Public Advocate candidates try to stand apart for Tuesday’s Democratic runoff election
Mayor Michael Bloomberg once said that the Office of the Public Advocate was a “total waste of everybody’s money.”
But the person in the position, created 20 years ago to rename City Council President, would act as mayor if anything were to happen him.
Without any major rivals in the general election, a paltry number of Democratic voters—an estimated 4 percent of the city’s voting population—will likely determine who next holds this underrated position in Tuesday’s runoff election.
The choice isn’t an easy one either—City Councilwoman Letitia “Tish” James and state Sen. Daniel Squadron have similar visions for the office. Both candidates have said they would use the office to fight for disenfranchised New Yorkers.
“I want to focus on social justice issues—impact cases in the city of New York,” James said.
While the Brooklyn Councilwoman highlighted her desire to fight for women, Squadron specifically mentioned using the office to help senior citizens and children.
“The job of the public advocate is to take on failures of the government, especially for those who are least served by it,” Squadron said, adding he, too, believes women are part of this group.
Squadron said he would would divide the office into four bureaus—Most Vulnerable, Children’s, Accountability and Housing—while James expressed interest in hiring law students in the city to help counsel those in need.
Though both pointed out the office was relatively new and still has a chance to shape itself, the candidates disagree about how to fund change.
James said support from her council colleagues would mean the public advocate’s $2.3 million annual budget could increase under her, but Squadron said such political ties wouldn’t be necessary.
“The best way to increase the budget is to make a difference in people’s lives so they want more work from the public advocates office,” he said.
One of the only other things the candidates seem to disagree on is each other.
Noting she voted against the mayor’s third term, James insisted she’s the choice to “move the city past the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration.”
But Squadron said working against, and sometimes for, the mayor is an important role for the public advocate.
“It’s not about the office or individual but the people you service,” he said.
Both candidates said that the other has run a negative campaign.
“That’s why voters are cynical, why so few voters came out in the primary,” James said. “What we really need to do is focus on issues that they care about.”
Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter: @AnnaESanders