2015 Newsmaker: Preet Bharara
This is quite simple. Anyone who indicts and convicts the speaker of the New York Assembly, a man who has wielded tremendous power over the course of two decades, is the newsmaker of the year. Indicting and convicting the majority leader of the New York state Senate, a man who also wields great power over the state’s more than $80 billion budget and many policies that impact the lives of millions, is also more than sufficient to be designated the newsmaker of the year. Do both these things in the same year, and there’s no room for debate.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigations and convictions of state lawmakers since taking office in 2009 has made him by far the most feared person in the state Legislature. His actions have made lawmakers think twice about everything they do, even if they aren’t intentionally trying to circumvent laws. His focus on public corruption has had a clear slowing effect on how government operates. And all that was true before last year, when he busted two of the biggest politicos in New York state just months apart.
In its case against Sheldon Silver, Bharara’s team argued that he made way too much money (more than $4 million) in the private sector to be an honest broker (although the intricacies were far more complicated), and jurors agreed. Silver’s attorneys are still convinced that the conviction will be thrown out on appeal, claiming he didn’t do anything that was technically illegal, but even if that long-shot result occurs, the court of public opinion has already handed down its sentence.
The case of Dean Skelos and his wayward son was much more personal. Bharara’s team outlined damaging evidence of steering state funds to a company where his son Adam worked.
But more fascinating were the phone taps, with gems like this quote from Adam Skelos:
“You can’t talk normally because it’s like fucking Preet Bharara is listening to every fucking phone call. It’s just fucking frustrating.”
Dean Skelos responded: “It is.”
It is also why Preet Bharara is the newsmaker of 2015.
2015 Newsmaker, Runner-up: Carl Heastie
In hindsight, it’s easy to say that Carl Heastie was always the favorite to succeed Sheldon Silver as Assembly speaker when the longtime leader unceremoniously fell from power at the start of 2015. But in the thick of it, it wasn’t so clear that the Bronx power broker would rise above his competitors to take over the wounded conference. After contenders like Keith Wright, Joe Morelle, Joe Lentol and others were all considered, the conference quickly landed on Heastie, who promised reform of the Silver-led “three men in a room” power vice that had controlled the state Legislature for so long. And by all accounts, he has at least been more inclusive in his conference than his predecessor was, earning him much internal praise in his first year as leader. Heastie’s election also brought a historic first to the chamber: He’s the first African-American speaker of the Assembly. Taken together, it is clear that he is the runner-up newsmaker of 2015.