With 2018 drawing to a close, we're revisiting some of the best Gothamist stories of the year. These are the stories that inspired us, spurred us to action, made us feel grateful and humbled to live in New York City.
Here they are in no particular order.
Creepy Mister Softee Mystery Solved: Meet The Man Who Uses LinkNYC To Freak Out NYers // By Jake Offenhartz
On the day before Halloween, nearly six months after we were first puzzled by the slo-mo Mister Softee jingle invading the sidewalk Wi-Fi tablets of New York City, I received a cryptic email that began as follows: "I'm the one who's been making the LinkNYC kiosks blast Mister Softee, and other noises and sounds. I'm contacting you through a burner email address, because I don't think I want to identify myself as the culprit. You might understand my indecision better if you knew who I am. Or maybe not. I don't know."
NYC's War On E-Bikes Takes Toll On Immigrant Delivery Workers // By Christopher Robbins and Jeffrey E. Singer
Li had been unable to understand why the officer pulled him over because his English is poor. Walking out of the police precinct, his hands shook uncontrollably as he described his dilemma. "I have two children, I have a wife, I'm the only one working now," Li said in Mandarin. "What am I supposed to do now for work? How am I supposed to survive? How am I supposed to take care of my family?" Two hours later, Li was on a mountain bike given to him by a friend who worked at 55th and Lexington. Both brakes were shot. "I'm moving slowly," he assured us, as he carried the plastic bags of food through dense Midtown traffic.
(Photo by Jen Carlson / Gothamist)
We Spent A Night With Governors Island's Working Dogs // By Jen Carlson
We arrive at the old Parade Grounds on Governors Island, not far from our home for the night—an apartment inside of a historic building nearby.
Did I mention how dark it is? It's November, sunset was five hours ago, and it's freezing.
"Wait here, let me get out to see if I can see any," one of our guides says, "I thought I heard something." We sit still. We really do not want these things to be aware of our existence, if they're even here. But the dogs that are with us are getting antsy, and one of them lets out a yelp. We've run out of time. It forces us to release the hounds.
"Go Max, go!" our guide yells.
Max, the eldest dog, bolts from the cart, and suddenly we see the beasts rising up from the dark as he runs deeper into the field. There are probably around 60, and they're making an alarming sound as they go. It's more than a little Hitchcockian.
Is North Brooklyn's State Senator Martin Dilan The Real Estate Lobby's Favorite Democrat? // By Georgia Kromrei and Sam Adler-Bell
Since 1999, Dilan has accepted $325,400 from real estate entities, more than any senate Democrat besides Jeff Klein, the former Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) leader known for facilitating Republican control of the upper chamber. In total, 15 percent of Dilan’s campaign donations have come from developers and landlords. That’s nearly twice as much as any other state senator.
How Gramercy Park Became A Private Playground For NYC's Elite // By Christopher Robbins, Lylla Younes, and Jon Campbell
Our four-part series (!) traced the murky origins of the most famous private park in the world. The sweetheart deal that keeps the gates up and the public out was supposed to benefit the city in the form of property tax revenue commensurate with such an exclusive amenity, but our analysis shows that is no longer the case. After our first story was published, the mayor said that the park's status "should be reassessed" in the larger overhaul of the state's property tax system.
Gothamist Asks NYC Drivers: WHY ARE YOU HONKING? // Video by Jeff Seal
Take five minutes to watch Jeff Seal ask the essential question of the miserable drivers stuck in Manhattan gridlock who feel the need to take out their frustration on New Yorkers' eardrums.
While reports of the horrendous conditions on Rikers Island helped spur Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge to shutter the jail’s violence-plagued facilities, far less attention has been paid to the environment inside the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail which mainly holds people who have been charged but not yet convicted of crimes, who in the eyes of the law are still presumed innocent.
