Brooklyn Boro

Will the next public advocate hail from Brooklyn?

December 3, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A large group of candidates has emerged to run for Public Advocate Letitia James’ (shown here) soon-to-be vacant seat. Eagle file photo by Mario Belluomo
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The crowded field of candidates vying to become the next New York City public advocate includes some well known Brooklyn elected officials who are jockeying for position as the race starts to take shape.

Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Democrat representing Brownsville, is the most recent Brooklyn lawmaker to throw her hat into the ring, announcing on the NY1 program “Inside City Hall” on Nov. 27 that she is a candidate.

Walker told “Inside City Hall” host Errol Louis that she would seek to expand the role of public advocate; she believes the office should have subpoena power and that the public advocate should have a vote on the City Council.

Under current New York City law, the public advocate casts a vote only to break a tie in the council. “The office should not just be there to break ties. I think it should have a vote as well,” she told Louis.

Walker joins two city councilmembers from Brooklyn, Jumaane Williams, a Flatbush Democrat, and Rafael Espinal, a Democrat representing East New York, as declared candidates to succeed Letitia James, who will be leaving the public advocate’s post at the end of December to become New York State attorney general, a job she won in the Nov. 6 election.

Jumaane Williams ran in the Democratic Primary for lieutenant governor against Kathy Hochul in September and earned a respectable 47 percent of the vote.

Following the primary, Williams announced his run for public advocate.

“New York City needs to live up to its promise as a progressive beacon, and government needs not just to legislate but to listen. Too many working class New Yorkers are struggling, and this city belongs to them- not just to the rich or real estate lobby. This is our New York and it’s time to take it back. As public advocate, I will fight make this city affordable, equitable and just for the many, not the few,” Williams wrote in a Facebook post.

Espinal, who serves as chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs, gained fame last year when he pushed through legislation to change the city’s cabaret laws. The legislation also created a “Nightlife Mayor” position to work with the owners of entertainment venues and community residents.

On his campaign website, Espinal described his efforts.

“For years, this city has worked against one of its most important contributors to the local cultural and capital economy: New York’s nightlife, and subsequently, its artist community. In 2017, we made history. Working with artists, businesses and local communities, I was able to repeal the antiquated ‘No Dancing’ cabaret law and create the supportive Office of Nightlife and the Night Mayor, following in the successful footsteps of global cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, another prominent Brooklynite whose name surfaced as a possible candidate, New York Building Congress President Carlos Scissura, said he has decided not to run.

“I have gotten so many people urging me to run but I have decided that I am enjoying my current role too much and making a difference that I am not ready to leave and mount a run from this office,” Scissura told this newspaper.

The win by James in the attorney general race sets up a special election for public advocate. A date has not yet been set, but the contest is likely to take place within the next three months. The winner will serve until November of 2019, when a regular election will take place.

The special election will be a non-partisan affair, meaning that candidates will not be running under an established political party banner such as Democrat or Republican. Instead, the candidates will have to establish their own parties and collect petition signatures to get on the ballot.

The non-partisan aspect of the race is attracting a large number of both politicians and non-politicians who have expressed an interest in running.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced her intention to run last week. State Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Daniel O’Donnell, Democrats representing the Bronx and the Upper West Side respectively, are also candidates.

Queens Councilmember Eric Ulrich is said to be strongly considering a run, although he hasn’t officially declared yet. Ulrich would be the only Republican in the field.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, the Washington Heights Democrat who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, has not announced a run but political observers are expecting him to enter the race.

The non-lawmakers who have declared their candidacies include journalist Nomiki Konst, Columbia University professor David Eisenbach, lawyer Dawn Smalls, political activist Ben Lee, systems engineer Theo Chino and political activist Ifeoma Ike.

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