Gotham Gazette Thu, 21 Feb 2019 04:02:21 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Jumaane Williams mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

February 20, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Jumaane Williams

jum will wbai277City Council Member Jumaane Williams joined the show to discuss his candidacy for Public Advocate just days before the February 26 special election.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Jumaane Williams Wed, 20 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Ydanis Rodriguez mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

February 20, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Ydanis Rodriguez

ydanis rod wbai277City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez joined the show to discuss his candidacy for Public Advocate just days beofre the February 26 vote.

Listen to the conversation with the two candidates and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Ydanis Rodriguez Wed, 20 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
4 Things to Watch at the Second Public Advocate Debate Williams Blake debate

Williams, left, and Blake at the first debate (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))

Seven candidates for New York City Public Advocate will be on stage Wednesday night for the second of two official televised debates ahead of the February 26 special election. While there will be 17 names on the ballot next week and 10 candidates qualified for the first debate, held February 6, the second debate will feature a slightly more manageable group.

With the clock ticking down to the vote, which is open to all registered voters across the five boroughs, the debate promises to be an interesting exchange of ideas, stances, critiques, and promises. Candidates will be determined to set themselves apart. The winner of the election will, after all, be one of just three citywide elected officials, with major responsibilities despite a relatively small budget.

The seven candidates who again made the cut -- former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, attorney Dawn Smalls, activist Nomiki Konst, Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Ron Kim, and City Council Member Jumaane Williams and Rafael Espinal -- met the New York Campaign Finance Board thresholds of having a qualifying endorsement from an elected official or large group and raising and spending at least $170,813 by February 15.

The three who participated in the first debate but failed to qualify for the second are Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell and City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Eric Ulrich, who is the only Republican elected official in the race.

As the day of the vote quickly approaches, the race is intensifying, and the second televised debate, like the first, will likely feature some sharp elbows. Candidates know that it will be a low turnout affair and while there may be a clear perceived frontrunner in Williams, it could be almost anybody’s election if the right pieces fall into place.

Wednesday’s debate will take place at Borough of Manhattan Community College and be moderated by NY1’s Errol Louis, with questions also coming from NY1’s Bobby Cuza and Politico New York’s Laura Nahmias. It will air 7-8:30 p.m. on NY1, NY1’s website and Facebook page, and on NYC Life channels.

Here are four things to watch:

1. New Lines
The candidates are likely to have some new talking points, in terms of what they have to say about issues facing the city, policies they promise to pursue if elected, and critiques of one or more of their opposition. There could be new private polling that has come in for some campaigns that candidates are taking into account as they craft their messages or go on the attack.

It will also be important to see how closely candidates discuss their plans and priorities within the context of the actual role, powers, and responsibilities of the public advocate, which is meant to be a watchdog and ombudsperson, with the ability to introduce legislation to the City Council, that holds the rest of city government accountable.

While voters should know where candidates stand politically and on a variety of policy issues, they should also have a sense of how those who want to be public advocate would actually run the office and perform its mandated duties.

Most of the candidates have honed at least fairly clear messages at this point, and they may rely on their go-to talking points, but questions from the moderators or comments by their competitors may push them out of their comfort zones or into topics that were not explored in the first debate. Watch as candidates asked to provide their solutions to pressing problems are either able or unable to provide strong forward-looking answers.

Candidates may also come in focused on trying to drive home one or two key points about themselves or their candidacy. For example, Kim may wear defeat of the Amazon deal as a badge of honor -- he was a very early and strident opponent; Konst may try to make sure everyone knows she’s calling for a $30 per hour minimum wage for many employees in the city; Mark-Viverito may return time and again to her leadership in the plan to close the Rikers Island jails and calls for more female representation in city government. Smalls may continue to focus on the issue of homelessness and her legal background, while Espinal talks a lot about environmental policy and affordable housing. Housing is also a central issue in the campaigns of Williams and Blake.

Catch up on much of what was said at the first debate before watching the second; and read our preview of the first debate to see how candidates had been pitching themselves in the race leading up to that point, much of which held true at the first debate.

2. Knives and Frontrunners
In the first debate, most of the attacks leveled by candidates targeted Mark-Viverito or Williams, two of the perceived front-runners in the race. The second debate will likely see more of the same, though Blake may see more criticism than he did in the first contest.

Along with the attacks themselves, the responses by those being attacked are telling. Do they reply with substance or attack back or dismiss criticism as invalid?

Blake may take the debate as an important opportunity to make voters question Williams, something he tried to do during the first debate, using the “cross-examination” round to ask Williams about his changing statements on women’s reproductive rights, something Mark-Viverito also asked Williams about.

While there is plenty for all the Democrats on stage to disagree about, Ulrich's presence will be missed in terms of more ideological balance -- he calls himself a "moderate" or "Rockefeller" or "Bloomberg" Republican.

Konst is almost always on the attack, trying to separate herself from all the politicians in the race and make the argument that what the office needs is a true outsider watchdog. Who will she go after individually? Will other candidates have specific criticisms of her they have prepared to be able to fire back?

Will Williams act like the perceived frontrunner? Will he show any cards in terms of who he sees as his biggest threat?

How might the more mild-mannered Smalls, Espinal, and Kim assert themselves?

3. Amazon Fallout
Amazon’s decision to abandon a deal to open a sprawling new Queens campus with roughly 25,000 jobs amid significant pushback from some local officials and activists -- including several running for public advocate -- will surely be a topic of discussion. Kim and Konst will celebrate the outcome. Espinal may too.

Others are likely to take a more careful tact, perhaps adjusting past sentiments. After Amazon pulled out of the deal, Blake was quick to say that he had never said he didn’t want Amazon to come to the city, but that he thought the deal needed to be improved, though he was very critical of it. He’s likely to take the most Amazon-friendly line. Several candidates may say it’s unfortunate that the jobs and revenue aren’t coming to the city, but point the finger at Amazon (and maybe Mayor de Blasio and/or Governor Cuomo) for not engaging enough with the community and labor unions, and not providing the right local investments to quiet criticism.

The only truly pro-Amazon candidate in the first debate was Ulrich, who did not meet the fundraising threshold for the second debate. He’s now trying to galvanize support for his candidacy from those who wanted Amazon to come to the city. Ulrich may still get a few mentions during the Amazon discussion, and keep an eye on his Twitter account during the debate, especially this portion.

