Once upon a time, there existed the City Council President: a stately title for a not-so-stately position. The elected official served as the ceremonial presider of the council and the first-in-line to succeed the mayor. The position’s main power came from casting two votes within the New York City Board of Estimate, a body that legislated land usage and city contracts. But when this body dissolved in 1990, so did the City Council President’s importance. In 1993, the position’s title changed to Public Advocate.
So, what does the Public Advocate do exactly? According to Section 24 of the New York City Charter, the elected Public Advocate monitors various complaint agencies and public opinions, thus safeguarding the public’s interest. In addition, the Public Advocate remains the mayor’s successor in case of death or incapacitation, maintains limited powers of appointment, introduces legislation to the council, and casts the ultimate vote in the unlikely case of a tie.
Since the retitling, three Democrats have held the office of Public Advocate: Mark Green (1994-2001), Betsy Gotbaum (2002-2009) and Bill de Blasio (2010 – Present). With de Blasio running for Mayor, the position is up for grabs; however, the Democrats already won the seat. Without a Republican running for the office, the winner of the primary vote on September 10th or the possible run-off on September 24th will be the next Public Advocate.
While the responsibilities and powers of Public Advocate may be ill-defined, Bill de Blasio’s success within the mayoral race hints the position may be a gateway to a bigger and better things.
The descriptions below outline the accomplishments of the four major candidates vying for the position. NYU professor Sidique Wai is also running for the office, but was not present during the August 25th debate. Following the debate, the New York Times reported that most reporters remained undecided on which candidate to vote for.
Name: Daniel L. Squadron
Experience: 3rd-term New York State Senator, representing Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan; Former aide to US Senator Charles Schumer
Education: B.A. in American Studies from Yale
Notable Endorsements: The New York Times, The New York Observer, former Public Advocate Mark Green, former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, US Senator Charles Schumer
Name: Reshma M. Saujani
Experience: Former Deputy Public Advocate of New York City and Executive Director of the Fund for Public Advocacy; Founder of Girls Who Code; Candidate for Congress in 2009; Member of National Finance Board of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign; Founder of South Asians for Kerry; Litigator at Davis Polk & Wardwell; Council to varying Wall Street investment firms; White House intern during Clinton’s presidency
Education: B.A. from University of Illinois; M.A. in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Graduate of Yale School of Law
Notable Endorsements: Congressman Joseph Crowley, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Russell Simmons
Name: Letitia “Tish” James
Party: Running as a Democrat, Member of the Working Families Party
Experience: New York City Council Member, 35th District; Public Defender for the Legal Aid Society; Memboer of New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s Task For on Diversity in the Judiciary; Legal Councilor
Education: B.A. from CUNY’s Lehman College; Graduate of Howard University School of Law; Currently working on M.A. in Public Administration from Columbia University’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs
Notable Endorsements: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Central Labor Council, Working Families Party
Name: Catherine Guerriero
Experience: Adjunct associate professor at NYU Steinhardt and Teachers College of Columbia University; Won NYU’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Faculty Award; Director of Strategic Planning for the Archdiocese of New York; Director of Government Relations for Catholic Charities
Education: B.A. from Wagner College; M.A. in Public Administration and P.H.D. in Educational Administration from New York University
Notable Endorsements: Former Congressman Michael McMahon; Former Staten Island Borough President Ralph Lamberti.