Calm is a word rarely associated with New York City. And certainly with half
the city a construction site, tourists packing sidewalks and roads and subways
jammed, the city in 2007 was hardly peaceful. But, as far as news goes, it was
a relatively quiet year in the five boroughs as the mayor and City Council continued
their era of good feeling, and some of the biggest stories involved debates over "sustainability."
News junkies looking for a little excitement could always go to Albany. There
the year began with the inauguration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer and continued with
battles between Spitzer and sundry legislators, including a particularly nasty
feud between the governor and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno
These are the top New York stories of 2007. (A lot of things did not happen in
2007 as well. For a look at them, click here.)
Spitzer Becomes Governor but the Steamroller Sputters:
a landslide election victory in 2006,
Spitzer became governor on Jan. 1. “Like Rip Van Winkle, the legendary
character created by the New York author Washington Irving, New York has slept
through much of the past decade while the rest of the world has passed us by," Spitzer
Now, he said, “Day One of our time for change has arrived."
But the lofty ambition soon floundered. State Assembly Democrats defied Spitzer
when they ignored the recommendation of a panel appointed by the governor and
one of their own, Thomas DiNapoli, state comptroller. Although the governor,
Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver managed to hash out a state budget
before the April 1 deadline, some observers
the final agreement as a setback for the governor, who had to back down
on proposed health care cuts and his pledge to make the process more transparent.
Then came Troopergate. A
state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, released in July, found that aides to
Spitzer had improperly used state police to gather possibly damaging information
on Bruno. Although neither Spitzer nor his aides have been charged with any crime,
the report prompted the
a top Spitzer aide along with several
investigations. The controversy sparked
a virtual blood feud between the state's
top Democrat and its top Republican, further snarling Albany's already
notorious gridlock and derailing some key state business, such as campaign finance
At year's end, with investigations continuing and the acrimony showing
no signs of abatement, numerous articles
examined whether Spitzer could recover from his rocky start. “Spitzer lunges.
He seems not to be a person of strategy. He slipped on a banana peel, or six,
and once down has thrashed around," one Albany observer told the
Yorker's Nick Paumgarten. In 2008, a key issue will be whether he can
Two New Yorkers Run for President:
No New Yorker has occupied
the White House since Franklin D. Roosevelt but two New Yorkers spent much
of 2007 on the campaign trail trying to change that. On the Democratic side,
Hillary Clinton (an
Illinois native and former Arkansas first lady who represents New York in the
announced her long anticipated candidacy in January. "I'm in it and
I'm in it to win," she said.
And in the Republican Party former
Giuliani formally entered the race â€“ again to few people's surprise â€“ in
February. While debate about Clinton has centered on her decisions in the Senate,
her role as U.S. first lady and her stands (or lack thereof) on issues, Giuliani's
run has focused attention on his record as mayor â€“ the only elective office
he ever held. For months, this seemed to work to Giuliani's advantage as
he touted his calmness
and steadfastness in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Recently, though, the former mayor's time in City Hall has emerged as more
of a mixed blessing. Critics have targeted his
His relationship with his now indicted
police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, has
scrutiny. Opponents have contrasted stands he took in New York with his current
position on issues such as
control. And tabloids have thrived on
of how New York City police protected his then girlfriend now wife,
Judith Nathan when Giuliani served as mayor.
Both Clinton and Giuliani held strong positions in the polls during much of 2007
but seemed to falter as the year drew to a close â€“ and the early primaries
drew ever closer.
Bloomberg Presents PlaNYC including Congestion Pricing:
Earth Day in 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a
sweeping plan for New York to accommodate 1 million additional residents by
2030 and become a more “environmentally sustainable" city. It set out
127 specific proposals on land use, water supply and quality, transportation,
energy, air quality and reducing the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
The ideas ranged from the specific -- planting more trees, for one -- to vaguer
and possibly grander notions such as using "creative financing" to
boost use of solar power in the city.
