The Best (and Worst) New Yorkers of 2016
View of US presidential poll votes at the Empire State Building on Manhattan Island on November 09, 2016 in New York City
Brazil Photo Press/CON / Getty Images
New Yorkers are fond of patting ourselves on the back. "We live in the greatest city in the world," we say to literally anyone who will listen. "Come live in our large and inexpensive apartments. Don’t worry about the child-size rats or inexplicable mounds of trash."
In many ways, 2016 was an inexplicable mound of trash. Let's sift through it.
THE TEN WORST NEW YORKERS of 2016.
10) Norman Seabrook
The former head of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association suffered a truly spectacular fall from power in 2016 after years of preventing meaningful reform from reaching Rikers Island. Seabrook was arrested in early June on the orders of modern day Untouchable Preet Bharara after allegedly taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks for steering his union’s money toward a friendly Ponzi scheme (which quickly fell apart after Seabrook’s arrest). According to the indictment, Seabrook once received $60,000 in an $800 Ferragamo bag, and then complained that the amount simply wasn’t enough. Seabrook, who has maintained his innocence, then successfully argued that he should be allowed to go to Disney World while out on bail. While Seabrook was enjoying hang time with Goofy, his union was assessing the damage he left, including a double-digit loss to their pension fund. This week, Seabrook compared his persecution to Jesus Christ. His trial should start this spring. It will be quite enjoyable.
Average rents in New York City went slightly down in 2016, but most of that decrease came from concessions on the higher end of the market. So if you are of modest means, housing was still hell, exacerbated by landlords with little to no regard for the law or human decency. Just to pick two exemplars of the real estate community, we’ll single out Steve Croman and Raphael Toledano, recommended for this list by Brick Underground’s Virginia K. Smith. Croman was finally indicted this year after being on the Voice’s radar for decades for pressuring older, poorer tenants to move out of downtown properties, often through intimidation, lack of maintenance, and using former NYPD officers to track down tenants and harass them until they move. Raphael Toledano, a veritable prodigy of predatory management at the ripe age of 26, has apparently followed in Croman’s footsteps, with tenants complaining that Toledano’s employees have been harassing them so they will move out of their rent-stabilized homes. A letter sent to Toledano by tenants pleaded with him to stop sending his people "in and around their buildings, after hours, on the street, and close to where they live." In an interview with The Real Deal, Toledano asked a reporter whether he believed in god, then told him, "I’m worth a fuckload of money, bro."
8) Gregg T.
Gregg T. suffered a brutal fall from grace, much like fellow once-beloved 2016 meme Ken Bone. An intrepid journalist, with the help of a friendly civil rights lawyer, sussed out that Gregg T. was not just a rumpled, lovable "See Something, Say Something" icon, but rather an NYPD lawyer who bullied civil rights protesters into submission. Gregg T, a/k/a Gregg Turkin, tried to get Black Lives Matter protesters to admit that the NYPD had probable cause in arresting them before a judge would dismiss their case so that the protesters would lose the ability to sue the department later for their bogus arrests.
In 2016, we just couldn’t have nice things. We couldn’t even have our memes. And in the end, we probably should have been way more wary of the literal poster boy for snitching.
7) Subway Cricket Woman
Ah, Subway Cricket Woman, why did you think this was a good idea? Because it was not a good idea. It was, in fact, a terrible idea.
On a crowded rush hour D train, Zaida Pugh decided to release hundreds of crickets and then urinate herself in a piece of performance art meant to bring attention to the plight of homeless New Yorkers. And while her intention was noble, the execution was decidedly not, setting off a panic and forcing New Yorkers to deal with even more human urine than their normal commute dosage. It was scary for riders, it was a dumb idea, and Pugh immediately got piled on by people for her action. We fervently hope things have turned around for you, Zaida, but no more crickets on the train, OK?
6) The Cop Who Shot the Family Dog
Despite a new police commissioner, a record-low crime rate, and renewed promises to institute community policing, the NYPD had another checkered year of civil rights violations and fatal shootings of unarmed mentally ill people. It’s tough to single out just one bad cop, but we’ll go with officer Ruben Cuesta, who shot a friendly dog at point-blank range on February 13th. Spike, a four-year-old pit bull, came out of an apartment to greet Cuesta when Cuesta immediately fired on the unarmed dog, killing it instantly. The Civilian Complaints Review Board found that Cuesta abused his authority in killing Spike, and that he should be retrained. Tell that to poor Spike, who was a very good boy. RIP Spike.
