The Fifth Man: A GOP Hopeful

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In 2005, the Republican Party didn’t even put up a candidate against Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, a Democrat who won with 90 percent of the vote over Conservative Party nominee Jay Golub and independent third-place finisher Bernard Goetz, the infamous “subway vigilante.” Nor did the Republican Party mount a campaign for public advocate in 2001. In 1997, Republicans did challenge Mark Green—and lost by a three-to-one margin. There are nearly six Democrats for every Republican in town, a yawning registration gap that has grown by 70,000 voters since November.

None of this is stopping Alex Zablocki. “I’m a serious candidate,” he insists, “and I’m running to win.”

Zablocki, 26 and from Staten Island, is seeking the Republican line for public advocate this fall. Like the better-known candidates, he has been briefed by Gotbaum. He has secured the support of the Manhattan and Staten Island GOP organizations and is getting coverage from the Staten Island Advance and community newspapers from Queens. Besides aiming for the Republican Party line on the ballot, Zablocki says he “may have one or two other lines” in the fall, such as the Conservative and Independence lines. While he has raised a mere $5,769 so far (Democrat Eric Gioia, by contrast, has $2.2 million), Zablocki believes the four well-funded Democrats will exhaust their war chests in the primary and have little left in the tank for the general election.

An aide to Staten Island State Senator Andrew Lanza focusing on land use issues, Zablocki is also an entrepreneur. His business, SG Worldwide (SG stands for “save greenbacks”) designs websites and sells on eBay and Amazon.com books, music, toys and movies that Zablocki has obtained from tag sales and other sources. A licensed broker, he also works in his spare time as a financial consultant.

Zablocki, who earned the Boy Scouts rank of Eagle Scout, once thought he’d pursue a career on Wall Street. “After 9/11, my goal changed,” he says, and he opted for public service after graduating from Baruch College with a degree in finance and investment. An internship with then-City Councilman Lanza turned into a full-time job, and when Lanza won the Senate seat, Zablocki followed.

Zablocki works on rezoning, and in many cases downzoning, parts of Staten Island. “Now is the perfect time to focus on overdevelopment. It’s a time when the developers are sleeping,” Zablocki says. “Our rezonings have prevented tens of thousands of units of new housing.” Asked about the impact of those changes to the availability of affordable housing, Zablocki says new housing should go near transit hubs where new residents are more easily absorbed.

As public advocate, Zablocki says he’ll be an ally of “communities around New York City that haven’t had a seat at the table.” That means the outer boroughs and northern Manhattan. “I want to be the person who speaks for them,” he says. “I want to be the person who fights for them.”

A self-described moderate, he believes in global warming, congestion pricing and gay marriage but says he’s a fiscal conservative. He thinks the Democratic candidates in the race see the public advocate as a litigator (he doesn’t) or an agent of “nanny government,” reflected, for example, in Gioia’s proposal to bar fast food restaurants from locating within a tenth of a mile of a school. Zablocki does believe in some forms of activist government, however: He proposes offering iPods to people who turn in illegal guns.

While Zablocki disagreed with the mayor on term limits, the plastic bag tax and other issues, Zablocki says he’s “a strong supporter of Mayor Bloomberg.” Taking a novel posture, Zablocki says any missteps the city has made over the past eight years are the fault not of the mayor who proposed the ideas but the legislative branch that approved them. “The Council could have stood up and said, ‘Let’s stop these things,'” he says. “I think it takes two to tango. The Council is the real problem.”

– Jarrett Murphy