Candidates who are at the debate would be smart to have thoughts on what the city should do moving forward to attract major companies and use the site planned for the Amazon campus. They should definitely have a cogent answer for how the city is better off without Amazon than with the promised jobs and revenue.

4. The Mayoral Test
This is less about candidates’ answers about possibly running for mayor and more about who appears to actually be up for the task of being the city’s chief executive. The public advocate is next in line to the mayor -- if something happens where the mayor can’t fill out his or her term, the public advocate takes over, at least temporarily, until a special election is called.

The candidates have often been asked about their plans to run for mayor, or not, if they win this election (and the subsequent one later this year to see who holds the office for 2020 and 2021). Most have said they won’t run for mayor in 2021, though we know those promises don’t mean much. Mark-Viverito has said she isn’t ruling anything out and Ulrich has said he probably would run for mayor in 2021.

Regardless of those comments, an important aspect of the second debate and the election is who seems capable of running the city, especially in a moment of crisis, which would be the context if the public advocate had to take over the mayoralty.

Also important here is the fact that the next public advocate will likely run for mayor at some point down the line, whether it’s 2021 or beyond. The last two public advocates are now New York City Mayor and New York State Attorney General.

And worth noting in this discussion is how the candidates talk about de Blasio in the debate. We may see candidates attempt to draw more clear lines of distinction from the mayor or outline criticisms they didn’t mention in the first debate.

We could also see some discussion of the first two city public advocates: Mark Green and Betsy Gotbaum. It might be interesting to see which candidates know the history of the position they are seeking and how the people they hope will be their predecessors approached the job.

Other Notes
Keep in mind that along with those who made the first debate but not the second -- Ulrich, Rodriguez, and O’Donnell -- there are several other candidates who will be on the ballot: Benjamin Yee, Jared Rich, Tony Herbert, Manny Alicandro, David Eisenbach, Helel Sheikh, and Latrice Walker, though she has ended her campaign.

Keey an eye out for Gotham Gazette coverage of the second televised debate and the larger race. Find all our previous coverage of the race, including many interviews with candidates, here.

And don't forget to make a plan to vote on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

4 Things to Watch at the Second Public Advocate Debate Tue, 19 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
7 Candidates Qualify for Second Public Advocate Special Election Debate Public Advocate debate 10 candidates

The first debate (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))

Seven candidates running in the special election for New York City Public Advocate have qualified for the second and final official televised debate, which will take place Wednesday night, just six days ahead of the February 26 election.

There will be 17 candidates on the ballot, 10 of whom qualified for the first televised debate. Now, for the “leading contenders” debate, seven candidates met the threshold set by city law, which includes raising and spending $170,813, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Campaign Finance Board. Candidates made their latest filings to the Campaign Finance Board by midnight Friday.

The seven candidates who will debate Wednesday night on NY1 television are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, attorney Dawn Smalls, activist Nomiki Konst, City Council Members Jumaane Williams and Rafael Espinal, and state Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Ron Kim.

Of the ten candidates who made the first debate, City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Eric Ulrich and Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell did not meet the threshold for the second debate.

To make it into the “leading contenders” debate, the candidates then had till February 11 to raise and spend $170,813 and needed to be endorsed by an elected official representing New York City at the local, state or federal level, or by a membership organization with at least 250 members in the city (a labor union or political club, for instance).

Ulrich, the only Republican at the first debate, Rodriguez, and O’Donnell did not meet the financial threshold for the second debate.

At the first debate on February 6, the ten candidates made their pitches to city voters and weighed in on everything from funding for the MTA and NYCHA to the then-happening Amazon deal, and their disagreements with Mayor Bill de Blasio. To qualify for that debate, the candidates were required to show $56,938 in campaign fundraising and expenditure by the filing due just before the debate.

[Read: In First Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Take on De Blasio, Amazon & Each Other]

The debate at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (February 20) will broadcast by Spectrum News NY1 and will be publicly accessible on NY1’s website and Facebook page. It will also be simulcast by NYC Life, the city’s media channel. The hour-and-a-half debate will again be moderated by Errol Louis of NY1, with questions also coming from Laura Nahmias of Politico New York and Bobby Cuza of NY1.

The public advocate special election was triggered after the former office-holder Letitia James was elected New York State Attorney General. James filled a vacancy created by the resignation of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in the wake of allegations of physical abuse by several intimate partners.

The public advocate is a watchdog over city government and an ombudsperson, with the power to introduce legislation to the City Council. The public advocate is also first in line to the mayor if the mayor is unable to serve out his or her full term. The position helped launch James to become attorney general, and her predeccessor, Bill de Blasio, to become mayor.

The sponsors of the debate include Politico New York, Citizens Union, the League of Women Voters, the Latino Leadership Institute, Borough of Manhattan Community College, NAACP New York State Conference Metropolitan Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., East Kings County Alumnae Chapter.

Beyond the ten candidates who made the first debate, the other candidates on the February 26 ballot will be Benjamin Yee, Manny Alicandro, David Eisenbach, Jared Rich, Tony Herbert, Helal Sheikh, and Latrice Walker, an Assembly member who has dropped out of the race but was unable to have her name removed from the ballot.

The election, open to all registered voters across the city, is expected to be low turnout. The winner will hold the seat at least through the end of this year -- there will be a primary election this June and a general election this November to determine who holds the seat for 2020 and 2021.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

7 Candidates Qualify for Second Public Advocate Special Election Debate Sat, 16 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
My Vision for the Role of Public Advocate: David Eisenbach david eisenbach 5a web

(photo: Eisenbach for Public Advocate Campaign)

Right now, as communities across the city are organizing against displacement, we need a New York City Public Advocate who unifies and advocates for them in the struggle to save their homes and small businesses. I am not a politician who serves real estate developers and makes deals with corporations like Amazon that displace hard-working New Yorkers. I teach American history at Columbia University and running for Public Advocate on the platform to Fight Big Real Estate and Save Our Small Businesses.

I will be a real Public Advocate, and I hope to have your vote on February 26.

I have a long record of fighting for communities against Mayor-of-the-1% Bill de Blasio and the big developers he represents, like the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). In Chinatown and the Lower East Side, I joined the fight to keep the residents of 83-85 Bowery in their homes. I pledged to stop the mega-towers in the Lower East Side waterfront. I have joined the battle to save Elizabeth Street Garden from being turned into a tower.

