BY AMANDA MOSES
Who will become the champion of the people? This is a precarious question running through the minds of many New Yorkers as the special election for Public Advocate (February 26th) rapidly approaches. Over 17 candidates are vying for this position after it was vacated by former Public Advocate Leticia James, who became State Attorney General on January 1st. For those who are unaware, the Public Advocate serves as a watchdog for the people, monitoring operations, making proposals to improve programs, and investigating complaints against city agencies. This official serves as a link between the electorate and city government. In addition, the Public Advocate is the first in line to succeed the mayor. So who will act as the best ombudsman for New York City?
On February 2nd, the Brooklyn Sports Club (BSC) played host to a Public Advocate Candidates’ Forum to help Spring Creek Towers’ residents and other Brooklynites learn more about these officials. Former District Leader Nikki Lucas and The People First Democratic Club coordinated this event because they felt that the public should hear firsthand from candidates, granting attendees greater insight into their platforms and their intentions upon election.
“I’ve done a lot of events in the past that have shed light on the elections. I think that East New York is often overlooked, and there is low voter turnout, especially in a special election when people do not know what the position is or who the candidates are. It’s important to bring candidates out here so that people can become familiar with the names and faces. The Public Advocate is a crucial position because they are the watchdog for the public,” Lucas said.
The forum invited 22 potential candidates; however, only seven were able to attend: Melissa-Mark Viverito, Councilman Jumaane Williams, Assemblyman Michael Blake, Anthony L. Herbert, Attorney Jared Rich, Manny Alicandro, and Councilman Rafael Espinal. This event was moderated by WABC-TV Reporter, Derick Waller, who directed the panel in a timely and diplomatic manner.
Moderator Waller made a point to tell the audience that this special election is predicted to have a low voter turnout on February 26th, and those in attendance could have a significant impact on the votes that elect the Public Advocate.
The panelists were each given an opportunity to present opening and closing statements, as well as answer questions from attendees. Questions ranged from standpoints on the onslaught of problems with New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to issues on free or low-cost educational opportunities for New Yorkers (especially undocumented children interested in Summer Youth Employment Programs).
There were a few rancorous remarks between candidates in regards to qualifications, hypocrisy of their relationship to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and other topics. At some points Waller had to reign in the sales pitch rhetoric from the speakers so that the public’s questions could be answered. Overall, residents seemed pleased with some of the candidates’ answers and the opportunity to speak with them in person.
Photos by Dean Moses