Brooklyn Boro

Williams wins public advocate race

Campaigned on affordable housing and criminal justice reform

February 26, 2019 Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams, whose candidacy was struck by an 11th hour revelation of a decade-old arrest, won the special election for New York City public advocate on Tuesday.

Williams, a Democrat who represents Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands and parts of Midwood, emerged victorious in Tuesday’s special election, beating out a crowded field of 16 other candidates.

With nearly 90 percent of the vote counted, Williams earned 33 percent of the vote total. He had garnered more than 110,000 votes.

His showing was even more impressive in Brooklyn, his home borough, where he earned 46.1 percent of the vote.

Williams has spent much of his City Council tenure fighting for criminal justice reform and police accountability. He vowed to re-shape the office of public advocate.

At a recent candidate’s forum, Williams said he would establish deputy public advocate offices in all five boroughs, placing the deputies in communities that have the highest concentrations of Civilian Complaint Review Board complaints against the Police Department.

In a statement on his campaign website, he called for the public advocate to be granted subpoena powers and to have voting power on the council. Under current city law, the public advocate can introduce legislation but cannot vote on bills.

His campaign for public advocate was nearly derailed at the last minute when news of an old arrest was made public days before the election. In 2009, police were called to Williams’ apartment after he had a fight with his girlfriend.  Williams was taken into custody and charged with harassment and criminal mischief, according to the New York Times. The charges were later dropped and the arrest record was sealed, the Times reported.

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Several of Williams’ rivals, including former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and investigative journalist Nomiki Konst, demanded that more information about the incident be made public.

Queens Councilmember Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican lawmaker in the race, came in second.

Williams will succeed Letitia James, who vacated the public advocate’s office when she won election as New York State attorney general in November.

The public advocate’s job is to serve as a watchdog over city government and to work as an ombudsman on behalf of city residents. The advocate is also the first in the line of succession for mayor. The person holding the office can introduce legislation in the City Council and can file lawsuits on behalf of the city. The salary is $184,800 a year. The public advocate’s office operates with an annual budget of $3 million.

Williams, who first won election to the City Council in 2009 and was re-elected in 2013 and again in 2017, raised his public profile in September when he ran in the Democratic primary against Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, earning 46 percent of the vote.

The candidates in the special election included: Brooklyn Councilmember Rafael Espinal, Queens Assemblymember Ron Kim, Queens Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake and Manhattan Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell are also among those running.

Because special elections in New York City are nonpartisan affairs, candidates were prohibited from running as Democrats or Republicans and had to create their own parties.

Williams ran under the It’s Time Let’s Go Party.

Williams was born and raised in Brooklyn. He attended Philippa Schuyler Middle School for the Gifted and Talented, Brooklyn Technical High School and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in political science and Master’s Degree in urban policy and administration from Brooklyn College.

Prior to entering politics, Williams served as assistant director for the Greater Flatbush Beacon School and served as the executive director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors.

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