For decades, the city's schoolbus drivers labored under crooked operators in league with mobbed-up union leaders. City officials ignored the problem. It took a group of courageous drivers and bus matrons calling themselves Members for Change—led by drivers Simon Jean-Baptiste and Warren Zaugg—to challenge the old guard at Local 1181 after a federal probe began. The worst of that crew is now either in prison or banished, but members are still fighting to bring democracy to the local, assisted by veteran organizer Eddie Kay and labor attorney Carl Levine.

Harlem state senator Bill Perkins didn't budge when New York's Democratic establishment pushed him to back hometown gal Hillary Clinton in the presidential primaries. Perkins, himself a former tenant organizer, liked what he saw and heard from another ex-organizer, Barack Obama. Even with Charlie Rangel, Clinton's heavyweight supporter and Harlem powerhouse, breathing down his neck, Perkins stuck by his man. Now they're both winners.

Without the gutsy leadership displayed by Brooklyn city council members Tish James and Bill de Blasio, Mike Bloomberg's demand for legislation allowing him to seek a third term might well have simply rolled over a council that's been notoriously compliant with his agenda. As it happened, James and de Blasio helped force one of the closest votes in recent council history and focused a bright spotlight on Bloomberg's shameless maneuvering.

Think it's easy standing up to a multi-billionaire mayor whose power reaches into every fold of the city's fabric, both public and private? When Bloomberg's term-limits bill passed the council, a clutch of lawyers loudly vowed to sue. But by the time the papers were ready, only two were left standing. Norman Siegel is always there. A veteran anti-poverty and civil rights lawyer, Siegel has long been the city's steadiest defender of civil liberties and an innovative advocate for the powerless. His odd-couple partner in the term-limits lawsuit is Randy Mastro, once a relentless Giuliani deputy. But this is more like the Mastro I first met 20 years ago when he was facing down mobsters and fighting to bring democracy to the Teamsters union. Redemption is a powerful force, and hope springs eternal. Who knows?

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