Should you happen to pass Father Old Year in Times Square this week while you wait for the ball to drop, and should you notice how particularly old and exhausted he looks, there’s a good reason. For New York state 2008 has been a very, very, very long 12 months.
The year dawned on a chilly note. In Albany, the gears of government were frozen under a glacier of political ill will. Out in Buffalo, at the inaugural New Year’s Day Ice Bowl, Tom Golisano’s Buffalo Sabres lost a hockey shootout to a mingle of Penguins in a lake-effect blizzard. The aphorism was never more appropriate: Never bring a Sabre to a shootout. Over in Iowa, Hillary Clinton and her highly paid political staff, after a surprising loss to a little-known senator from Illinois, retreated toward New Hampshire. Like Napoleonic troops from Moscow, but in campaign buses.
If basketball is your game or Republican your party, things were a bit warmer. By mid-January the Knicks and coach Isiah Thomas were deep in the throes of a full-throttle flameout. Down south, Rudy Giuliani placed all of his eggs (and most of his campaign cash) in one bushel basket and buried it in the warm Florida sands. He brought back a nice tan.
With a stunning last-minute end zone catch by Plaxico Burress (who confused countless non-fans with a name that sounds like one of those large corporations who make things like, say, lightweight concealable firearms and whose non-specific, feel-good, patriotic TV commercials air during “Meet the Press” whenever there’s a need to improve a badly damaged public image), the New York Giants won the Super Bowl. But they’re from New Jersey, of course. Moving along. . .
Two days later, New York went to the polls with the state Democratic machine uniformly backing the favorite daughter candidate. In the state that both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass called home, only Tompkins County spoiled a Clinton sweep, going for Barack Obama with 52 percent of the vote.
On Valentine’s Day, with the sort of foreshadowing rarely seen beyond the pages of bad political thrillers, Eliot Spitzer visited Washington to testify before the congressional Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises.
The night before, in a move that would later launch a thousand governor-in-heart-patterned-boxer-shorts editorial cartoons, he checked in to Room 871 of the Mayflower (shortened from the name Maybeyoushouldsendyourwifesomeflowers) Hotel.
March came in like a Spitzer and left like a Paterson. By the end of the month we were so dizzied by testimonials of sexual indiscretion from haggard governors at hastily assembled press conferences, we barely noticed the meltdown of Bear Stearns.
It was becoming hard not to notice the meltdown of our bank accounts as gasoline prices topped $4 per gallon. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s (call-us-anything-but-elite) corps, “the blue-collar brigade,” were bogged down in a guerrilla political conflict, deploying bowling balls, symbolic guns and Bibles, and shots of bourbon among the hills and hollers of Appalachia.
Congressman Vito Fossella of Staten Island was arrested for driving while intoxicated. The incident happened in Virginia near his other home and, as it turns out, his other family. In a unified display of grief, Staten Island’s few remaining Republican pols proceeded to devour each other.
Hillary finally conceded the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama after a drawn-out negotiation involving a campaign debt bailout, the threat of a convention floor fight, and a Cabinet office to be named later.
A week after that, the Empire State lost Tim Russert. Buried with him, upstate New York’s last viable home-grown candidate for any hypothetical future U.S. Senate seat vacancy.
As the first half of the year drew to a close, investors in a smallish financial institution in California, IndyMac, staged an old-fashioned bank run. The only connection to New York: the run was briefly blamed on New York’s other senator, Chuck Schumer. And finally, on June 30 the state Court of Appeals overruled a case that once upon a time established Eliot Spitzer’s reputation as the scold of Wall Street. The court’s ruling allowed Richard Grasso to keep nearly $190 million in compensation from his years as chief of the New York Stock Exchange. In retrospect, this would have been an excellent moment to withdraw all your life savings, and 401k and stock holdings from any institution and invest it under your mattress.
Join us next week for the thrilling conclusion to 2008 featuring: Gov. David Paterson, Joe Bruno, Tina Fey, Dean Skelos, James Tedisco, Bernard Madoff, Malcolm Smith, the cast of Camelot, Michael Bloomberg, Judith Kaye, the Seneca Nation, Tim Robbins, the Gang of Four, and many many more!
Mark Wilson keeps tabs on things from his home in Saranac Lake.