The good news is the world didn’t end last week, as some of the more gullible among us thought it might. The bad news is that 2012 was not exactly a banner year for Queens, at least collectively speaking, in areas ranging from the economy to crime, from politics to the weather.
The weather. Never before in living memory have the words cast such a dark cloud over the minds of New Yorkers. You might have thought last year’s tornado and Hurricane Irene hard to top, but then came this year’s Hurricane Sandy and Nor’easter Athena. For many, they were far worse.
We were lucky to have the police and sanitation departments making the streets as safe and clean as possible afterward, and many residents of South Queens told us both performed admirably — but just as many were disappointed with entities ranging from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the city’s Rapid Repairs Program to the Red Cross. And the storm left many unresolved questions.
Should we rebuild exactly like before? Should taxpayers continue to insure those who live in places that often flood? Would it be worth the investment to install some kind of watertight barrier to keep floodwaters out of the city’s subway and vehicular tunnels? Should we put more power lines underground, put more circuitry on our buildings’ upper floors, or do both? Should gas stations be required to have generators, and if so, should the public help pay for them?
We hope these questions will be resolved before the next damaging storm hits. But even as this was being written, the city was seeing the start of another winter wallop, a messy rain-sleet-snow mix, with more snow possible this weekend.
The weather and its aftermath have dominated the local news for two months now, but they’re hardly the only areas in which Queens again struggled this year.
The political scene hasn’t been pretty. Just as one ex-state official from the borough, Alan Hevesi of Forest Hills, was getting out of prison for corruption, another one, Hiram Monserrate of Jackson Heights, was going in. Our dominant political party, the Democrats, was poised to win control of the state Senate, but a splinter group broke ranks, keeping power largely in Republican hands. We lost a congressional seat due to redistricting, and one result is that many Queens residents will now be represented in the House by an official who, whatever his many good points, is from Suffolk County. City Hall cooked up yet another plan to erode our crown jewel park, Flushing Meadows, by giving much of it to private interests to build a soccer stadium of dubious worth. And our elected leaders again let us down by letting the city take away another Queens asset, the “Triumph of Civic Virtue” statue outside Borough Hall — with some sitting on the sidelines until it was too late and others helping ensure that it would be given to a private cemetery in Brooklyn.
This year also saw much of the usual nonsense we’ve gotten used to: a fight over school closures that scared people and cost taxpayer money but resulted in the status quo; other battles over budget cuts that vexed residents and fed political cynicism while again keeping the status quo; and elections in which turnout was again dismal, just like the performance of the Board of Elections. Who can blame people for staying home when their voices so often seem to mean nothing?
Meanwhile unemployment was virtually unchanged from a year ago and the crime rate rose in some areas.
As in any year, however, life went on. People in Queens married, had children, conducted business, earned degrees, read great books, saw great movies and so on. Even as an entity that focuses on the public sphere by definition, and saw plenty of bad things there, we know that despite it all, you can still have just what we wish you: a Happy New Year!