In Inwood and East Harlem, I fought against de Blasio’s pro-developer rezoning plans. In Queens, I support organizations opposing the Amazon deal in Long Island City and bike lanes on Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside. In Brooklyn, I am working with Crown Heights community groups to stop the rezoning to build towers that could cast shadows over the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I marched with working people, tenants, small business owners and grassroots organizations from the Lower East Side to City Hall, demanding de Blasio:

1. Stop city agencies from evicting tenants on behalf of landlords to deny the tenants’ rights of due process.

2. Stop selling public land (including NYCHA) and end the 421-a tax exemption.

3. End the city’s pro-developer rezonings, and instead pass community-led rezoning plans that put people first and protect workers, tenants, small businesses, and schools -- like the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) plan.

I am the founder and president of Friends of Small Business Job Survival Act (SBJSA) a citywide coalition of small business activists dedicated to passing the historic bill. I have worked with business leaders and chambers of commerce who serve communities across the city to fight to pass this act. If passed, this act will give small business owners the right to 10-year leases and an arbitration process to negotiate lease renewal. SBJSA will stop the extortion of small business owners by landlords.

The fight for our small businesses is a fight for our communities, and real affordability and diversity of New York. For 33 years REBNY successfully stopped the SBJSA but this year thanks to my leadership we are about to pass it. Passing SBJSA and defeating REBNY is the greatest David and Goliath story since Jane Jacobs stopped Robert Moses. Seeing communities standing up against big real estate, I believe that we can win this fight.

It’s not a coincidence that New York City has record homelessness and displacement under a mayor mired in pay-to-play corruption scandals. De Blasio is a puppet of his real estate donors who have launched a ‘displacement-replacement‘ agenda: displace long-time residents and replace them with high-income individuals employed by big corporations like Amazon.

In this special election on February 26, New Yorkers have an opportunity to elect a Public Advocate who will stand up to the mayor’s corruption and big real estate’s displacement agenda and fight for our communities. I am the candidate to do just that.

David Eisenbach is a history professor at Columbia University and a candidate for New York City Public Advocate. On Twitter @Eisenbach4NY.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

My Vision for the Role of Public Advocate: David Eisenbach Thu, 14 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
How Many Voters Will Turn Out for the Public Advocate Special Election? de blasio voting

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Around 200,000 to 700,000 voters are expected to show up to the polls for February 26 special election for New York City Public Advocate, according to political experts and candidates for the office. Though the election is certain to be a low turnout affair, just how low remains unclear, with turnout dependent upon how well the candidates are able to broadcast their messages and push people to the polls, how active labor unions and political clubs are, and other factors, including the weather on election day.

The election for just one of three citywide positions asks voters to choose between more than a dozen candidates vying to become the city’s next ombudsperson, voice for the people, and watchdog over the rest of city government. Former public advocate Letitia James, who served in the role from 2014 through 2018, was elected Attorney General in November, triggering the first citywide special election since governmental restructuring in 1989.

As of February, there were almost 5.2 million registered voters in New York City, according to the state Board of Elections. Of that total, about 3.5 million are registered Democrats; 954,000 registered to vote but unaffiliated with a party; and 523,000 Republicans.

A turnout of 500,000 voters for the Public Advocate special election would represent just over 10 percent of those 5.2 million registered voters.

Several experts view weather as the strongest deciding factor in turnout.

If the skies are clear, as many as 750,000 voters may head to the polls, according to Jerry Skurnik, a political consultant and founder of Prime New York. But if snow falls on the twenty-sixth, he estimates that the number could drop to 600,000 voters. Skurnik based his forecasts on turnout for five prior competitive special elections. He defined competitive as “two or more candidates spending real money.”

Other experts are less optimistic about civic engagement. If the unseasonal balminess New York recently experienced holds, turnout could hover around 600,000 voters, according to the projections of Bruce Gyory, a political consultant at Manatt and political science professor at University at Albany. But if the city suffers from another day of “subarctic conditions or a snowstorm or an ice storm,” then Gyory estimates a low end of 300,000 voters.

The last time weather played such a major role in a special election, as Gyory recalled, was the 1978 race for what had been Herman Badillo’s seat in the U.S. Congress representing the 21st District in the South Bronx. “The week before the election there was a big snowstorm,” Gyory said, who was working on eventual winner Robert Garcia’s campaign. “We needed a bigger turnout to win so we were petrified.” Ultimately, more than 14,000 Bronxites voted, securing Garcia’s victory.

In the current public advocate race, City Council Member Rafael Espinal’s campaign is looking to the 2013 public advocate Democratic primary runoff election between James and then-State Senator Daniel Squadron. Espinal, a Brooklyn Democrat, predicted a turnout between 230,000 to 700,000 voters. “I’m also factoring in the fact that we’ve had high turnout in the past primary and general,” Espinal said during a recent candidate forum at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “New Yorkers are activated, there are people who usually wouldn’t vote in local elections, but because of what’s happening in Washington, are feeling they have a duty.”

Another City Council member and public advocate candidate, Ydanis Rodríguez, estimated on the low end, predicting about 300,000 voters. “We don’t live in a democratic system where we really persuade people to go out and vote,” he lamented at the same event.

Factors including media coverage and individual candidates’ ability to drum up excitement about their campaign will also influence turnout, Gyory said. But in an election with so little attention, small details that may not play into a typical election hold the potential to upend the race.

Since the public advocate race is nonpartisan, meaning not for existing political parties, all the candidates will be on one ballot under self-created party names. As a result, Eric Ulrich may have an advantage as the only Republican elected official in a race with more than a dozen Democrats. And with no runoff, divvying up the city’s Democrats could potentially lead to a Republican victory despite the lopsided GOP enrollment disadvantage. While those party labels will not be on the ballot, each candidate, especially the elected officials, are attempting to secure their base plus as many other votes as possible. Ulrich’s goal is to coalesce as many Republicans and conservative and moderate Democrats as he can.

The Queens Council member, who bills himself as a “Rockefeller Republican” and frequently calls his policies “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” is hoping to garner support from voters seeking to rebuke de Blasio’s tenure, perhaps leading to a heightened motivation to turn out to vote. “This election is not going to be a referendum on Donald Trump, it’s going to be a referendum on Bill de Blasio,” he said on the Max & Murphy podcast in January.