By and large, the plan won praise from an
array of experts. And the administration set to work implementing some of
playgrounds for use after hours, for example.
But one aspect of the plan -- the proposal to
an $8 fee for motorists driving into part of Manhattan on weekdays --
garnered most of the attention and opposition. Although the mayor lined up support
from many environmental groups, Spitzer, some key city politicians and business
leaders, he failed to win the backing of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and
the State Assembly. Instead a
compromise was forged, calling for a panel to consider “traffic mitigation" proposals,
including congestion pricing, and submit a plan for approval first to the
City Council and then the state legislature before it would take effect. The
panel's report is expected early in 2008.
Department of Education Issues Report Cards for City Schools:
New York's 1.1 million public school students returned this fall,
the education department released its first
ever report cards for almost every school in the system. While the report cards
rated schools in several areas, the evaluators at the Department of Education's headquarters
in the Tweed Courthouse boiled everything down to a single letter grade.
The grade would have consequences. The department said it would
failing schools starting at year's
While Bloomberg said the report cards would hold schools accountable for their
performance, some parents and educators
criticized the ratings for being confusing, too tied to standardized tests and
penalizing schools with a long history of high student achievement.
Controversial Plan to Give Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants Fails:
Perhaps Spitzer's biggest single defeat in a year studded with adversity came
on his plan,
in September, to grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants
in New York State. Spitzer said the idea, was a "common sense" move
that would increase public safety.
Many disagreed, including Bloomberg and some county clerks upstate who vowed
they would not give driver's license to people who could not prove they were
here legally. After holding adamantly to his position for several weeks, Spitzer
abruptly changed course announcing a
plan that would create three types of driver's license: one for people
here legally; one for New Yorkers who frequently cross the border into Canada;
and one for people here illegally. Michael Chertoff, the U.S. secretary of homeland
security gave the plan an endorsement that was tepid at best -- but virtually
no one else liked it. Advocates for immigrants were surprised -- and angry, with
City Councilmember John Liu calling the three-tier licenses "a new segregation." Bloomberg
still didn't like the idea, and the county clerks said they would continue to
press their lawsuit to stop it.
Perhaps most grievously for Spitzer's scheme, his proposal reared its head on
the national political stage. Asked about it at a Democratic candidate's debate,
Hillary Clinton floundered, prompting one of her opponents, former Senator John
Edwards, to remark, "Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two
different things in the course of two minutes."
With Democratic officeholders in the state complaining the license issue could
be used against them , Spitzer
the idea completely -- before the next debate when Clinton, who Spitzer
has endorsed, was sure to face more questions about it.
But the fight over identification will almost certainly rear its head again in
2008. That's when Spitzer has to decide whether New York will issue another kind
of license -- a federally recognized license known as the
ID, which can be used for boarding planes and entering federal facilities. The
Bush administration is pushing the Real I.D., but complying with federal requirements
for the Real I.D. would make it even more difficult for undocumented immigrants
to get licenses.
A Fire at the Deutsche Bank Building Kills Two Firefighters:
rebuilding continued around Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, the former
Bank building stood as a grim reminder to the events of Sept. 11,
2001. Efforts to raze the building, seriously damaged in the attacks, had been
by high levels of toxic substances. But in August, workers were well along
in their efforts to dismantle the structure floor by floor.
Then on August 18, a fire broke
out in the building. Two firefighters, responding to the call, died. In the weeks, that followed it emerged that a string of failures
by contractors, individual construction workers, and government agencies contributed
to the tragedy. Three top fire department officials
lost their jobs because the department had allegedly failed to inspect the building
or devised proper emergency plans. A number of lawsuits and investigations are
Meanwhile part of the building still looms near Ground Zero -- and officials
to say when it finally will be demolished.
Crime Continues to Fall with Murder at Record Low:
trends continue, New York City will
fewer than 500 murders this year -- the lowest number since such records
began in 1963. Perhaps even more noteworthy, some experts said, was that fewer
than 100 of those victims were killed by people they did not know. This, the
New York Times observed, "belies the common imagery that New Yorkers are
vulnerable to arbitrary attacks on the streets, or die in robberies that turn
The drop was part of a continuing
decline in crime in New York City that began under the Dinkins administration
and has continued even since -- even while
rates in many other cities have increased.
