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In freezing temperatures, public advocate race heats up

January 31, 2019 By Victoria Merlino Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Ten public advocate candidates braved the freezing temperatures Wednesday night to appeal to voters at a public forum in Astoria, each fighting to stand out in the crowded field of 16 in the upcoming election.

The number of applicants for the public advocate position stems in part from the reputation it’s garnered in recent years as a stepping stone for greater political ambitions. Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Attorney General Letitia James both served in the role before seeking higher offices. James’ move to Albany in January is, in fact, the reason for this particular special election.

The candidates were spread across three rounds of the forum, answering questions about city schools, transportation, Vision Zero and what they might do as public advocate.

Many candidates were not keen on Amazon imminent arrival to Queens, especially Assemblymember Ron Kim, who is running under the No Amazon party. Candidates for the special election cannot run under traditional party lines, and many created party names to serve as slogans and summarize their ideas.  

“How many people have shopped at the Astoria bookstore down the block? When you buy a book at the Astoria bookstore, every dollar you spend there, it gets recirculated in the local economy,” said Kim. “When you spend a dollar on Amazon on the same product, that dollar is gone.”

Kim argued that the money should be put back into small business.

“I simply can’t accept that this deal is done,” Councilmember Jumaane Williams said of Amazon building a campus in Long Island City — though he said that if it were completely done, Amazon should contribute to fixing infrastructure in Queens.

Former Obama administration lawyer Dawn Smalls and Manhattan Assemblymember Daniel J. O’Donnell agreed with this sentiment, with Smalls adding that she wants the mayor to be held accountable for the 1,500 affordable housing units that were originally going to be built on the Amazon site before the deal was struck.

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Another highlight of the event came when Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake was asked what he would do to fix the problems happening in NYCHA. “People need to go to jail,” Blake said immediately. “If you were to lie about kids having lead, if you were to lie about repairs, if you were to lie about work orders, it would be absolutely unacceptable.”  

Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez voiced his support for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a bill being floated by the City Council that is supposed to support small businesses around the city. He also suggested that Amazon use CUNY colleges to find employees for its campus. Rodriguez came under fire last August for agreeing to a major rezoning in his district that some advocates say would gentrify the neighborhood faster but that Rodriguez claimed would protect an important commercial area full of small businesses.

Other candidates at the event included Astoria-based activist Nomiki Konst, Councilmember Rafael Espinal Jr, attorney Jared Rich and Columbia University professor David Eisenbach.

The election will be held on Feb. 26. The winner will need to run again in the fall to hold the spot for the remainder of the four-year term.

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