Rivera patiently introduced himself to voters. They were glad to meet him. "You're the one running against Espada? I'm for you," was the standard greeting he heard on street corners. "I didn't set out to run for office," he says. "But I am committed to public service, and I'm going to make sure this position serves the people, whether I'm here for two years or 20 years."

Obama's Troopers
Matt Cowherd and Lincoln Restler are two other bright new stars in a dim political firmament. Inspired by their work in the Obama campaign in 2008, they helped form a group called New Kings Democrats. They had the novel idea that Brooklyn's Democratic Party could become a vehicle for common good, not just a feeding trough for a favored few. When they sounded out party chairman Vito Lopez, they got more than a brush-off: He told them to get lost.

But they weren't about to go away. First, they ran for the party's long-neglected base, the county committee. Then this year, they took things up a notch, running as candidates for District Leader. Restler, 26, ran for the post representing north Brooklyn. Raised in Brooklyn Heights, he has been plugging away locally since graduating from Brown University. He served on the community board and worked with the growing antiwar group, Brooklyn for Peace. Restler won in a squeaker, beating the son of the party's top courthouse patronage winner, helping define what was at stake.

Father James Kelly: Fifty years of social justice ministering
Caleb Ferguson
Father James Kelly: Fifty years of social justice ministering
Ellen Biben and Linda Lacewell: The legal engine behind Cuomo's pension corruption probe
Caleb Ferguson
Ellen Biben and Linda Lacewell: The legal engine behind Cuomo's pension corruption probe

Cowherd, 34, grew up in Georgia and graduated from the University of Chicago. His main interest was literature until he saw how politics affects people's lives. He went to law school, volunteered in the 2006 midterm elections, and then again for Obama's campaign. A true political trooper already, he is buoyed by victories and not dismayed by defeats like the pounding Democrats took this year. "Miscommunication won the day," he says. "I think we'll do better next time."

Judicial Dissent
Gus Reichbach was elected to civil court in 1990 and soon found himself mocked in the tabloids as "the Condom Judge" for giving rubbers to prostitutes appearing before him. Reichbach rightly called it AIDS prevention. Today, the city hands out its own brand of prophylactics like chewing gum. No one even blinks. Reichbach stepped up to State Supreme Court in 1998. He has since become one of the city's great jurists, walking proof that even Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn boss who helped promote him, gets it right sometimes.

Reichbach, a card-carrying radical in his Columbia Law School days in 1968, is an equal-opportunity offender of powerful interests. In a bench trial this fall, Reichbach, son of a union organizer, angered transit union officials by giving a 20-year sentence to a man he'd convicted of killing a bus driver in a rage over the fare. The union wanted the max, 25 years. Last year, in sentencing a rabbi for molesting two teens, he noted that none of the dozens of letters he had received on the rabbi's behalf acknowledged the teens' pain. "I find that shameful," he said.

In 2007, he rebuked the FBI for its devil's pact with a murderous mob informant. The news was that the D.A. had dropped homicide charges against a decorated FBI agent after the Voice contradicted the key witness. But Reichbach focused on the FBI's willingness to collaborate with mob hit man Greg Scarpa. "Did the information Scarpa gave save more lives than he took? I am confident the answer is no," the judge stated.

Winning Lost Causes
Joel Rudin is an attorney for lost causes. His diligent lawyering has produced remarkable triumphs, none more so than last spring, when he won the release of Jabbar Collins, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he had nothing to do with. The motion Rudin filed in federal court on Collins's behalf contained a list of jaw-grinding prosecutorial abuses by the Brooklyn D.A., including a 9-1-1 tape never delivered and secret arm-twisting of key witnesses. "Shameful," said federal judge Dora Irizarry as she ordered Collins released and barred his retrial. Then she said it again.

Rudin, 57, has specialized in wrongful-conviction cases since graduating NYU Law School in 1978. He won reversals for former Bronx day-care workers convicted during a wave of sex-abuse hysteria. Last year, he won the release of another inmate, Danny Colon, convicted on perjured testimony in a shooting that left two dead. That case took six years and was denied by two judges before the Court of Appeals finally agreed that there'd been a miscarriage of justice. Rudin blames "the pressure to get convictions in outrageous cases. The crime is abhorrent, and so prosecutors don't want to take any chances by trusting the system to get the right results. So they rig it. It happens much more than people realize."

Scam Detectors
Ellen Nachtigall Biben and Linda Lacewell are prosecutors who get it right. They were the engine behind Andrew Cuomo's remarkable drive to expose fraud and influence peddling in the state's multi-billion-dollar pension fund. The roll call of those convicted is an index of how deeply woven the scheme was into the fabric of our politics—and how hugely profitable and well-hidden: the upright former state comptroller Alan Hevesi; the ultimate political insider Hank Morris; the former head of the Liberal Party Ray Harding; the billionaire West Coast GOP fund-raiser Elliott Broidy.

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