Yet those locked up at the MCC are subject to their own indignities and rights violations, say those who have spent time there on both sides of the bars. These include filthy conditions, vermin infestations, substandard medical care, and violence and abuse at the hands of guards. Interviews with a dozen people who have spent time locked up there as recently as 2017, as well as with attorneys who have represented clients at MCC, human rights groups, and others with direct knowledge of the prison, confirm that those incarcerated at MCC often endure a rat-infested, high-rise hell just yards from the federal courts that send them there.
'Drop In The Bucket': The State Of Affordable Housing In De Blasio's New York // By Steven Wishnia
That the mayor was dealt a bad hand is indisputable. But how well has he played it? De Blasio’s record on housing is certainly better than Michael Bloomberg’s. Yet the 34,500 apartments built and the 75,000 preserved have to be measured against the need: more than 61,000 people, mostly families, in city homeless shelters, and more than 600,000 households spending more than half their income on rent.
Can NY Make The Leap To Universal, Government-Run Healthcare? // By Caroline Lewis
Perhaps more than any other single piece of legislation, the stakes here are high. For better or worse, the New York Health Act would have a huge impact on the economy and would disrupt the state’s current health system, which, despite its flaws, insures about 95 percent of New Yorkers. About a third of New Yorkers are currently enrolled in free or low-cost coverage through the state’s $70 billion taxpayer-funded Medicaid program or Child Health Plus, while another 700,000 or so are enrolled in the Essential Plan, an insurance option created under the Affordable Care Act for low-income residents who don’t qualify for Medicaid.
(Photo by Tod Seelie / Gothamist)
The Legendary Bronx Christmas House Is Mysteriously Diminished This Year // By Claire Lampen
Perhaps you have heard about the Garabedian Christmas House, encountered its inimitable glow blazing off the pages of the pages of local news outlets. Perhaps you have looked upon its shimmering bubble gum exterior, its thick mannequin coat, and wondered what goes on inside the mind that deemed this an appropriately festive tribute. I have been stewing on that exact same question, but unfortunately, my quest for answers has been a big dead end. Gary Garabedian, the Christmas House custodian, has proven hard to get ahold of this year. Other outlets have described him as "cherubic" and glittery, a jovial man apparently eager to discuss his handiwork. Unfortunately, I cannot independently confirm any of this, because Gary—or the person attached to the number I found listed for him—has not returned my calls.
No matter your background, what part of the city you live in, or how long your commute is, the NYC experience is a perpetual Rube Goldberg machine filled with strange and unique situations that the English language struggles to fully describe. Thankfully, there is another language that IS very good at describing extremely specific things: German.
Subway Policing In New York City Still Has A Race Problem // By Anna Flagg and Ashley Nerbovig, co-published with The Marshall Project
A Marshall Project analysis of New York Division of Criminal Justice Services data from 2014 through June of this year shows that while the numbers of turnstile arrests have decreased significantly, what has not changed is who gets arrested: 89 percent of those arrested this year are black or Hispanic, virtually the same proportion since 2014. Across the city, neighborhoods with the most turnstile arrests per subway card swipe tend to be predominantly Black or Hispanic.
When adjusted for subway traffic, the top 10 neighborhoods in New York with the highest numbers of arrests per subway swipe were all predominantly Black or Hispanic.
Meet The Woman Behind Sofreh, NYC's Most Exciting Persian Restaurant // By Sai Mokhtari
Nasim has photos of these women framed in the corner of the private dining area downstairs, as they are an important part of Sofreh’s story. And for the women who never had a photograph of themselves, Nasim has written their names. Above this humble mural, she has hung a colander that once belonged to her aunt’s grandmother as a light fixture to illuminate this small but important corner of her restaurant. She points to a tiny candle that has been sitting on the downstairs table beside us. “This is a candle I light every day for all the women in my family.” She started this tradition on the very first day she cooked in her kitchen at Sofreh. “I sit down here with them every morning…I salute all seven of them. They all mean so much in my life…and I thank them for who I am. And then I start my work.”
