New Yorkers enjoyed a three-day weekend thanks to Martin Luther King Jr., but the first day back at work was even worse than usual. Heath Ledger, the gifted and restless Aussie actor who seemed to have found a welcoming home here, was found dead in a Broome Street apartment at age 28. (Police officials, stumped by indeterminate autopsy results, said it might take two weeks to unravel the actor's cause of death.) The Clintons bullied Barack Obama — Bill on the stump and Hillary in a Democratic debate; the Illinois senator finally snapped, "I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes!" Rudy Giuliani's all-or-nothing strategy in Florida looked increasingly headed toward a "nothing" outcome; meanwhile, comeback kid John McCain raked in a million dollars in a single night of midtown fund-raising.
Mayor Bloomberg sounded ever less Republican and ever more presidential, mocking the tax rebates in President Bush's stimulus plan and calling for a sensible immigration policy. He also kicked off Restaurant Week by greeting firefighters in the East Village, at a lunch hosted by Amalia restaurant. The disturbing case of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown's murder got more disturbing as the defense introduced a "World's Greatest Dad" mug as evidence. A Columbia-Presbyterian internist was charged with bilking his 92-year-old mom out of $800,000, leaving her destitute. City officials said they were preparing mass-evacuation plans. Governor Spitzer rolled out a plan to slap taxes on "marihuana" (as the state officially spells it) and cocaine.
The Times found that some sushi restaurants were selling tuna with levels of mercury that exceeded FDA regulations. Reaction to Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's emergency rate cut was relatively positive on Wall Street. Locals Julian Schnabel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Laura Linney all nabbed Oscar bids, as did New Rochelle legend Ruby Dee. And Super Bowl–bound Eli Manning stayed home to study game film while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hobbled around the Village on a bad ankle; Vegas oddsmakers nonetheless reckoned the Giants to be underdogs on par with the '69 Jets. —Mark Adams