When historians look back on 2022, they might view it as a yearlong giant hangover from the two previous tempestuous years.
In New York City, the beginning of 2022 brought a new mayor and many old crises. As the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to wane in urgency, new variants and diseases began to spread. Gun violence continued throughout the region. A bungled process to redraw political districts forced NYC primary voters to the polls twice over the summer. And the worst subway attack in decades fueled concerns about mental illness and public safety. Also, Desus and Mero broke up.
But there were signs of hope as the world emerged from the yearslong pandemic. Our annual guide to celebrating Pride was in the top 10 list as community events returned in full rainbow-colored glory. Recreational weed sales started with the opening of the city’s first legal dispensary. And, dear Gothamist readers, you all love a good story about weather and space phenomena. Anyone else looking forward to the next worm moon?
Here are some of the top stories and topics of the year, a list that includes some of our most popular Gothamist articles, posts that lit up our social media channels, and investigations from our newsroom that helped New York and New Jersey work a little better for those who live here.
Omicron, subvariants and the return of polio
Some of the most-read Gothamist stories of the 2022 make it clear how weary New Yorkers were of the latest COVID variants or any other diseases
After the omicron variant walloped the country last winter, it was unwelcome news that an even more contagious version had emerged. This story on the omicron subvariant surfacing just as mask mandates started to lift was the top Gothamist story of 2022.
Four of the top 10 most-read stories were about COVID and its symptoms, and the emergence of monkeypox. Our popular COVID statistics tracker will soon celebrate its third year in existence. And another one of the most-read stories was this article on how to find your long-lost polio vaccination records.
Growing concerns about public safety
During the morning commute on April 12, the N train became the site of New York’s most horrific attack in more than 25 years. A shooter opened fire inside an underground train car in Brooklyn. Nobody died in the attack, but 10 were shot and many others injured.
The suspect escaped and led authorities on a two-day manhunt that paralyzed the city with fear. Frank James was eventually arrested after being spotted by security camera installer Zack Tahhan, who became a local celebrity. This month, attorneys for James said he intended to plead guilty to terrorism and gun charges.
Shortly after the attack, Mayor Eric Adams, just a few months into his first term, promised to explore the use of metal detectors on subway cars. The vow was just one of a series of pledges the mayor made in his first year to combat crime, gun violence, and perhaps more importantly, perceptions among many city residents that crime rates are unacceptably high.
Then, little more than a month after the April subway shooting, another occurred. Park Slope resident Daniel Enriquez was fatally shot on the subway. Andrew Abdullah, 25, was charged with the crime and has pleaded not guilty.
Those attacks, along with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down New York’s concealed-carry gun law, renewed concerns about safety and gun violence. And overall concerns about an uptick in subway crime, particularly when compared to lower-ridership pandemic years, led to plans to install security cameras on trains and to station more officers on the platforms.
The debate over whether NYC crime was up or down (according to NYPD stats, the truth depends on which major crimes you’re counting) also fueled discussions about the state of mental health care. In the fall, Adams issued a controversial directive instructing first responders to send people who appeared mentally ill directly to area hospitals.
A notorious New Jersey homicide investigation
In 2014, John and Joyce Sheridan were found dead in their Central Jersey home.
The politically connected couple had been stabbed in their bedroom, which had been set on fire. The Sheridans’ family begged the state attorney general’s office to intervene in the case after local investigators decided the killings were likely a murder-suicide.
In 2016, more than 200 people joined the push for an outside investigation. That group included three former governors, a one-time state supreme court justice and former attorneys general. It went nowhere.
Then in 2022, WNYC produced a serial podcast exploring the mysterious killings and the political ties. “Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery” quickly moved up the real-crime podcast charts.
In May after the podcast’s release, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, who took office in 2022, confirmed that his office was looking into the case.
Rats, sharks and coyotes – oh my
Gothamist readers love their ornery wildlife stories. Many of our top stories on social media and on the site reflect the pests we all love to complain about – including the ever-growing number of city rodents that may or may not live rent-free in the mayor’s head.
Rat complaints jumped by about 49% year over year, and generally New York City is believed to be losing the war on rats. So when Gothamist was the first to report the decision to hire a city rat-fighting czar with a “general aura of badassery,” the story unsurprisingly blew up across social media.
This year also included the summer of sharks, which forced beach closures in NYC. Five shark bites were reported along the Long Island coast, compared to about eight in the century before. Like the coyotes, experts say there are likely more sharks than before in the waters off New York.