With so many contenders in the field, some candidates view their path to victory as contingent on strong networks that stretch throughout the five boroughs. Michael Blake, a Bronx state Assembly member, is relying on a coalition of immigrants who identify with him as the son of Jamaican parents, colleagues in state government who have endorsed him, constituents in the Bronx, support from the United African Coalition, and connections from his time working for President Obama, among others.

When asked about his voter turnout prediction at the Newmark School event, he refused to give an answer. “I’m not going to tell my strategy,” said Blake, who is also a political consultant. “I’m not going to say how I think I’m going to win with other candidates here.” When pressed by moderator and Newmark professor Errol Louis of NY1, and even by fellow candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito, to at least name a potential number of voters, he defiantly shook his head.

Political endorsements could swing the vote in the race, not only by potentially determining the winner but also in broadly fostering excitement about the race and encouraging New Yorkers to head to the polls. How active clubs and labor unions and elected officials are in supporting their candidate of choice will influence turnout. How many clubs and unions and electeds sit the race out, making no endorsement, will also have an impact.

Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams has racked up political endorsements from dozens of state and city politicians, labor unions, political clubs, and progressive organizations. He also benefits from momentum from his 2018 race for lieutenant governor, when he did well in the city, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn, against incumbent Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, from western New York. In the other boroughs, he still stands to gain from name recognition, and this time he’s not competing against an incumbent, though he is facing a deep group of locally-based officials.

The Working Families Party, which endorsed Williams after also backing him in last year’s primary, believes its base is galvanized and ready to show up to support him again. While they don’t have a voter turnout estimate, organizing director Ava Berenza said they’re sending 400,000 texts to likely voters. The New Kings Democrats are coordinating similar efforts for Williams as election day nears, according to vice president of organizing Sage Rockermann. And he recently won the endorsement of the Kings County Democrats, Brooklyn’s official arm of the Democratic party.

Labor unions hold significant political clout in New York City, but their voter outreach efforts appear to be limited for this election, with some of the city’s largest unions perhaps choosing to sit it out as to not take a chance in an especially hard-to-predict race.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has gained several endorsements from City Council members, Congressional Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a few Latino political organizations, women’s groups, and labor unions.

Teamsters Local 801 endorsed Mark-Viverito for her efforts in helping upgrade sanitation workers’ facilities, especially for women. “I don’t forget people who are good to my workforce,” Local 801 president Harry Nespoli said. He is encouraging his staff to vote for Mark-Viverito and pledged to do “anything we can to help her,” but has not yet engaged in citywide voter turnout efforts.

Meanwhile, one of New York City’s largest and most prominent unions, 1199 SEIU, decided against endorsing a candidate or facilitating voter outreach efforts. This comes as a surprise as Blake frequently notes his father’s membership in 1199SEIU in his stump speech and the union endorsed Blake for Assembly in the past, but at the same time, Mark-Viverito also has strong ties to the union. “There are a number of fierce healthcare advocates running for this important seat,” said president George Gresham. “We are confident that the public will select the best fit for the position.”

Political clubs are endorsing and working on behalf of their selected candidates.

Stonewall Democrats, which endorsed Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell, is “hitting the phones to support him and will continue to do so up until election day,” said club president Rod Townsend. “Having a special election in February is a different kind of animal than we’re used to. We’re hoping that our reach as a large citywide club will spread the word from Riverdale to the Rockaways and everywhere in between.”

While the Lexington Democratic Club is canvassing and phone banking on behalf of Assemblymember Ron Kim, the Grand Street Democrats are also coordinating door-knocking and flyering campaigns to encourage New Yorkers to vote for their endorsed candidate: Benjamin Yee, a civic technologist and political operative.

“With such a large field in this race and very little time to campaign,” said Grand Street Democrats president Jeremy Sherber, “the kind of personal connections clubs like ours can make will have an outsized impact on this special election.” The club does not yet have a turnout estimate, but plans to use past local special elections to gauge voter participation in the Lower East Side.

Some hope that unconventional voter outreach efforts may lead to a surprising spike in voters following the immense boost in the September and November elections in New York. Generator Collective, an online community seeking to “humanize policy through storytelling,” has hosted several events with popular comedian Ilana Glazer – who has also promoted the race on Instagram to her 1 million followers – to inform young about the candidates and encourage them to vote.

The election, open to all registered voters across the five boroughs, is Tuesday, February 26.

How Many Voters Will Turn Out for the Public Advocate Special Election? Wed, 13 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

February 13, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito

mmv wbaiMelissa Mark-Viverito is a former Speaker of the New York City Council and now a candidate for Public Advocate in the special election set for February 26. She joined the show to discuss her candidacy.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito Wed, 13 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In First Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Take on De Blasio, Amazon & Each Other Public Advocate debate Feb 6 2019

photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool)

(l-r) Danny O'Donnell, Jumaane Williams Michael Blake, Rafael Espinal, Erich Ulrich, Ron Kim, Ydanis Rodriguez, Dawn Smalls, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Nomiki Konst

With 10 candidates on stage and less than three weeks until election day, there were some sharp elbows at the first of two televised debates Wednesday night in the race to be the city’s next Public Advocate. The citywide special election is February 26.

The candidates, including eight current or former elected officials, debated for two hours on NY1, discussing where they disagree with Mayor Bill de Blasio, what should be done about the crises enveloping public housing and public transit, whether they support the deal to bring an Amazon campus to Queens, and much more. There was a lot of finger-pointing on NYCHA and the MTA, among the city and state elected officials on the stage, and from them at the mayor and the governor.

Most of the candidates agreed on a lot, while at times there were slight degrees of disagreement among the nine Democrats, while the lone Republican, City Council Member Eric Ulrich, was often more of an outlier. On some issues, like what to do about admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and whether the city should have control of the subways and buses, there was more diversity of opinion. The candidates mostly agreed that the Amazon deal was done in a bad process and took an unacceptable form, with too much secrecy and subsidy; that there should be a congestion pricing program implemented in the city; and that the city needs to kick in more funding for the MTA.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former City Council speaker, was the candidate most frequently attacked by opponents, perhaps indicating her status as a perceived frontrunner, while City Council Member Jumaane Williams, also thought to be at the head of the pack, was also targeted on multiple occasions, including by Mark-Viverito and state Assembly Member Michael Blake over where Williams has stood on abortion and marriage equality.