Will Governor Cuomo Give Roy Bolus A Second Chance? // By Max Rivlin-Nadler
“He was sentenced to 80 years in prison when he was 18 years old. He was on the way to college when he made a wrong turn. For that, he’s paid 30 years in prison,” Ada Bolus said. “His family needs him. Society needs people like Roy. We can give him the second chance that nobody gave him when he was 18.”
I Ran For State Senate In Brooklyn And Lost. Here's What I Learned // By Ross Barkan
You learn what it is to fundraise, to comprehend the deleterious enormity of money in politics. Hours on your phone begging for cash, writing emails for cash, eradicating whatever shame you have left and just doing it. Politics killed my sense of shame. Now I will ask, now I will beg, now I can stand on a street corner and pitch myself—this body, this face—for four hours at a time.
Newtown Creek (Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist)
Spotting Signs Of Life On The Poisoned Waters Of Newtown Creek // By John Del Signore
Our three hour tour of the creek did not yield any grisly discoveries beyond old plastic bags. In fact, most of what we saw seemed at odds with the creek's reputation as an irreparably polluted wasteland. "The first egret of the season!" Elkins excitedly remarked as we puttered east in a little wooden boat with a detachable motor. I hadn't noticed the bird until he pointed it out, a white sentinel poised on a rocky shoreline built by the city to create a more naturalized bulkhead. Our foray also yielded sightings of a red breasted merganser, many cormorants, a great blue heron, a kingfisher, and numerous mallards—all encouraging signs that Newtown Creek is gradually becoming cleaner.
Hudson Yards Has $4.5 Billion In Taxpayer Money. Will We Ever See It Again? // By Neil deMause
All told — adding in $281.2 million in city capital expenditures and more than $750 million in special tax breaks handed out for Hudson Yards commercial developers — the city will end up spending at least $4.5 billion in taxpayer money, with developers led by Stephen Ross's Related getting a sweetheart deal on publicly controlled land in order to create a new outpost of Midtown. [Update: That figure has now risen to $5.6 billion, according to newly compiled research.]
On 'Cornerstore Caroline' And NYC's Nuisance Neurosis // By Josmar Trujillo
Does gentrification lead to hyper-policing, or vice versa? Both. As NYC aggressively policed nuisances, the city gentrified. As it gentrified, the complaints of new New Yorkers further fueled nuisance neurosis—and calls to police. The result: A city of thin-skinned whiners who don't hesitate to snitch on a single Mister Softee truck or wage an annual war on steel pan drum practice.
In the year since New York’s deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11, the city and the state have taken expensive, clumsy, and sometimes nonsensical steps to “harden” target areas. Most of these efforts boil down to placing thousands of bollards around high pedestrian areas, with seemingly little foresight on how it will forever alter some of the most crowded and vibrant places in New York City.
How The 'Sham' Sausage Gets Made Inside The Brooklyn Democratic County Committee // By Frank Runyeon
When the slate of executive officers came up for a vote, Seddio cashed in his votes to support his candidates, overwhelming resistance from what appeared to be a majority of committee members physically in attendance.
“This is a sham!” one woman yelled. “Shame, shame,” some chanted. Others jeered.
Connor announced the results. “All those standing, plus the proxies held by Mr. Seddio...” he began, as he was interrupted by a chorus of boos. “You don’t even know the results yet.”
A reformer heckled him: “You knew the results before we voted!”
Honorable Mentions & Bonus Reading:
A Rare Look Inside The Abandoned Buildings Of Governors Island
SEE IT: Cynthia Nixon Orders Cinnamon Raisin Bagel With... Lox And Capers
Adorable 6-Year-Old Transit Fan Gets Special MTA Tour From Andy Byford
A Very NYC Bingo Card
This Gigantic Rock Jammed Between Two Buildings Is A Huge Part Of NYC History
The Newly Renovated Penn Station Men's Restroom Will Take Your Breath Away
Ask A Climate Scientist: What's The Point Of Saving For Retirement If The Ice Caps Are Melting?
Wall-to-wall Mandarin Duck coverage