Here is part two of our semi-chronological look back at the top stories this past year (here is part one):
The Blackout of 2003, as irritating as it was, happened to the whole city, could be blamed on other states and didn't last too long. When parts of Queens lost power in July, Con Ed wrote it off as an isolated event affecting only a few thousands customers. But as Queens spent days without power, we all learned that one Con Ed customer equals one building - which could be tens or hundreds of a tenants - and that poor maintenance of cables contributed to the blackout that left at least 100,000 without power.
Queens residents struggled with getting answers and got angry about being treated like second class citizens - only for Mayor Bloomberg to say that Con Ed was doing a great job (the Mayor took his sweet time before heading to see the blackout for himself). Naturally, Con Ed blamed everything else except for themselves (remember when they blamed the fatal electrocution of a dog on a Brooklyn sidewalk on the Department of Transportation, when it was actually Con Ed's fault after all?). It may be too easy to blame Con Ed since many of the problems are related to the city's aging infrastructure, Con Ed's unhelpful nature doesn't make them likable.
Mayor Bloomberg Still Surprises
with the highest approval ratings of his career, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent the first year of his second term as mayor with some bold moves. His fight against illegal guns became a national issue when he showed undercover stings of out-of-state gun dealers and he recruited mayors from across the country to join him. More recently, he backed the Department of Health's ban on trans fats, becoming the first city to do so. And he got city workers playing solitaire on the job fired. It wasn't all Nanny Bloomberg all the time. He spoke out against certain politicians' attempts to belittle science, managed to support a mix of Republican and Democratic candidates, and got to be coy about heading to the White House in 2008. The budget was even in good shape!
Still, it's unclear whether his grand experiment with the school system will work (let's not even get into the city's decades-old ban on cellphones in the schools) and whether affordable housing will be available to more New Yorkers, but he is laying out ambitions plans about how the city can grow in the future.
Cory Lidle's Plane Crash
The news reports said a plane had crashed into an Upper East Side Building. Most everyone was relieved it was not a terrorist attack but a small private plane that had somehow veered off course, but the image of the damaged building on East 72nd was frightening. While there was panic and a few injuries, the only two fatalities were the plane's passengers - plane owner Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor Tyler Stanger. Politicians debated NYC's aerospace accessibility, wondering why airspace was not seemingly very monitored in the wake of September 11, leading the FAA to restrict airspace. And it turned out that the wind and a bad turn caused Lidle and Stanger to make that fateful turn.
The Weird Road to the Election
As expected this fall, Democrats won big in NY State (and the country), with Eliot Spitzer elected Governor, Hillary Clinton was re-elected to the Senate, and Andrew Cuomo elected as Attorney General. But that's where the expectations stopped. Senator Charles Schumer, stuck in Clinton's shadow, got to shine as as kingmaker. Republican Attorney General candidate Jeannine Pirro was under federal investigation for possible eavesdropping into her husband possible extramarital affairs, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is under federal investigation for business dealings, and, in a rather spectacular flame out, State Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigned after it was revealed he violated state ethics rules by using state employees to chauffeur his sick wife. Spitzer's promises about cleaning never sounded better.
NY State Democrats are firmly in power, and the Republicans have a lot of rebuilding to do. Not that that effects the city - the most watched vote here wasn't even during the general election. It was actually the Congressional primary race in Brooklyn that Yvette Clarke eventually won, basically ensuring that she was Representative-elect in mid-September.
Five Years Later
With so much wondering, development started to pick up steam at Ground Zero. Construction began on the World Trade Center Memorial, designs were selected for the other towers at the World Trade Center site, and the first beams for Freedom Tower were placed. After many problems with fundfraising, Mayor Bloomberg became the head of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation. And WTC developer Larry Silverstein's 7 World Trade Center opened.
While construction seemed to progress and though five years seemed to be enough time for the public to accept two movies (with varying critical and commercial success), there were more sober stories at Ground Zero. It became clear there were/are many people afflicted with illnesses because of toxic dust from September 11 - and the city's response is still uncertain. Amidst construction, human remains were found, confirming earlier searches were rushed. The city and country observed the fifth anniversary of the attacks - five years still seems both very far and very near.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, undercover police officers fired at three men leaving a Queens strip club. One man, Sean Bell, died, a few hours before his wedding - he had been at the club for a bachelor party - while two of his friends were wounded in what turned out to be a barrage of 50 bullets in under a minute. The community, remembering incidents like Amadou Diallo's shooting at the hands of the police and the Abner Louima's abuse at a Brooklyn police station, reeled and demanded answers.
The Mayor and Police Commissioner worked to reach out to black politicians and community leaders, most notably the Rev. Al Sharpton. Bloomberg even said that the shooting was "unacceptable" and "deeply disturbing." Some people questioned police tactics and called for Commissioner Kelly's resignation. Sharpton, who still supported Kelly, called for justice and organized a march down Fifth Avenue. Police said that the undercover officers identified themselves and had fired at the car because a "fourth man" had a gun - a fourth man who was never found. recently said that Bell was drunk during the shooting, questioning his judgment. The Queens District Attorney's office is still investigating.
But through it all, Bell's fiancee (who he had two young daughters with as well) Nicole Paultre has been a remarkable figure. She told Larry King that she wasn't angry at the NYPD and that she simply wanted justice. Paultre, who took Bell's last name after his death, also said to Essence, "I'm not angry with the entire department. It’s not the department that did this. It’s those five police officers; it’s them that need to be held accountable. A lot of people ask me about my saying I’m not angry, but they don’t understand that I have to focus my energy on other things besides anger."
Photograph of In Blessed Memory of Sean Bell, by Casa de Darnoc.
The Struggle for Vehicles, Cyclists and Pedestrians to Co-Exist
Throughout the year, there was a never ending, sad refrain about cyclists and pedestrians being fatally hit by cars. A cyclist on Houston and LaGuardia falling under the wheel of a truck, perhaps because of a metal plate on the street. Many pedestrian deaths while crossing the West Side Highway. An avid cyclist hit by an NYPD tow truck on the West Side bike path. A former ADA walking to meet his brother killed by a drugged out driver. Pedestrians killed in two separate accidents a block away from each other. At the same time, the NYPD stepped up efforts to stop Critical Mass gatherings, even driving on sidewalks to chase cyclists.
While the increase in hit and run fatalities was in line with figures for the past five years, it further fueld the desire for the city to truly consider a congestion pricing plan. The Department of Transportation did announce an unprecedented bike safety improvement initiative in September, but one of the most tragic accidents was the recent death of Eric Ng, a 22 year old riding on the West Side Greenway who was hit by a drunk driver accidentally driving on the bike path. And what about the fact that drivers don't even receive a summons if they fatally hit a person when running a red light or making an illegal turn?