The debate provided a venue for voters to get to know 10 of the 17 candidates who will be on the ballot, how they come across in such a setting, and their positions on a wide range of issues. The job the candidates are applying for is supposed to be a watchdog over city government and an ombudsperson to whom regular New Yorkers can go with complaints and looking for assistance. The public advocate has the power to introduce legislation to the City Council. 

Along with Mark-Viverito, Williams, Ulrich, and Blake, the other candidates in the debate were journalist Nomiki Konst, attorney Dawn Smalls, City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Rafael Espinal, and Assembly Members Danny O’Donnell and Ron Kim.

For those who want a public advocate inclined to use the bully pulpit the position provides, a debate may provide special insight. While all of the candidates spoke with energy and passion, Mark-Viverito and Konst were especially assertive, including arguing with each other at times, even as they sat inches away from one another. Konst argued that her skills as an investigative journalist and her lack of ties to the political system uniquely qualify her to be the public advocate, and said that the position needs a non-politician.

“The public advocate needs to be a loudmouth on your behalf,” O’Donnell said in his opening statement, though the long-time representative of the Upper West Side and former public defender was one of the more passive participants in the debate, staying out of the fray and repeatedly stating his agreements with Smalls, who was also mostly on the sidelines when there were pockets of open discussion or back-and-forths among candidates.

O’Donnell did point to reasons New Yorkers should trust his independence, like his refusal to sign a letter asking Amazon to come to New York and his efforts leading ethics investigations in the Assembly. Smalls highlighted her work in the Obama administration and her plan to focus on helping homeless families if elected public advocate.

“I’m concerned about the direction of our city,” Espinal said early on. “As a born and raised New Yorker, I feel that the city that never sleeps is getting tired. Tired of the broken MTA, tired of the cost of living, tired of seeing community gardens and green spaces being bulldozed.”

Along with the MTA, NYCHA, and Amazon, affordability was a consistent theme throughout the night. Mark-Viverito, Williams, Blake, and others talked about increasing affordable housing in the city, while Smalls said the city must prioritize homeless families with young children when housing those coming out of shelters. O’Donnell called for down-zoning across the city so that development would only happen with more community input, Konst repeatedly said the power of big real estate interests was suffocating the city, and Kim railed against corporate giveaways.

For those who might want their public advocate to be a strong legislator, the debate offered some help, especially with so many current or former lawmakers on stage. Candidates were able to highlight legislative accomplishments or offer plans for a bill they would introduce if elected, but not all of them spoke in detail about their legislative records.

Ulrich cited his bill to create the city’s Department of Veterans Affairs (making it an agency, not just an office within the Mayor’s Office) and said he would push for the public advocate’s office to have more teeth -- something O’Donnell and Konst agreed with, while Blake said the public advocate should get a seat on the MTA Board. Rodriguez said he would push a bill to allow immigrants with green cards and work permits to be able to vote in local elections. Konst said she would champion a $30 minimum wage for city workers and employees at companies with more than 75 employees.

Williams highlighted his vote against a city program to mandate affordable housing units in upzoned properties or neighborhoods, and criticized Mark-Viverito for ushering it through the Council when she was speaker, a move she said she was proud of, given that Mandatory Inclusionary Housing was a historic progressive change in the city’s land use rules. Williams believes it didn’t go far enough.

If holding the mayor, especially the current mayor, accountable is important to you as a voter, the candidates had plenty of opportunity to explain their approach to that part of the job. Asked for one major policy disagreement with Mayor de Blasio, the candidates gave a variety of answers.

Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally for most of his first term, said that she had many disagreements with him. After having said in her opening statement that she had pushed the mayor on closing the Rikers Island jails and “decriminalizing” low-level, non-violent offenses, she later said a “major flaw” of the de Blasio administration “is the lack of serious community engagement in major decisions that are being made.”

Konst and Kim cited the Amazon deal, while she also mentioned neighborhood rezonings as a major area of disagreement with the mayor. O’Donnell said similarly, citing overdevelopment.

Williams said no one who knows him doubts his willingness to call out the mayor, but said he’s also worked with de Blasio on a lot, before focusing in on policing. “We’re better than where we were,” he said. “It’s a low bar but we’re better.” Still, Williams said, on NYPD transparency and accountability, de Blasio had failed.

Blake took issue with the theme of de Blasio’s tenure, saying the mayor’s approach to “equity” was off in a variety of ways. “We should be building schools, not jails,” he said. He also mentioned lead paint in NYCHA, a topic on which he pointed to Mark-Viverito, who defended her record on the issue by citing increased funding, creating a Council committee to focus on public housing, and more. It was one of several tense exchanges where Mark-Viverito forcefully defended herself. In other instances, Espinal challenged her about constituent support in her district and Konst took her on over her support for the East Harlem rezoning.

Rodriguez said the mayor’s lack of support for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would institute new rules about commercial tenant leasing, was a source of frustration, and he also used the moment to say that Mark-Viverito had not been willing to allow a hearing on the bill as speaker, whereas her successor, Corey Johnson, did.

Ulrich, as expected, separated himself most clearly from his opponents on issues, especially in his opposition to closing the Rikers Island jail complex, his support for Amazon to come to Queens, and his opposition to congestion pricing (all the other candidates said yes to congestion pricing). He also claimed that he would be Mayor de Blasio’s “worst nightmare” as public advocate.

“Right now we have an absentee mayor who seems more interested in raising his national profile and running for president even than he is actually tending to the day to day affairs of the city and addressing city problems,” Ulrich said early on.

Ulrich did have to defend himself at times -- after he referred to those on Rikers as “criminals,” several of his opponents jumped in to remind him that most of the people held in the city’s jails are pre-trial, not convicted of any crime, and often incarcerated because they cannot pay bail. And, Ulrich was asked by Smalls during the cross-examination round to explain whether he supports President Donald Trump, to which he answered that he did not support Trump in the 2016 Republican primary (he backed John Kasich) and disagrees with him on many issues, including a woman’s right to choose, while also listing areas he agrees with him on, like pursuing economic growth and supporting law enforcement.

