Gotham Gazette

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Gotham Votes 2013

James Takes Public Advocate Runoff By Large Margin

City Councilwoman Letitia James will likely become the first black woman to hold citywide office after winning last night's Democratic primary runoff for public advocate.

The race with state Sen. Daniele Squadron ended with a 20-point spread between the two, a wider margin that even those close to the James campaign weren’t expecting.With 99 percent of precincts reporting, James had about 60 percent of the vote, The Associated Press reported last night. Results are unofficial until certified by the Board of Elections.

After the results showed she had 60 percent of the vote, James took to a small stage set up in a Times Square club, surrounded by supporters. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Comptroller John Liu, she held back tears and clasped her hand to her chest as cheers filled the room. 

While she might have played off the historic nature of her candidacy earlier in the day, James couldn’t hold tears back when she finally acknowledged the unique glass ceiling her win broke on election night.

“Today you elected me the first …,” James said, pausing as she wiped her eyes and the crowd cheered. “The first woman of color to win citywide office. All of us broke through that glass ceiling.”

“Her-story!” one excited man kept shouting in the crowd before being calmed down by a neighboring woman.

Squadron, who spent the final days leading up to the runoff in a contentious back-and-forth with James over personal attacks, congratulated her at his event in the Lower East Side.

"I know that Tish will be their great advocate for New Yorkers across the city,” Squadron said in a statement. “She ran a great campaign.”

Despite running on very similar platforms, Squadron and James ran very different campaigns. Key among those differences was the massive outpouring of support James received from the city’s labor unions while Squadron relied heavily on fellow politicians, including his former boss Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Building workers union 32BJ SEIU was one of James’ earliest supporters. 32BJ President Hector Figueroa offered James a warm congratulations and said he was confident that she would fight for civil rights, affordable housing and childcare.

“Our members spent many hours alongside of others campaigning and educating their neighbors about Tish, and we are proud of the role they were able to play in her campaign,” Figueroa wrote in a statement.

James preached to the choir of supporters by going through a laundry list of concerns and priorities that she spent the last few months outlining: the need for better paying jobs, stronger public education, stop-and-frisk reform and housing affordability.

While staying mostly on message, she did have some less-than kind words for the gridlock in Washington D.C., by what she referred to as “extremist” Republicans, and she had at least one barb for outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“And no, Mayor Bloomberg, we don’t need any more billionaires,” she said, referring to a comment earlier this year that it would be great for the city if all the Russian billionaires moved to the city.

“Say it again,” shouted one woman amidst claps from the crowd.

“Despite tabloids going to bat for our opponent, we won,” James said in reference to the endorsements Squadron racked up from the New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News. “Despite all of the rich and 1 percenters who supported our opponent, we won … Despite those powerful senators in Washington, we won tonight.”

The runoff was triggered after a four-way race in the primary ended with no candidate receiving 40 percent or more of the vote. James faces minor party candidates in November's general election.

The advocate saga doesn’t end with tonight’s results. The office’s gadfly status with the next mayor is far from resolved and, as the Gotham Gazette explored yesterday, how well tonight’s winner does on the job might be predicated on whether November brings a Republican Mayor Joe Lhota or a Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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