Housing, immigration and homelessness
Inequities abound in New York City, and some of our most popular stories of the year prove it.
Housing availability and costs remains one of the biggest concerns in the region, according to both public opinion polls and our most-read stories. And the lack of housing complicates discussions around many policy areas, including homelessness and the country’s refugee crisis.
On the most-read list is this story about a suspected deed-theft scam that left a Brooklyn man facing eviction from a home he thought he had owned for nearly 50 years. It also includes this story about the looming destruction of a Bed-Stuy building that was home to a public school dance teacher and her late husband’s African art collection
Housing conditions were also behind one of the first tragedies to strike in 2022: an apartment building fire in the Bronx that left 17 people dead and dozens injured. For months, the survivors struggled to find new places to live.
Homelessness remained at the top of readers’ minds. This story about why homeless people prefer the streets to city shelters was one of the most-read of the year and one of the most-shared and discussed on social media.
The number of homeless adults in city shelters hit the highest level in nearly 20 years this fall, driven by both high housing prices and the country’s refugee crisis.
More than 30,000 migrants have come to New York City in recent months, driven in part by political decisions by Republican governors in the south who have sent busloads of families and single adults to Democratic strongholds in the northern U.S. Officials said late this month that they might reopen the controversial tent cities constructed to house the influx of people.
Rikers Island conditions worsen
Every month seemed to surface new examples of unsafe and deteriorating conditions at the city’s jail complex at Rikers Island.
Gothamist’s exclusive story on a presentation given to local prosecutors included shocking photos and details, including proof of incarcerated people dragging sick detainees to get medical care or even administering chest compressions due to the absence of officers or medical staff; a detainee locked in a cage shower for more than a day; and a detainee who defecated on himself due to a lack of toilets and who was forced to stay in his dirty clothes until another detainee brought him clean ones.
Deaths among detainees also climbed to historic highs in 2022: 11 people have died by suicide at the complex since last year, which is more than double that of the previous six years combined.
Despite the federal monitor overseeing Rikers, 2022 has been the deadliest of the last 25 years for those incarcerated by New York City, with at least 19 inmates dying this year, according to Gothamist’s tracker. Nevertheless, Adams has rebuffed calls for a federal takeover of the jail.
The ubiquitous OMNY ads may seem like they’ve been on train cars forever, but the new payment system rolled out in 2022. Gothamist’s explainer on how to use the cashless, MetroCard-less payment system easily made it onto the list of most-read stories.
Allowing commuters to use their phones to ease through the turnstiles might have been the least controversial part of the MTA’s year. Also on the most-read list was a story about the plan to end the “conversational” seating arrangement on some train cars, ensuring the yellow and orange seats will be phased out in favor of newer models.
As for the transit story sure to continue to make headlines next year: The MTA’s budget woes, which could be as high as a $4.6 billion shortfall by 2026, continued in part due to ridership that is still far short of pre-pandemic levels. That resulted in plans to cut service and crackdowns on fare evasion, where officials say losses total more than $500 million a year, or 2.7% of the agency’s annual budget.
Redistricting, Roe and the red wave (that wasn’t)
Once a decade, the states redraw political boundaries, and the recent redistricting efforts in New Jersey and New York had impacts that will reverberate for years to come.
Voters went to the polls more than usual in 2022, due to a botched redrawing of political boundaries in New York. And in New Jersey, some blamed Democratic gerrymandering for actually losing a Democratic House seat.
While pundits across the country had predicted a possible “red wave” and Republicans managed to take back the House, nationwide the results fell short of a Republican blowout. Many cited the dismantling of abortion rights as a major cause, and indeed stories about how New York and New Jersey would remain a stronghold for abortion rights did well on Gothamist’s social media accounts in 2022.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, became the first woman elected to the job, but not without fighting a harder-than-expected opponent in Lee Zeldin, who earned about 30% of the vote in solidly blue New York City.
Gothamist was the first to report on one unexpected impact of the dual primaries: A judge had to close a loophole that could have resulted in voters switching political parties at the last minute – something that political watchers feared might have affected the eventual result of close races.
Brooklyn-based politicians will remain hugely influential in the U.S. Congress: Sen. Charles Schumer was re-elected as the Senate majority leader and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries was elected House Democratic leader, making history as the first Black man to hold the post.
The election wasn’t without controversy that will continue into 2023, however. Notably, Rep.-elect George Santos, who was elected to represent parts of Queens and Long Island, was caught fabricating major parts of his biography, prompting calls for him to step down before being sworn into office.