Both Blake and Mark-Viverito put Williams on the defensive about his support, or lack thereof, for a woman’s right to choose and for marriage equality. Williams has said in the past that he grew up with more conservative, religiously-founded views on those issues but that he has evolved, also at times saying that while he may have a personal view on one or the other issue, that his voting record showed he was consistently supportive of abortion and LGBT rights.

All three of Blake, Williams, and Mark-Viverito were attacked by others for having signed the 2017 letter wooing Amazon, though all three have taken exception to the deal that was reached. Espinal said no one who signed the letter should be elected public advocate, noting that issues with Amazon that have come up during the recent public debate were well-known to those who did their “homework.”

Mark-Viverito said the process getting to the deal was “anti-democratic,” while Williams said signing the letter did not mean taking Amazon under any circumstances, and Blake said there are a variety of “dramatic changes” needed to improve the deal to make it acceptable, such as guarantees around local hiring and unionization.

The debate was moderated by NY1's Errol Louis, who was accompanied in asking questions by NY1's Grace Rauh and Laura Nahmias of Politico New York.

The second debate in the special election will be Wednesday, February 20. It is unclear how many candidates will qualify.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify that Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said he would introduce a bill allowing only immigrants with green cards and work permits to vote in local elections, not all immigrants. 

In First Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Take on De Blasio, Amazon & Each Other Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Making the Queens District Attorney a Partner in Justice for Workers melinakatzqbp

Melinda Katz, the author, center (photo: @queensbpkatz)

New York City and our nation as a whole are at an important moment in history. As Republicans in Washington threaten rights and pass bigoted legislation, local leaders need to take a stand and fight back on a broad range of issues, because the reforms and legal protections we need will not come for those who wait, they will come from those who demand them.

As I run to be the next Queens District Attorney, I am releasing the first of a series of policy papers discussing pressing issues facing our borough. In the coming weeks and months, I will lay out my plans for addressing immigrant rights, racial disparities in our justice system, domestic violence, women’s rights, the use of seized assets, and more. Today we need to consider how the District Attorney can better protect worker rights.

For generations, Queens has been home to working- and middle-class families, as well as different waves of immigrants pursuing the American Dream. People here work hard to give their families new opportunities, but there are also bosses who seek to cheat these families or bump up their profits by putting workers in harm’s way. We need our next District Attorney to put a new focus on these crimes against workers, bringing justice for those who have been victimized for too long.

The current Economic Crimes Bureau in the Queens DA’s office states that its traditional role is protecting employers from embezzlement by employees. I believe there must be resources also devoted to addressing the extensive theft in the opposite direction: employers stealing wages from workers. New York’s workers lose over a billion dollars a year due to wage theft, as their hard-earned dollars are illegally stolen and put into the pockets of employers, with the largest number of victims in the construction, restaurant, janitorial, and home care fields.

While some workers are robbed of their paychecks, others are robbed of their lives and well-being. Workers, especially construction workers, are injured and even killed on the job far too frequently, often as a result of employer negligence. These workplace safety violations often go unreported, and after an accident, evidence of wrongdoing can disappear if not gathered quickly. Currently, the DA waits for the city to make determinations before getting involved, leaving far too many workers unprotected and far too many negligent employers unaccountable.

Historically, crimes against workers would only result in a fine or civil action, but it’s time to recognize that white collar crime has no moral high ground over other crimes: if you steal from workers, you are as guilty as someone who holds up a liquor store. If you injure workers due to negligence, you are no better than a thug who beats someone up on the street.

I will bring criminal prosecutions against those who commit these crimes against workers, and I will make sure we have the evidence to build winning cases. Instead of waiting for the city, I will assign an Assistant District Attorney with an expertise in the construction industry to every major workplace accident or fatality. I will pursue legal action against employers that knowingly put construction workers or others at risk, and individuals who commit wage theft. And I will reach out to workers and community leaders to make sure that no one is victimized because they don’t know their rights and are left vulnerable to these crimes.

To achieve this, I will establish a Worker Protection Bureau in the Queens DA office to investigate and prosecute workers’ rights violations. Specifically, my office will take a more hands-on approach to investigating workplace injuries, prosecuting workplace violations and wage thefts, and creating protections for immigrants.

Queens is known as the World’s Borough and has a rich and thriving immigrant community. Unfortunately, immigrant workers are most likely to be targeted and many are reluctant to come forward for fear of having their immigrant status threatened. As part of my Worker Protection Bureau, I will have a multilingual team doing proactive outreach to workers, while guaranteeing that no one will be subject to arrest for reporting workplace violations. I will also hire a specific liaison to undocumented workers so that there is better dialogue among the District Attorney’s office, undocumented workers, and organizations working with undocumented workers.   

All workers are entitled to a safe workplace where they earn fair wages and are treated with respect. As Queens District Attorney, I will take an active role in ensuring workers’ rights are protected.

Melinda Katz is the Queens Borough President and a candidate in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. On Twitter @MelindaKatz.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Making the Queens District Attorney a Partner in Justice for Workers Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
8 Things to Watch in the First Public Advocate Debate public advocate candidates

The biggest moment so far in the short, crowded, and contentious race to become the next New York City Public Advocate will be Wednesday night, as 10 qualifying candidates take the stage for the first of two televised debates.

The citywide special election has attracted a wide and deep field of candidates -- there will be 17 names on the February 26 ballot -- including several sitting elected officials, each hoping to become the city’s watchdog and ombudsperson, one of just three citywide elected officials and next in line to the mayor. The public advocate has a lot of responsibility but limited powers, which do include the ability to introduce legislation to the City Council, and a roughly $3 million annual budget.

With 10 candidates on stage, each trying to introduce and differentiate her or himself to voters, the debate could prove somewhat pivotal as contestants try to make their mark, and spur media attention, volunteers, and donors toward their campaigns. The debate may be the first time many voters are paying attention to the race or meeting some, if not all, of the candidates. Below, you’ll find a guide of eight things to watch for in the debate.

But first: while some say the public advocate position should be eliminated or mock it’s relative lack of power, the debate, and the larger election, are important -- the last two public advocates are now the Mayor (Bill de Blasio) and state Attorney General (Letitia James). Meanwhile, before moving on to bigger or simply other things, the public advocate can have significant impact on city government through the bully pulpit, policy reports, legislation, legal action, and coalition building.

