By Aminta Kilawan-Narine
There will be a whopping 17 candidates on the ballot for the New York City Public Advocate special election on Tuesday, February 26th. The special election was triggered after former office-holder Letitia James was elected New York State Attorney General. James filled a vacancy created when former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned in the wake of allegations of sexual and physical abuse by several intimate partners. Back in November, James made history as the first African American to be elected to the Statewide office. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the special election for her former seat as Public Advocate for February 26th just a few weeks ago. It will be the first citywide special election in New York City’s history.
For New York political junkies, the race seems like the hottest one in New York City’s recent political history. It feels as though every current rising political star in local politics has put their name in the ring. Yet, people are reasonably predicting a low voter turnout. After all, this special election is happening on a random Tuesday in February. Many I’ve spoken with still haven’t made up their minds about who they’ll be voting for, if they’re voting at all.
This race should be taken seriously though. The position of Public Advocate has often been used as a launch-pad for bigger and better things. Every previous Public Advocate except for one has run for a higher office. Current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio previously served as public advocate. The office itself has few specific responsibilities and powers. Letitia James used the office to hold the Mayor’s feet to the fire and to liaise with the City Council to pass forward-thinking legislation, while also reaching out to New Yorkers in all boroughs.
As the race draws closer, the candidates can be seen around town at forums and debates. On Wednesday night, of the 17 candidates, only 7 qualified to join the second and last official debate before the election, aired on NY1 and moderated by Errol Louis. To make it into the debate, the candidates had until February 11 to raise and spend $170,813 and needed to be endorsed by an elected official representing New York City at the local, state or federal level, or by a membership organization with at least 250 members in the city (a labor union or political club, for instance). Notably missing from the lot of debate participants was Council Member Eric Ulrich of Queens, who some are predicting could win the race as a Republican against one too many Democrats vying for the same votes. The race is non-partisan, which means it really is anyone’s game.
Here is a quick run-down of the candidates I think have a shot at winning (listed in alphabetical order by last name):
State Assembly Member Michael Blake – three term NYS Assembly Member representing the 79th District in the Bronx; Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee; worked on then Senator Obama’s first campaign as his Iowa Political Director and was credited in a Time magazine article as having more to do with “Obama’s chances of becoming president than anyone besides the candidate himself.” Born to Jamaican working class immigrants; on the campaign trail, is a champion for labor rights and has been endorsed by DC37 Local 372; endorsed by many elected officials including Congressmen Gregory Meeks, state Sens. Alicia Hyndman and Michele Titus, New York City Councilmembers Donovan Richards, Rafael Salamanca and Ritchie Torres, and former state Comptroller Carl McCall. His campaign phrases: #JobsAndJustice #ForThePeople
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito – former Speaker of the New York City Council (2014-2017)– born in Puerto Rico; was first person, and woman, of color ever elected as Speaker of the City Council; made immigration rights, women’s rights, and criminal justice reform a big part of her Speakership; continues to advocate for closing Rikers Island; previously demanded the City decriminalize low-level offenses, and fought for lawyers for all undocumented immigrants; Endorsed by several major women’s rights organizations, sanitation workers’ union and several public figures including NYC Council Members Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, Andy Cohen and Mark Levine. Her line on the ballot: Fix the MTA
City Council Member Jumaane Williams – three term City Council Member representing parts of Brooklyn; viewed as front-runner in race; came a close second to Kathy Hochul in statewide Lieutenant Governor’s race, where he proved he could corral the support of New Yorkers; current district he represents is largely Caribbean; parents hail from Grenada; often be seen in handcuffs, a persistent protestor for immigrant rights; once held socially conservative views including a refusal to support same-sex marriage and abortion though has since changed his position on both issues; despite being diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome at young age, was deemed a gifted student as a child; chose a career in community organizing (specifically for tenants’ rights) after he got his Masters degree; passed several landmark pieces of legislation during time at City Council, notably the Community Safety Act, which sought to end the abuse of the NYPD’s use of stop, question and frisk; has long list of big endorsements including the Working Families Party, at least 10 large labor unions, and notable public figures including State Senator Roxanne Persaud (a Guyanese!), State Senator James Sanders, City Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Ben Kallos, Andy King, Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso and Jimmy Van Bramer, former Public Advocate Mark Green and Kings County Democratic Chairman Frank Seddio; was also endorsed by the New York Times. His campaign phrase: “The People’s Advocate.”
City Council Member Eric Ulrich – three term City Council Member of District 32 which includes Ozone Park and parts of South Ozone Park;only candidate that was unabashedly in support of Amazon headquarters coming to Queens and fully supported Amazon deal to accept as much as $3 billion in tax incentives to build the campus; progressives, activists and elected officials denounced the deal deemed shady and detrimental to working class New Yorkers; Ulrich is only notable Republican running in a crowded race of Democrats; uniquely positioned to benefit from his stance on Amazon deal for all those who are upset that Amazon pulled out and could have created jobs/boosted NYC’s economy; has broken with Republican Party platform on many issues including a woman’s right to choose, LGBT rights, and immigrant rights; has been endorsed by the Bronx GOP, Brooklyn GOP, Manhattan GOP, Queens GOP, and Staten Island GOP as well as the New York Daily News and the Queens Chronicle. His campaign phrase: “Mayor De Blasio’s Worst Nightmare.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.