Gotham Gazette

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The Year That Wasn't: What Didn't Happen in 2009

Tolls on the East River bridges? Not in 2009.

Every year, things that everyone expects to happen don’t. Trial balloons pop. Sure things crumble. The odds-on favorite fades in the stretch. After all, 2009 was supposed to feature the inauguration of Hillary Clinton as president, more steamrolling by Eliot Spitzer and a subway World Series (we got half of one, though).

Here are a dozen other things that did not quite materialize in 2009.

Michael Bloomberg was not inaugurated as president of the United State

Whatever White House fantasies the mayor and Kevin Sheekey had (and according to an account by Joyce Purnick, they went far beyond the daydream stage) they fell victim to national enthusiasm for Barack Obama.

But don’t give up hope. Less than two weeks after Bloomberg's less than overwhelming victory in the mayoral campaign, Mark McKinnon at the Daily Beast began promoting Bloomberg for president in 2012.

Democrats did not choose the next mayor of New York in a bloody primary

Why? Because Bloomberg did not become president.

Fearing decades of idle hours writing checks, Bloomberg extended term limits and ran for a third term. Two likely contenders -- Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz both staunch allies of Bloomberg -- quickly decided not to oppose their man in City Hall. Rep. Anthony Weiner also dropped out, perhaps wondering what a second failed run for mayor might do to his eventual chances. That left Comptroller William Thompson who barely campaigned at all in the primary but handily defeated City Councilmember Tony Avella.

With the primary behind them, Democrats in this overwhelmingly Democratic city failed for the fifth straight time to elect one of their own as mayor, as Bloomberg defeated Thompson to win a third term.

Caroline Kennedy did not become a U.S. senator

A year ago she seemed so close. After all, she is rich, female, has friends in high places (Barack Obama, for one), would continue to give New York Senate star power and keep a Kennedy in the Senate. And, after years of reticence, Caroline Kennedy seemed to want the job. Even though the voting for this contest was to be done by an electorate of one (Gov. David Paterson), Kennedy stumped upstate. She gave interviews. She campaigned.

But then things unraveled. Kennedy did not seem to have inherited her family's legendary campaign skills. In an interview with the Times she said "you know" 142 times by one count, "fueling comparisons to Gov. Sarah Palin."

And the one voter? He maintained an air of mystery, issuing seemingly contradictory and sometimes befuddling statements on who he would choose. Kennedy, though, still seemed to doggedly hold the inside track.

Then, around midnight on Jan. 21, she abruptly withdrew from consideration, citing personal reasons that have never been explained. And then things got really messy. A source close to Paterson told reporters the governor never intended to appoint Kennedy. Kennedy confidantes countered the governor had told Kennedy to reconsider her decision. The governor's aides reportedly leaked various explanations -- never confirmed -- for what Kennedy's "personal reasons" might have been.

Paterson's efforts to tarnish Kennedy backfired. By the time the governor finally named upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate seat, Kennedy's possible sins were lost in discussions of Paterson's handling of the appointment.

"Caroline Kennedy may not deserve to be a U.S. senator, but she doesn't deserve to be slimed by the Paterson administration, either," wrote Bill Hammond of the Daily News. "Let Paterson be the last governor to appoint a senator from New York. No one could foul it up better, anyway."

Giuliani -- and many others -- do not choose to run

2009 ended as the year of the non-candidate, with Rudolph Giuliani in the lead. Many Republicans dreamed the former mayor would run for governor and become the tough prosecutor-turned-chief-executive Spitzer was supposed to be. But Giuliani announced he would not run, scared, some said, by the prospect of having to do battle with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Then Giuliani begged off a Senate run.

Some Democrats had their disappointments as well. Liberals, frustrated at seeing a pro-gun former tobacco lawyer holding the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, had their hopes dashed repeatedly in 2009. One by one their candidates fell by the wayside: Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Steve Israel, all apparently dissuaded from running by the White House and/or Sen. Charles Schumer. As the year drew to a close, outgoing City Comptroller (and defeated mayoral candidate) William Thompson remained the hope of Democrats hoping to avoid a choice between Gillibrand and Jonathan Tasini.

Some Democrats expressed equal dismay about a candidate who would not drop out. Despite pressure from the White House and plummeting poll numbers (which began edging upward in December), Paterson remained firm that he would seek election to a full term next year. That leaves many party leaders worried about holding congressional and State Senate seats, as well as the governor's mansion, in 2010.

Mark Green did not return to elected office

If everything had gone according to Mark Green's plans he'd be wrapping up his second -- and presumably final -- term as mayor right about now. Instead, he spent the last year trying to get his old job of public advocate back the only job he ever won election to despite many attempts at other offices.

"I realized how much I could do again as the No.2 citywide official during a different crisis and decade," Green said, announcing his candidacy. Although he raised little money and garnered few endorsements, experts saw the race as his to lose.

But lose he did, this time to Bill de Blasio. Few expect Green will try for office again. But, as they say, you never know.

New York does not approve same sex marriage

This was to be the year. The governor -- Paterson -- frequently and adamantly announced his support for same sex marriage. The Assembly approved it. The State Senate had switched to Democratic control due partly to financial support from gay groups. And some neighboring states had already embraced same sex marriage.

But then came the upheaval in the Senate. With Democrats holding the slimmest of majorities and one of their members, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., an implacable foe of same sex marriage, the Senate leadership wondered if they had the votes to pass gay marriage. Advocates countered that some Republicans would likely sign on in support, and gay families in the state deserved to have their day on the Senate floor.

