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The Aftermath of the Public Advocate Race


ccm j williams prelim

Melissa Mark-Viverito & Jumaane Williams (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The public advocate special election has come and gone. The implications of the results will be felt for years to come. Yet there is a debate over whether the position of public advocate should even exist. But it is here and the last two to hold the position—Bill de Blasio and Letitia James—have moved on to higher office.

The Candidates
Jumaane Williams, the winner of the race with 33% of the vote in a very crowded field and now the third African-American to hold citywide office in New York City, will surely be mentioned as a mayoral candidate in the future. Williams, perhaps contrary to popular expectation, was dominant in a diverse set of communities in the city—from central Brooklyn to the Upper West Side, northern Bronx to the Lower East Side.

The following map, created by Steven Romalewski of CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service, vividly captures the results of the citywide race, showing Williams’ geographically- and numerically-wide victory:

aftermath pub adv

The breadth and depth of his victory was surprising. Many, including me, assumed that Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Latina, would run a more formidable race. Conventional wisdom held that along with Williams (who ran for lieutenant governor last fall), she would enter the race with the highest name recognition, after serving as speaker of the City Council for four years and thus appearing often on newspaper pages and TV networks throughout the city. Instead, Mark-Viverito took a very distant third place, with only 11% of the overall vote.

Mark-Viverito’s electoral performance was so weak that she won her home Assembly district (the 68th district in East Harlem) by only 216 votes over Williams. By comparison, Williams defeated his next closest opponent by over 3,000 votes in his own Brooklyn Assembly district. Assemblymember Michael Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and in his home district defeated his closest opponent by over 1,000 votes.

This does not mean that Mark-Viverito has taken herself out of contention for future races. But she has much work to do to improve name recognition and to make a more compelling case for being elected to higher office.

The Votes
In my last column, I noted that 67% of the runoff election for this seat back in 2013 came from Manhattan and Brooklyn. I figured that in this shortened special election, these two boroughs would continue to play an outsized role. Manhattan and Brooklyn duly accounted for 60% of the overall voter turnout. And it was in these two boroughs that Williams vastly outperformed his competitors.

In that same column I pondered the potential role that outside groups and labor could play. I believe it was the endorsement of The New York Times, an entity I did not mention in that piece, that cemented an already strong campaign by Williams as outside groups and labor mostly remained on the sidelines.

The Black and Latino Vote
While it will be at least another month before we have the full data on who actually came out to vote, we have some hints about the Latino and black communities: that districts with over 55% of black voters comprised 22% of the overall vote; that districts with over 55% of Latino voters comprised about 10%; and that together black and Latino voters appear to have constituted almost a third of the overall vote.

As we explore the dynamics of the black and Latino vote in this special election, it is noteworthy that the depth of Williams’ victory extended to some key Latino districts, where it may have been expected that Mark-Viverito would dominate. Surely, having Ydanis Rodriguez and Rafael Espinal in the race did not help her cause to win the lion’s share of the Latino vote. But Williams’ performance is striking in places like Washington Heights, where he came within 16 votes of Mark-Viverito’s second place finish (Rodriguez won this, his home district).

In Bushwick, East New York, and parts of Williamsburg, where Latino voters still outnumber other groups, Williams handily beat Mark-Viverito and Espinal. These were all areas in which Mark-Viverito needed to pull out strong Latino numbers. But she failed to do so.

The Latino vote was particularly low overall. And that is troubling. During the previous municipal general elections, in 2017, Latinos made up roughly 18% of the overall vote (blacks comprised 30% of the vote). This past November, Latino turnout citywide increased by 3%. But in my estimation, in this special election Latinos barely reached the 10% mark. Though we will not have the full picture for a while, clearly plenty of work remains to be done to increase voter participation in Latino communities.

And as Latino leaders gather in Albany this weekend for the annual Somos legislative conference, I would hope that they brainstorm strategies to increase Latino voter participation.

All in all, and the public advocate special election notwithstanding, in years to come Latinos and black voters will continue to gain influence as crucial voting blocs in New York City. Given their potential voting power, the task is making sure they turn out to vote.

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Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter @EliValentinNY.

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