5) The Man Who Stole From A 96-year-old Woman’s Bra in Harlem
We get it: Times are tough. People have to do some drastic things just to get by. But stealing from a 96-year-old wheelchair-bound woman? Maria Vazquez had just cashed her social security check when Broyoan Lopez, seventy years her junior, allegedly reached into her bra and stole $600. Lopez was caught on video and swiftly arrested and charged with the crime.
4) Andrew Cuomo vs. Bill de Blasio
Taken separately, both Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio were pretty terrible in 2016. Both administrations are facing serious corruption investigations. Cuomo’s top lieutenant was indicted in Preet Bharara’s ruthless crusade to weed out what ails Albany, while de Blasio, on the other hand, couldn’t get out of his own way pretty much the entire year, from awkwardly campaigning for Hillary Clinton, to picking fights with a press corps that has more important things to write about than his gym membership or hokey pseudo-campaign videos.
But most enraging of all was the ongoing beef between the mayor and the governor, completely to the detriment of New York residents. Cuomo and de Blasio started the year by fighting over affordable housing (when Cuomo nixed bonds that the mayor wanted for his affordable housing plan) and finished it by fighting over the dead body of a deer, which the governor’s press office obliquely intoned that de Blasio might have ordered killed. And that was after they fought over the circumstances surrounding the death of a six-year-old boy. These are the two people who are supposed to save New York from the ravages of incoming president Donald Trump? The future, to say the least, does not look promising.
3) Nicole Malliotakis and Ron Castorina
Even though they’re not currently being parodied on any HBO shows, New York City does, in fact, have Republican residents (see #1 on our list). They tend to congregate in blue-collar places like Maspeth, Whitestone, or Staten Island, where they get to wield minimal power, constantly outvoted by their Democratic neighbors when it comes to city politics. But Nicole Malliotakis and Ron Castorina, two State Assembly members, have found a way to throw a wrench into New York City’s plans to shield its immigrant communities from the predations of the Trump deportation apparatus. By filing an Article 78, which grants an injunction, the two lawmakers put a stop to the city destroying its IDNYC records, in case they were to be seized by the federal government under a Trump administration. Malliotakis and Castorina went out of their way to subvert the will of the large majority of New Yorkers to help put New York’s most vulnerable populations at risk, and for that, they should be constantly vilified for the callous bigots they are.
2) Carl Paladino
Speaking of bigots, where to begin with our good buddy Carl? Paladino, the Western New York businessman and failed gubernatorial candidate, was one of the first major political figures to support Donald Trump’s quest for the White House. Through the year, Paladino grew more emboldened to spew racist vitriol (well, so did the country), as Trump mainstreamed white supremacist ideology. He bullied GOP politicians from New York who didn’t support Trump, and then tweeted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch should be "lynched" (he later claimed it was tweeted in error). Paladino finished the year by wishing that President Obama die of mad cow disease and Michelle Obama "return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla." He later issued a half-hearted apology for the statement. Paladino continues to enjoy an extremely close relationship with President-elect Trump.
1) Donald Trump
Well, New York, we did it. By failing to completely sink or destroy this absolute garbage human and instead letting him play out his phallic insecurities, we’ve probably ended up destroying the world. It stands as a testament to our importance in world affairs (go us), and might bring us comfort in the irradiated days to come, but it’s a hollow victory to be sure. There’s nothing that can be said about this man that hasn’t already been, and we’re left to stare down the harrowing thoughts that the worst is truly yet to come. Fuck this guy. No matter how much we want to blame fake news or disgruntled Midwesterners, this is ultimately our fault. We could have stopped him. We could have pilloried him endlessly as the child he is. We could have kept him off SNL. We could have voted for the stronger candidate in the Democratic primary. And we didn’t. This is the legacy we have to live with, bastion of liberalism that we are. That’s our legacy for 2016, like it or not. We are all the worst New Yorkers.
But maybe things aren't so grim....