Despite Economic Jitters, Development Continues:
With Wall Street
going through what is at best a period of "volatility" and low-income
their homes because of mortgage foreclosures, development continues in
New York. As the year drew to an end, the Bloomberg administration announced
plan to develop Coney Island, the Atlantic
Yards project wound its way through the courts
and Columbia's plans to dramatically expand its campus into West Harlem moved
along the approval process. The City Council in September approved the largest
rezoning effort in the city's history, laying the groundwork for a massive
redevelopment in Jamaica, Queens, aimed at creating a transit hub tied to John
F. Kennedy International
Airport and revitalizing the area's commercial district. The Metropolitan Transportation
Authority sought public reaction to
five plans for the Hudson Yards on Manhattans' West Side, all featuring commercial
and residential skyscrapers, opens space and links to the planned park on the
With The City's Poverty Rate High, Bloomberg Begins Paying People for Good
Despite the economic boom in the city, almost one in five
New Yorkers have incomes below the poverty level ($20,650 for a family of four),
according to recent
data from the U.S. Census. The New York City area had the greatest difference
between rich and poor of any major metropolitan area in the country, with the
gap a yawning chasm in Manhattan where the wealthiest 20 percent of residents
made nearly 40 times more than the poorest 20 percent. While about half of
all New York City children are
into poverty, an
analysis found the average household income for white families with young children
in Manhattan had reached $284,208 a year in 2005.
The persistence of poverty came despite a generally good economic picture in
the city and a national decline in the poverty rate.
Faced with persistent poverty, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who largely ignored the
issue during his first term, began taking some steps to implement part of a
poverty plan announced in 2006. In
particular, the city embarked on a
controversial effort -- now funded with private money -- to begin paying poor
families to do such things as make sure their children go to school or go for
regular medical checkups. Bloomberg who modeled the plan on one in Mexico, said
it would give poor families, who have a lot of stress in their lives, "a
financial incentive to look ahead and to make decisions that will improve their
prospects for the future." Others criticized it for paying poor people
to do what they should do anyway, while some experts said such an incentive program
seemed to blame the poor for being poor.
At the same time the Bloomberg administration began to
some students for going to class, getting good grades and passing the state
standardized Regents exams for high school students. In a particularly odd twist,
the administration is
rewarding good students with cell phones, a device it has
banned in the very schools those students attend.
Schools Reorganized â€“ Again:
Catching many observers by surprise the Bloomberg administration announced
in January that it was reorganizing its reorganization of the nation's largest
school system. The rather arcane plan seeks to give more power to principals
and hold them more accountable for what happens in their buildings. The department
devised a new school funding formula aimed at removing some of the complexity
and arbitrariness of the old system. It also features school repot cards
(see above) and, as with previous plans hatched by Bloomberg and his Schools
Joel Klein, even more standardized tests.
Klein said he would tighten standards for teachers to get tenure and followed
that up later in the year with a
remove teachers the department considers unsatisfactory. And perhaps most surprising
to many, Klein eliminated the 10 educational regions he had established in Bloomberg's
first term when the city decided to strip community school districts of most
of their power. Klein said the districts were being eliminated because they had
largely accomplished their goals, but no observers could recall that Bloomberg
had ever indicated the regions were intended to be temporary.
The effects of all this at the classroom level, less than four months into the
new school year, remain unclear. But the reorganization raised the issue again
of just how successful the Bloomberg education initiatives, the centerpiece of
his administration have been. While city students do better than they did previously
on most state standardized tests, their
a national exam have barely changed since the advent of mayoral control. And
while Bloomberg basks in national acclaim for his efforts -- most recently
from Republican presidential contender John
McCain -- at home he has plenty of critics along with fans.
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