100 Most Powerless New Yorkers

A 'power list' for the rest of us

100 Most Powerless New Yorkers
Photos by Caleb Ferguson

Have you noticed that power lists, which have been spreading like the clap lately, from the Time 100 to the Forbes 500, tell you things you already know about the rich and famous and give publicity to people who already have more of it than they know what to do with? For the rest of us, here’s a power list to get 2012 going in the right direction. They're in no particular order. (Like it really matters.)

1. Weed-delivery guys

The reason so many marijuana arrests are of black and Hispanic people is not because they smoke weed more. White New Yorkers, by the NYPD's own numbers, have a higher per-capita rate of contraband when they're arrested. However, white people stay safe in their apartments while colored folks deliver drugs to them. Delivering drugs puts you on the bottom of a pyramid scheme where you usually earn less than minimum wage, making you vulnerable to homicide and giving you about as much of a chance of becoming a rich kingpin as being a production assistant or a media intern gives you of becoming a celebrity.

40. Occupy Wall Street crust punks
Caleb Ferguson
40. Occupy Wall Street crust punks
42. Street vendors who sell porn magazines
Caleb Ferguson
42. Street vendors who sell porn magazines

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2. The St. Mark's Bookshop staff

These are not good days to be a bookseller, and the staff of the St. Mark's Bookshop are particularly at peril. Although celebrities as diverse as Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Moore have recently given their endorsement to the quaint bookshop (and Voice neighbor), and Cooper Union has granted it a rent reduction reprieve, its staff's jobs are on the line if either of the seemingly inevitable occur: the continued rise of e-books and the fury of Cooper students at the possibility of having to pay tuition.

3. Bodega owners

Over the past decade, your neighborhood bodega has likely been replaced by a bank outlet or driven out of business by a Duane Reade popping up nearby. Walmart's unrelenting push to move many stores into the city (with a tacit blessing from Michelle Obama and an explicit blessing from Ruben Diaz) seems inevitable eventually, considering mounting public support. The day Sam Walton rolls into town, the few bodega owners still holding on (and their arguably more powerful cats) will be as toast as the bread in a $2.99 bacon, egg, and cheese special.

4. Any cab driver looking to fill up or take a leak in Manhattan

Cabbies have to rely on Starbucks for somewhere to urinate, but then there are those rumors that the coffee-joint johns might close. As for finding a pump to fill up at in Manhattan, there are only 41 gas stations on the entire island.

5. Rosemary Maude, Access-a-Ride user

Like many elderly people living in New York City, Rosemary Maude depends on Access-a-Ride to get around. This leaves her waiting on the street for long stretches of time, and she sometimes misses rides when her drivers come early and stand her up. Like many people her age, Maude doesn't regularly have access to a cell phone, so if she goes up to her 11th-floor apartment to call and see where the hell her ride is, it might miss her at the curb and leave.

6. Registered Republicans

The vast majority of New York voters are registered Democrats, leaving Republicans and independents effectively powerless in general elections. All but five of the City Council's 51 seats and the state's electoral college hasn't gone to a Republican since Calvin Coolidge's landslide of 1924. (Still, City Hall has been in Republican hands for anywhere from two to five terms, depending on which party Mayor Bloomberg is claiming at the moment.)

7. The person holding the sign at the end of the Trader Joe's line

Bouncers have power over lines and who can even get into them; the Trader Joe's employees who have to hold a sign are just showing people the end of the damned line. All they can do is bring misery to people.

8. Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate

De Blasio is the holder of the most useless office in the city, a position so powerless, it was first held by Mark Green. Since it was created, its budget has been cut nearly in half, and there are repeated calls to abolish it altogether. And though second in line to succeed the mayor, no former occupant has yet to move into Gracie Mansion.

9. Carriage horses

These horses work in the hottest hot and the coldest cold. Despite the fact even the best-trained horse can be spooked unexpectedly, they walk right in the middle of traffic on the busiest streets of Midtown, even at rush hour. This past year, three have collapsed, one fatally, on the job.

10. Food-delivery people

Not only is a food-delivery person (typically a Chinese or Hispanic immigrant) usually murdered every year, but also far more are killed in bicycle accidents. Moving through the city while carrying large sums of cash, they are easy targets for theft and assault. Because many are undocumented, their assailants think they're too powerless to go to the authorities.

11. NYPD officers working evidence rooms

As Graham Rayman reported in the Voice, cops go to the evidence rooms when they've been stripped of their guns, their mobility, and the power to police the streets (indeed, just about every reason they became cops in the first place). It is among the most humiliating and least powerful jobs on the entire force. Further, when a cop is sent to guard the 10 million items in evidence (about 1.6 million added per year), they aren't even given the tools to effectively police these inanimate objects. As Rayman wrote: "The responsibility for tracking that sheer volume of items is difficult and complicated. But in the year 2011, a time when computer scanners and bar codes are commonplace in Walmart and Rite Aid stores all over the country, it is shocking to learn that the NYPD still relies on ledger books, black ink, typewriters, and carbon copies to track that volume of material." Evidence is routinely lost and unable to be found.

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