And so they got it -- in the very final days of the session. As the roll was called, no Republican moved to support gay marriage, while eight Democrats broke with their party to oppose the measure. The bill went down -- 38 to 24.

As the year ended, Washington, D.C. and Mexico City acted to legalize gay marriage, leaving New York City, a birthplace of the gay rights movement, lagging behind.

Tolls were not placed on the East River bridges

It was the year the third rail of New York politics would lose its power to zap. With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority facing a deficit of hundreds of million of dollars and concerns about congestion, pollution and global warming, the reasoning went, how could transit riders be forced to constantly pay more for less while auto owners traveled into the city for free, belching pollution all the way? And at the end of 2008, a panel on transit financing proposed placing tolls on the East River bridges.

But once again the love affair between Americans and cars trumped other considerations. Legislators from the suburbs and outer boroughs blocked the tolls, reducing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rescue plan to a pale shadow of its former self.

Just how pale became evident at the end of the year, when the MTA announced it once again faced a $400 million deficit and again proposed massive service cuts. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose congestion-pricing plan was blocked by the legislature in 2008, vowed the time had come for some kind of auto fee -- tolls or a charge to drive in Manhattan.

"Come March, they're going to have to balance a budget, and I think any kind of revenue source is going to be on the table, and it may in fact still get done," Bloomberg said.

Or as the residents of one outer borough have been known to say: Wait until next year.

City schools did not fall into chaos

As the law giving Bloomberg sweeping authority over the city school system was about to "sunset," Bloomberg offered dire predictions of what might happen if he did not get his way.

"I think that there'd be riots in the streets," Bloomberg said at one point. If the legislature did anything to break his iron grip, he later said, it would be tantamount to "saying to the city: ‘we want to resurrect the Soviet Union. We want to bring back chaos.''

His allies agreed. Changing the system at all, said Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone, "will take us straight back to the bad old days, when corrupt and self-interested bodies answered to no one."

As frequently as those supporting changes in the current system said they did not want to resurrect the former school headquarters at 110 Livingston Street (now a luxury apartment), bring back the Board of Education or return the revolving door for school chancellors, the mayor and his allies charged that they did.

And the tactic worked. Last summer, the legislature largely left the mayor totally in charge of the country's largest public school system.

For the record, though, the mayoral control bill did sunset for a few weeks in July -- largely owing to the chaos in the State Senate -- and no one rioted or raised the hammer and sickle over Tweed.

New York City schools did not return to the "bad old days." Whether the new days are all that good, though, remains a topic of never ending debate.

Swine flu did not cripple the city this fall

Following last spring's H1N1 outbreak, which shut schools and jammed city emergency rooms, officials girded themselves for the worst this fall.

While the flu did prove deadly to some, it did not wreak havoc in New York this fall. Only a hundred of so people a day appeared at emergency rooms, schools remained open, attendance stayed about 90 percent and many people ignored pleas to get flu shots.

The Nets did not play in Brooklyn

This was the year the NBA New Jersey Nets were slated to make the move from the Meadowlands and open the 209-2001 season in Brooklyn. The team, under the ownership of Bruce Ratner, would play in the edgy Frank Gehry-designed Barclay Center at Atlantic Yards.

The Nets still may move to Atlantic Yards. But not until 2012. And when that happens Bruce Ratner will not own the team. He sold it to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who anted up $200 million to essentially buy the team and perhaps save the beleaguered Atlantic Yards project in the process. In June, beset by an array of financial problems and legal challenges, Ratner scrapped Gehry's arena plans and brought in Ellerbe Becket, an architectural firm based in Kansas City. So instead of playing in an architectural landmark, the Nets will slam dunk (or try to) in an arena that one observer said "looks a lot like every other stadium we've ever seen."

Fans may not care. The Nets opened this season with a record of no wins and 18 losses, the worst start in NBA history, and have not improved much since.

Eliot Spitzer did not vanish from public view

For months following the disclosure of his penchant for high-priced call girls and his resignation, sightings of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer remained rare. But a year after his disgrace, the "steamroller" returned. In March, working for his father's real estate company, Spitzer bought an office building near the hotel where he met Ashley Dupree. Later that month, he granted his first television interview since leaving office, focusing on the financial crisis. As his effort at rehabilitation continued, Spitzer wrote columns for Slate and delivered a lecture on ethics at Harvard.

By September, Spitzer was denying reports that he was running for office. But then that bubble burst. Polls showed him losing to Paterson -- who then had a 20 percent approval rating -- by a two-to-one margin.

"Clearly, any thoughts he might have of a political resurrection at this point are very premature," pollster Lee Miringoff toldthe Daily News.

Paterson did not appear on Saturday Night Live

But Fred Armisen has -- again and again. Paterson has repeatedly made it clear he is not amused by the comic's impression of the governor as a bumbling blind man.

And he's not going to take it anymore. In October, the governor, who SNL usually depicts as bumping into things, vowed, "I'm going to bump into 'Saturday Night Live' one day and they're going to get what's coming to them."

And the governor began angling for a guest shot (host -- or maybe a cameo like the one by Mike Tyson last week). "I've offered to come on 'Saturday Night Live' because I thought I would help them get the ratings," Paterson said in an interview on NY1. "Humor that they had when they first had Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi ... has gone… . I thought I would show some benevolence as governor and help them out a little bit."

Lorne Michaels, are you listening?

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