The 10 candidates who will participate in the first debate are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, activist Nomiki Konst, attorney Dawn Smalls; State Assembly Members Michael Blake, Ron Kim, and Daniel O’Donnell; and City Council Members Rafael Espinal Jr., Ydanis Rodriguez, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane Williams.

Airing from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday night on NY1 from the CUNY-TV studio in Manhattan, it will be the first of two televised debates in the special election (the second one is February 20). It will be moderated by NY1 political anchor Errol Louis, with questions also coming from panelists including Laura Nahmias of Politico New York. Candidates qualified by hitting the New York City Campaign Finance Board financial raise-and-spend threshold of $56,938, as dictated by city law. The debate will also air on NY1’s website and Facebook page (and on the city’s “NYC Life” channel available on all cable providers, as mandated by a new city law).

Here’s what to watch for in the debate:

1. How will each candidate try to define themselves?
Candidates have a choice to make in terms of how they balance talking about their personal story, their accomplishments, their plans for how they’d run the public advocate’s office, how they would approach Mayor Bill de Blasio, and what sets them apart from their competition. The questions will influence these choices, but candidates can spend their allotted time, including but not limited to any opening and closing statements, returning to their chosen talking points.

There’s a good chance you’ll hear a lot of sentences that start with: “I’m the only candidate in this race...” or “I’m the only one on this stage who…”

Mark-Viverito is likely to stress both her experience leading the City Council, especially on criminal justice reform, and the need for diversity in top city positions, where the current mayor, comptroller and City Council speaker are all white men. Williams will talk about his work as “an activist elected official” who has staked out progressive positions on police reform and affordable housing.

Blake will tout accomplishments by the Democratic majority of the state Assembly like raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, his work for President Barack Obama, and his “jobs and justice” platform in this race. He’ll bill himself as an organizer, a coalition builder. O’Donnell will talk about his independence, exemplified, he’ll say, by his refusal to sign a letter enticing Amazon to consider New York City for a headquarters; and his successful push to pass marriage equality in New York.

Kim will also talk about his opposition to Amazon, while also touting his platform to recreate the public advocate’s office as one focused on helping to eliminate student debt. Espinal will highlight legislative accomplishments, like repeal of an antiquated law limiting which clubs are allowed to host dancing and creation of the Office of Nightlife, and what he’s working on now: legalization of e-bikes and e-scooters as well as other climate-friendly policies. He’ll explain he’s focused on making it easier for everyday New Yorkers to live in this city.

Smalls will discuss her carefully-outlined platform and how she’ll focus the public advocate’s office on four key areas: homelessness, housing, transit, and civic participation; and she’ll highlight her work as an attorney and in the Obama administration. Konst -- who along with Smalls are the only two who have not held elected office -- will fill the “outsider” lane, talking about the need for someone with her independence from the political muck and investigative skills as a journalist to come in and shake things up, call it like it is, and provide real oversight. She’ll stake out far left policy positions like calling for a $30-an-hour minimum wage and vilifying the real estate industry, as well as politicians beholden to it, who she’ll say have caused an affordability crisis in the city.

Rodriguez will talk about his immigrant story and fighting for immigrants during his career as an activist and as an elected official, and explain that’s what he’ll do as public advocate if elected to the post. He’ll also talk a lot about transit and refer to his work as the City Council’s transportation committee chair over the last several years. And Ulrich, the lone registered Republican on the stage, will argue he’s the only one who can truly hold Mayor de Blasio accountable given their widespread disagreements, though he’ll also explain that he’s a “moderate” and “Rockefeller” Republican who is progressive on social issues, perhaps saying that he sees himself in the mold of (now-Democrat) Michael Bloomberg. He may highlight his support for Amazon coming to Queens as the Democrats on the stage mostly criticize the deal.

Everyone will rail against the MTA.

Most of the candidates will express support for congestion pricing, some may also call for a millionaire’s tax to fund subway upgrades or for the city to take control of the subways and buses.

Everyone will say what has gone on at NYCHA is a disgrace. Solutions there, however, may not roll off the tongue.

2. The Elephant in the Room
As the only Republican on the stage, Ulrich has a clear mission in the debate and the broader race: to attract as many moderates and conservatives, independents and Republicans, as possible to pull off a victory in a crowded race where someone could win with 30% of the vote, maybe even less.

While the rest of the candidates will argue over their progressive bona fides, pitching themselves to many of the same voters, Ulrich will likely focus his fire on de Blasio (others will do some of that, too, of course), and position himself as the alternative to a bunch of Democrats trying to out-socialism each other. Ulrich may also have to be clear that he’s not a supporter of Donald Trump -- he backed John Kasich in the 2016 GOP presidential primary and has criticized the president repeatedly, drawing ire from some of his fellow Republicans, though much of the city’s GOP establishment has gotten behind his candidacy. In the City Council, Ulrich very often votes with the Democratic majority while his two fellow Republicans vote “no,” sometimes along with several more conservative Democrats.

3. How negative will it get?
It’s a sprint of a race and a crowded field. The candidates have been traversing the city meeting with clubs and organizations and appearing at candidate forums and debates, which have apparently only had a few tense moments between the candidates, though there have been many comments about some of the perceived frontrunners (Williams, Mark-Viverito, and Blake), along with a few criticisms for others, like Espinal, who has been tweaked for his support of a neighborhood rezoning in his district that some say will (or already is) spur gentrification and displacement.

Candidates will likely mostly stick with more vague comments that include phrases like “unlike some of my opponents,” but we may see some more pointed criticisms. How hot things get will depends on a few things: whether one or two candidates decide to go negative and open the floodgates; how much urgency certain candidates are feeling with less than three weeks until the election; and whether there is a “cross-examination” round where candidates get to ask one of their opponents a direct question.
Look for Williams, Mark-Viverito, and Blake to be the most frequent targets of any negative comments, outright attacks, or those pointed candidate-to-candidate questions.

What might come up exactly?

For Mark-Viverito, it could be questions about her support of a rezoning in her City Council district, her closeness with de Blasio or with Oscar López Rivera, how she’s handled some of her campaign financing, or whether she provided strong enough oversight of issues at NYCHA while she was City Council speaker. As the candidate who has held the most power in government, she has both the most to point to in terms of accomplishments but also a series of vulnerabilities.

