100 Most Powerless New Yorkers

A 'power list' for the rest of us

12. The New York Public Library's homeless patrons

Spend some time in the city's public libraries (not the fancy main research building on Fifth Avenue with the lions, but its dumpy cousin across the street or any of the branch libraries), and you'll know what it's like to be in a mental asylum. It's here where legions of the city's homeless and mentally ill residents, with nowhere else to go, spend their days. They're sleep deprived, and if they nod off (or their eyes close for even a few moments), they are harassed by library security. The library is a warm place, but not especially comfortable, and there are few bathrooms. (Like anyone, homeless patrons are, however, allowed to look at porn, and we've even noticed some using the library's Wi-Fi to set up appointments to engage in sex work from time to time.)

13. The NYPL's librarians

12. Homeless NYPL patrons
Caleb Ferguson
12. Homeless NYPL patrons
10. Food-delivery people
Caleb Ferguson
10. Food-delivery people


Perhaps the only people less powerful in the library system than the homeless patrons are the librarians themselves. Gone are the days when a master's degree in library science and a job in the nation's largest public-library system meant that you would spend your days helping writers to research and mesmerizing people with your encyclopedic knowledge of the Dewey decimal system. Today's NYPL librarian needs to be a social worker, a specialist at dealing with the homeless and the severely mentally ill, a computer-tech wiz at solving people's Wi-Fi problems, and a job (and suicide-prevention) counselor helping people look for jobs that simply don't exist. Even those librarians at the flagship Fifth Avenue main branch (who have been inoculated to some degree from the shit storm of the branch libraries) are preparing for it. As a recent article in The Nation reported, the 3 million books beneath the Rose Reading Room will soon be shipped off to a storage facility in New Jersey and replaced by seven floors of computer terminals. As a former NYPL librarian said of the branch across the street and the main branch's future: "That place is utter chaos. And it will all come here—the noise, the teenage problems, the circulating DVDs."

14. Mary Lee Ward, an 82-year-old being evicted in Bed-Stuy

"Ms. Ward," as she's affectionately known in Bed-Stuy, received a predatory loan in 1996 of $10,000. Despite never receiving the money (and the broker losing his license and his firm being shut down by the state for predatory practices), Ward's loan was considered delinquent, was bundled and repackaged multiple times, and resulted in her home being sold at auction last year. She has only evaded being kicked out because of Organizing for Occupation's eviction blockades around her house, which started in August. Almost as powerless is Shameem Chowdury, who bought Ward's house at auction in 2008. Because Wells Fargo, who sold the home to him, couldn't provide the actual deed, he might not legally be the owner of the house he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for.

15. Building supers

Although they can come into your apartment and collect your rent, many times, building supers are just another powerless cog in the real estate machine. Often working off the books, their payment can be in the form of an apartment to live in, sometimes in the basement or an undesirable part of their building. At the whim of employers for their livelihood and their home, supers are very much at their mercy.

16. Mark Green, former Public Advocate/perennial candidate

Of the three people who have been Public Advocate, the most powerless is Mark Green, the perennial candidate whom no one likes. Green eked out a win over Freddy Ferrer for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2001 (which probably wouldn't have happened save for the fact that the primary was on September 11 that year and had to be rescheduled), only to go on to lose to a Republican named Michael Bloomberg who'd never held public office before. Since leaving office, Green has had such powerless stints as being president of Air America, losing to Andrew Cuomo in the 2006 Democratic nomination for attorney general, and, most humiliating, losing a runoff to Bill de Blasio just to be nominated to run for the Public Advocate job he'd already inhabited. (Green craves publicity and public acceptance so much, we imagine he'll tweet with pride that he made this list. However, he's so powerless, he doesn't even have a Twitter, just a Facebook fan page with only 182 likes that hasn't been updated since 2009.)

17. Ruben Diaz Sr., state senator

"Papi" has been a one-trick pony throughout his career, basing his power largely on one thing: hatin' on the gays. When the Marriage Equality Act passed, making Diaz Sr. the sole Democrat and senator of color to vote against it, Diaz's bigotry-based power dissipated entirely on June 24, 2011, and rendered him irrelevant. His power was further tarnished when the Bronx's gay Community Pride Center moved into a building bearing his name.

18. Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx borough president

"Junior" has been wrapped up in an Oedipal political relationship with his father throughout his career. How much he's his dad's whipping boy became clear during Bronx Week, the kind of ceremonial shit that's the highlight of a powerless position like borough president. "Papi" decided to have an anti-gay marriage rally right on the steps of Junior's office, under his Bronx Week signs, during the Bronx Week parade (and at the same time as the AIDS Walk). Junior, who tries to swing both ways when it comes to gay rights, was so powerless in that situation that he ignored his father's rally, wouldn't renounce or endorse it, and was AWOL the first day same-sex marriages started happening in his office building a few months later.

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