THE TEN BEST NEW YORKERS of 2016
10) Subway Dog
Where is this Subway dog going? Why does it look so comfortable? Is it on the way to the beach? A party? Who knows? All we know is, this is a great New Yorker. One of the best.
9) Kristaps Porzingis
Our giant Latvian son will guide us to glory…in a couple of years. For now, the savior of the Knicks just needs to keep improving his game, and also being an all-around really nice guy. He’s only been here for eighteen months, which is longer than half of Brooklyn, so we bestow upon him official "New Yorker: status. Never leave us, Kristaps!
8) Dalilah Muhammad
The Queens-born Muhammad became the first American winner of the women's 400 meter hurdles when she competed at the Rio Olympics this past summer. Muhammad’s Muslim faith was central to her training, and her parents came all the way from Jamaica, Queens to Rio to watch her win the gold.
7) A Tribe Called Quest
Sprung on us the week of Trump’s election, Tribe’s surprise final album was not only very, very good, but served as a blueprint for how to create great art in the face of overwhelming despair. It’s rare that a group can come back sharp after an eighteen-year-hiatus, but even during Phife Dawg’s last days, Tribe was still creating at an incredibly high level, reminding listeners why the Queens group changed the course of hip-hop all those years ago.
6) Klaus Jacob
Perhaps the most quoted geophysicist in the country, Jacob's words appeared in Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, and the Village Voice this past year, the hottest year on record. A member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, Jacob's pointed barbs at the city's lack of preparedness in the face of humanity's gravest threat — climate change — serve as a vital counterbalance to our Empire State of Solopsism. He's the closest thing we have to the Lorax.
An anonymous twitter account that is pretty much Batman, but for when municipal employees misuse their parking placards and block streets and fire hydrants. Petty corruption, to be sure, but infuriating for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as dangerous in the case of blocking hydrants. While the NYPD rarely ever responds favorably to this stalwart citizen’s chronicle of their abuse, it’s still a necessary service, a lone voice in the concrete wilderness, whispering in the world’s weary ear that people shouldn’t be allowed to just park anywhere they want.
4) Colson Whitehead
In a harsh political climate, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad provided a pathway for hope in dark times. Envisioning an actual physical train transporting runaway slaves up North, the book is relentless in its brutality and depiction of cruelty, but still a testament to the need to push forward to a better life in a more just society. Whitehead’s a New Yorker through and through (see The Intuitionist), so it doesn’t have the most optimistic of endings (we’re a pessimistic lot); it mirrors our political and social moment in a way that not even Whitehead could have seen coming as he wrote it.
3) Bernie Sanders
All right, this one’s a stretch, but once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker. Although he ditched us for the even more liberal climes of Vermont long ago, Bernie brought his Brooklyn accent and values with him, and put on quite a show during the presidential primary back in April. If we have to take responsibility for Trump, then let us also shower our more visionary and caring former resident with praise. For the next four years at least, the heart of every real New Yorker will beat with the hidden truth that Bernie Would Have Won.
2) Steve Banks
Steve Banks did not have an easy year. As the head of Human Resources Administration as well as the Department of Social Services (and the former chief antagonist of a city hostile to its most vulnerable), Banks has been given an incredibly heavy load as New York deals with a homelessness crisis that has only intensified under the de Blasio administration. Without serious help coming from Albany, Banks has been left to stand up for low-income New Yorkers in the face of incredibly hostile opposition. When Maspeth residents got riled up about a hotel being converted into a homeless shelter, he had to deal with protesters chanting outside his home and some serious threats. Banks stayed the course, and has also done much-needed work restructuring the city’s social service apparatus. He doesn’t make headlines when things go right, but New York would be an even greater city if more civil servants like Banks took a stand for what’s right.
1) New Yorkers Who Laughed in Donald Trump's Face When He Went to Vote
Before the horror set in, anonymous New Yorkers laughed at Trump as he went to vote on November 8th. Of course, turned out the joke was on us, but in the face of the gravest threat the country has faced in over fifty years, New Yorkers let out a chuckle and told the man he was going to lose. We were wrong then, but standing up to Trump will be New Yorkers greatest strength over the next four years. If we can keep this spirit, maybe we can stop the worst from happening.
On that upbeat note, here’s hoping for a better 2017! Can't be worse than 2016, right? RIGHT?
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