Race to replace James getting crowded
Dec 12, 2018 | 16710 views | 0 0 comments | 2096 2096 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Who knew it was such a popular job!

Assemblyman Ron Kim became the latest person to announce an interest in the post that was vacated by Letitia James when she was elected New York State attorney general.

Other people who have already announced their intention to run for public advocate include Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Councilman Jumaane Williams, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell, whose district is centered around the West Side of Manhattan, and activist Nomiki Konst.

Some other names that have been floated for the office include Assemblyman Michael Blake of the Bronx, Councilman Rafael Esipnal, Columbia history professor David Eisenbach, who ran in the 2017 Democratic Primary against James, Councilman Eric Ulrich, Manhattan attorney Dawn Smalls and Democratic Party activist Ben Yee, to name a few.

So why would anyone want the post of public advocate, considering it is a largely powerless position (although the public advocate can introduce legislation in the City Council) that serves solely as a watchdog on city government?

Well, for starters, the public advocate is next in line at City Hall should the current mayor pass away while in office or otherwise be unable to fulfill their role.

But more importantly, it's a chance for elected officials who have higher aspirations to up their profile. Few people outside his district probably know who O'Donnell is or what he stands for, but all that changes if he is elected to citywide office.

You have already seen some of the candidates start to tackle larger issues outside their district to increase their visibility.

Take Kim, for example. Ever since the Amazon deal was announced, he has been a vocal critic of HQ2, traveling to events across the city to protest the company's move to Long Island City, or at least the subsidy package the e-commerce giant was offered.

And you have seen him laying the groundwork for what is sure to be a major talking point for him on the campaign trail: having the state use eminent domain to assume $35 billion in student loan debt New Yorkers across the state are saddled with.

And Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents Upper Manhattan, is going to be in the heart of Kim's district not once, but twice this week, once to show support for a new group focused on the issues surrounding Willets Point and again to tout a proposal to help small businesses.

And let's be honest, Bill de Blasio changed how people see the public advocate post after he landed the job and used is as a platform to run successfully for mayor.

Then there is the newcomer who is looking to get into the world of city government. Any person who has never held elected office and tries to run for some other citywide post, such as mayor or comptroller, would immediately face questions about their lack of experience.

But if you have been an effective advocate in the past, say in the world of nonprofits or government policy, then you already have some skills that would qualify you for the post of public advocate. Few people expect the person who holds the post to have a lengthy career in elected office.

Before she was public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum never held elected office. Which brings us to Konst.

Konst is an activist and investigative journalist. In a recent interview, she noted that she felt the job of public advocate was to be a “check on the system,” and was therefore uniquely suited for someone outside of the political world and not beholden to a political machine.

Konst will be a fresh voice on the campaign trail, as she is known for being outspoken, feisty and aggressive, and few will be able to match her when it comes to “progressive” credentials.

Of course, that campaign trail is going to be short. Once James is sworn in as attorney general, the mayor will call for a special election to fill the post. Many believe that election will take place at the end of February.

Special elections are already notorious for low voter turnout, but holding one on a frigid day at the end of the most dreaded month on the calendar for a post that many people don't even pay attention to? Good luck!

With such a crowded field, it's going to be hard for any candidate to stand out, let alone energize a large portion of the voters.

As with all special elections, this one will be nonpartisan, which means candidates will have to make up their own party line...no Democrats, no Republicans, no Working Families and no Greens...which is going to make things even more confusing for those voters who just like to vote along party lines.

Plus, candidates will have to get enough petition signatures to get their line on the ballot, and won't have the benefit of piggybacking on the petitions of other party-backed candidates and their volunteers to reach the required number.

And the winner will only hold the post until the end of 2019. Next fall, there will primaries and a general election, just as we are all normally accustomed to, and the winner of that will serve the rest of the term, which ends in 2021.

In other words, with a crowded field, a bunch of made-up party lines, and an expected low voter turnout, this special election is going to be a mess!

Of course, Kalman Yeger, Mark Gjonaj, Robert Holden, Ritchie Torres and Ruben Diaz, Sr. recently introduced legislation in the City Council to eliminate the Office of Public Advocate, so maybe that will save us all from this two-month headache.
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