Since I turned 18, I’ve voted in every election, even the one a few years ago that was just for judges. Recently, I even registered with a major party so I could vote in the primaries, because voting just once a year wasn’t enough. And though I’m sometimes skeptical of democracy as a means of governance—I mean, because of it, our government is closed today; a king would never have let that happen!—I don’t let that stop me from exercising my fundamental right and moral obligation as a citizen: to participate in the process. And yet I really don’t know if I’m going to vote today.
There’s one race to be decided: whether Daniel Squadron or Letitia James, both Brooklynites, will be the Democratic nominee for Public Advocate and thus the likely winner. (It’s a runoff because, though they were the top two vote-getters in September’s primary, neither secured 40 percent of the vote needed.) But is this office even worth voting for? The Public Advocate is next in line to the mayoralty; next is comptroller, and the three are the only citywide elected offices. The Advocate, according to the city charter, “shall have the right to participate in discussion of the [city] council but shall not have a vote.” The city charter actually says, “the public advocate shall serve as the public advocate,” which includes monitoring agencies and reviewing and investigating complaints. It’s a watchdog position with limited powers and a small operating budget (about half of the best-funded—and notably power-limited—borough presidents). Solomon-like, Republic mayoral candidate Joe Lhota “has joked that since the public advocate post has few official powers, it should simply be split between Squadron and James,” NBC reported. ‘
Others have gone so far as to suggest the position be eliminated all together. In 2009, Bloomberg called “the office a ‘total waste of everybody’s money,'” the Staten Island Advance reported, “‘You should get rid of the public advocate… Nobody needs another gadfly, and we have an aggressive enough press.'” Two years later, he threatened to slash the office’s funding. There is a real issue of money: this runoff is expected to cost $13 million, more than the office’s budget over its entire four-year term, and attract roughly 100,000 voters (about 3 percent of the more than 3.2 million registered Democrats). Plus, Squadron and James are both liberal Democrats; there’s no reason to believe there would be a substantial difference in their platforms as advocates. (Some advocates for James have argued it would help to have a little more diversity in the city’s management; both de Blasio and leading candidate for Comptroller, Scott Stringer, are white dudes, as is Daniel Squadron.)
The position has also long been criticized as a stepping stone for mayoral hopefuls, who gain citywide name recognition: Mark Green was the public advocate, and Bill de Blasio still is. (I wonder how hard he has been working at the job in the last several months?) I guess the question is, who would you rather have as mayor in eight years? Because that might be the most significant outcome of today’s election. That, and the fact that it may be the very last time we get to vote with old-fashioned lever machines, which everyone knows are the best way to vote.
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