology is advancing, including in New York, which helps at least in part explain the success of the Republicans here where they failed in other states. We are also all dealing with the persistent effects of waves of disinformation, which have latched onto everything from Covid-19 vaccines to economic fears to an unfortunate spike in antisemitism.
On the national stage, Republicans are set to retake the House, though rather surprisingly the Democrats managed not only to keep the Senate but actually expand their majority to a real 51-seat bloc (previously it was Vice President Kamala Harris who could cast the tie-breaking 51st vote). Or so they thought, though the picture is complicated by the fact that Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has now decided to leave the party altogether and register as an independent. Still, she’s likely to generally caucus with the Democrats, which, it’s worth noting, is what two senators, including Bernie Sanders, already do.
2023 to bring numerous House investigations
The loss of the House means that next year we’re likely to see a lot of House investigations of Biden officials and policies, including his son Hunter. Some GOP congressmembers have already signaled an intention to go so far as to attempt to impeach cabinet members like Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Likely next House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has reportedly promised MAGA true believers like Marjorie Taylor Greene a wide latitude in helping set the agenda in exchange for their support for his speakership bid, though that may be derailed by opposition from other MAGAites like Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz, who oppose McCarthy. In any case, that might spell the death of big legislative achievements like the infrastructure bill or the Inflation Reduction Act.
Mayor Adams to face another challenging year
On a local level, Mayor Adams has some good news to tout on crime, though he continues to inhabit the bizarre space of both bragging about how safe the city is and warning darkly of the dangers lurking in the streets and subways. Big challenges in the next few months will include dealing with an expected influx of asylum seekers, particularly if and when the federal Title 42 policy is terminated. His first bite at the apple could certainly have gone better, though the city has been put in a tough spot as the feds largely wash their hands of responsibility in helping accommodate the new arrivals. He will also have to contend with a diminished municipal workforce and the specter of a budget crunch as it becomes clear some workers just won’t return to NYC.
All in all, it’s been an eventful year and the pattern promises to continue. One thing will stay the same: New York abides, and New Yorkers will keep chugging along and looking out for one another.