For Blake, possibly the outside income he has earned as a consultant or his support for charter schools. For Williams, perhaps that he just ran for lieutenant governor and is now pursuing another higher office or some of his campaign financing, but most likely the ongoing questions around his support for a woman’s right to choose and for marriage equality. There was also a recent report about a campaign staffer who was a teacher and had been fined for sending inappropriate messages to a student.

Espinal could face some questions, or at least barbs, about the East New York rezoning that he negotiated with the de Blasio administration. Ulrich could face questions about Trump, as virtually every Republican running for office over the last few years has, even those who have not supported the president who is deeply unpopular in New York City.

If Konst is particularly critical of her opponents and one or more decide(s) to fire back, she could face questions or comments about what exactly she has accomplished, especially for New York City voters, or what qualifies her for a citywide office.

Amazon is likely to come up several times, particularly with regard to the 2017 letter that some of the public advocate candidates did sign, encouraging the company to consider New York. Those signees, including Mark-Viverito, Williams, and Blake, have criticized the deal and said that while they may have signed a letter of interest, they were not signing off on any deal and expected a better process. That hasn't been a good enough answer for O'Donnell, Kim, Konst, Espinal, and others.

And there could very well be new questions or critiques thrown by one candidate at another. There’s clearly opposition research happening by some campaigns, with a lot at stake in the election.

Even though there will be 10 candidates and there’s potential for a lot of cross-talk, the debate is very likely to stay orderly. The candidates involved are all respectful of rules and Louis always runs a tight ship.

4. The Wild Cards
Konst is certainly known to speak forcefully and critically, and if she’s throwing verbal punches, she may take some control of the conversation by virtue of putting some of her opponents back on their heels. If other candidates have to appeal to the moderator to “have a chance to respond to that,” she may get the kind of debate attention she may need.

O’Donnell can also be particularly biting, though it’s unclear how harsh he wants to get with his competition -- he’s also quite affable.

Rodriguez has had a penchant for saying somewhat controversial things in his time in the Council, including when he was arguing that the City Council was not going far enough as it was voting itself a large salary raise. How bold does he get?

Blake and Mark-Viverito are both exceptionally competitive and may decide that what it takes to win is to try to dominate the debate, including by being particularly sharp with their competitors.

And while Smalls is consistently calm and collected, she may present something of a wild card in that she may impress a lot of people watching, giving herself even more of a chance (she’s raised a good bit of money and is strong at local forums) in what is very clearly a long-shot bid.

5. The Former Public Advocates
There’s a good chance that the candidates will have a lot of harsh words for one former public advocate, Bill de Blasio, and a lot of kind words for another, Tish James.

There have only been four public advocates since the position was created through charter revision commission late last century. The other two are Mark Green and Betsy Gotbaum. Green has endorsed Williams this year, while Gotbaum is the executive director of Citizens Union, a good government group and co-sponsor of the debates.

The candidates may be asked to discuss which of the former public advocates they most admire or would borrow strategies from, or candidates may offer some of those examples themselves.

Essential to the whole night is that the candidates must individually and collectively make the case that the position of public advocate is important, worth keeping, and worth caring about enough for people to vote. Perhaps more important than their stances on any issues is whether the candidates can outline strong strategies for how they’ll engage everyday New Yorkers and respond to the issues that they raise and be an aggressive and effective watchdog over city government.

When the candidates talk about the position, how much fire is in their bellies -- and is the fire about using the office to help people or about using it to move on to the next thing? Maybe both?

6. The Mayoral Pledge
As it has throughout the race, the question of mayoral aspirations is likely to come up. After all, Green and de Blasio both ran for mayor while they were public advocate and James likely would have if the attorney general position hadn’t opened up with Eric Schneiderman’s dishonorable resignation.

Some candidates, like O’Donnell, have pledged to never run for mayor, while Williams and Blake have pledged not to run in 2021 if successful in this special election and then in the fall election that will follow. Mark-Viverito has said she's not ruling anything out.

Ulrich has said he will run for mayor if he’s elected public advocate.

7. Policy Talk
The debate could be quite substantive. The candidates on the stage are all serious people who want to work in government and to accomplish things to help people and the city overall. They’ve been touring the forum circuit where they’ve been asked about all sorts of broad and specific issues, from affordable housing to congestion pricing to policing and more.

The public advocate is able to carve out policy areas to focus on based on the interests of the officeholder, though major issues facing the city also command attention. The candidates have all put forth ideas and policy proposals, discussed legislation they may look to introduce if elected, and changes they believe are needed to major institutions, from schools to the MTA.

Hot button issues like the Amazon deal, NYCHA’s future, congestion pricing and how to fix the subways, and more could all come up. Like in all candidate debates, pay special attention to which candidates actually offer solutions to key problems facing the city and which only talk about what’s gone wrong and how much of a shame it is.

It will be particularly interesting to get candidates on the record about as many key issues as possible, like infill development on NYCHA land or neighborhood rezonings, the mayor’s affordable housing plan, police accountability, school turnaround, the BQX, parking placard abuse, bus lane enforcement, and more. What do the candidates think should be done about climate change? Homeless shelter siting? And so on.

Much of the policy that is discussed will depend on the questions from the moderator and panelists, and they are sure to cover a lot, but candidates can also find ways to work in key points they want to make about where they think the city needs to go.

8. The Non-Debaters
Watch for them on social media during the debate and at local forums between Wednesday and the election on February 26. The public advocate candidates not in the debate include Ben Yee, David Eisenbach, Jared Rich, Tony Herbert, Manny Alicandro, and Helal Sheikh (Latrice Walker will be on the ballot but she has dropped from the race).

Final Notes
The co-sponsors of the debate at 7 p.m. Wednesday are Spectrum News NY1 and Spectrum News Noticias NY1, Politico New York, Citizens Union, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Latino Leadership Institute, The League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NAACP New York State Conference Metropolitan Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and East Kings County Alumnae Chapter.

The second debate, likely with a smaller field of candidates, will take place on Wednesday, February 20, again on NY1 and NYC Life.

The citywide election is open to all registered voters on February 26.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Blake has said he won't run for mayor in 2021 if he is elected public advocate.

8 Things to Watch in the First Public Advocate Debate Tue, 05 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000