Candidates for Public Advocate Debate
April 1st, 2009
It’s only April, and the candidate forums have begun. Christopher Emerson reports on last’s night’s gathering of the candidates for public advocate.
“Let’s stop the goddamned hypocrisy on some of these issues and call it like it is,” public advocate candidate Norman Siegel said. The City Council, he continued, cannot brush off the slush fund scandal if it wants to maintain any shred of integrity in the eyes of the public, he said.
Speaking at a forum sponsored by law students for candidates for the citywide post last night, Siegel was referring to instances where council members steered funds to non-existent organizations or organizations where they could have a conflict of interest. Siegel said he would publish all member items and create a “whistleblower unit” to expose violations.
Siegel and other public advocate candidates — former Public Advocate Mark Green and City Councilmembers Bill De Blasio and Eric Gioia and Siegel — answered questions on transportation, economic and fiscal policy, the environment, federal stimulus money and ethics.
All four expressed outrage over the alleged ethical lapses in the council’s handling of member items — commonly referred to as “pork” — and agreed there must be increased oversight and accountability.
“The way to solve the problem is with absolute disclosure,” De Blasio said. Funding received by council members should be made available to the public through the internet.
Gioia proposed a system similar to the federal government’s Sarbanes-Oxley rules that grant funding to projects only after a signing officer has certified they are responsible for internal controls.
When asked about to compare and contrast themselves to current Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Green, Gioia and De Blasio praised her work on food stamps and special needs education, highlighted their own past accomplishments and elaborated on how they viewed the role of the public advocate in the lives of New Yorkers.
Siegel, though, took the opportunity to differentiate himself from the other candidates, saying Gotbaum “was not a successful public advocate.” He cited the restriction of first amendment rights under Gotbaum, such as the city’s restrictions on protests in Central Park and the large number of arrests at the 2004 Republican National Convention. “This office has atrophied,” he said referring to Gotbaum’s tenure as public advocate.
On transportation, the candidates expounded on the importance of mass transit to the city’s economic vitality, decried the inefficient Metropolitan Transportation Authority and made it clear that they themselves are mass transit users (except when Gotham Gazette has seen them driving to work).
“We have to share the cost of this indispensable city service,” said Green, adding he supports East River bridge tolls.
Gioia echoed his past support for congestion pricing, saying he voted in favor of the plan. Siegel, Green and Gioia all support reinstating the commuter tax.
The candidates stressed that transportation went beyond economic benefits to affect residents’ quality of life. The transit system is essential to a healthy economy as well as a healthy environment, Green said.
“It’s about environmental justice,” said Gioia. Transportation policy should take into account the impact on public health and the environment.
The candidates also explained how they would want federal stimulus money to be spent.
It should be used to “protect people in the greatest need,” said De Blasio. He would want the money used to support children and family services that might otherwise be cut. To insure oversight, De Blasio would create a Website that would allow “every New Yorker to track every stimulus dollar” to make sure the city gets the “maximum jobs impact.” Green agreed that information on stimulus spending must be available to citizens to make everyone a public advocate.
Siegel expressed concern over the lack of rules and regulation guiding stimulus spending and said, “The public advocate could be a watchdog of stimulus funds in New York City.” New jobs could be created through adopting an environmentally conscious building code and giving tax incentives for private sector green jobs, Siegel said.
Building on the topic of job creation, the candidates put forward their economic and fiscal ideas for a post-financial bubble New York.
“To ameliorate the fears of working people,” Siegel said he would institute commercial rent stabilization and promote job training to aid displaced workers.
De Blasio offered both revenue and spending proposal to help put the city on more stable financial footing. On spending, he singled out the Department of Education for what he called wasteful spending. To generate revenue, De Blasio said he supported the millionaire’s tax and property tax increases.By Gail Robinson on April 1, 2009, 4:53 pm
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