Among the hundreds of candidates seeking party nominations in the September 12 primary, few face the mutilayered challenge of David Eisenbach. Not only does he lack name recognition or money as he challenges an incumbent, but he is seeking an office that—despite having existed for nearly a quarter century—still is not recognized (let alone understood) by many New Yorkers.
Eisenbach is the only challenger to incumbent Public Advocate Letitia James, who was first elected in 2013. He was interviewed Monday by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max and City Limits editor Jarrett Murphy about his reasons for running and his plans for the office.
The public advocate is a position unique to New York. It grew out of the 1989 charter changes prompted by the Supreme Court decision rejecting the voting practices of the Board of Estimate, which replaced the president of the City Council with the public advocate, a citywide position intended to serve as a check on mayoral power and an ombudsperson for the public. There have been only four public advocates so far: Mark Green (1994-2001), Betsy Gotbaum (@002-2009), Bill de Blasio (2010-2013) and James.
Eisenbach, a professor, author and one-time television host, says he’d running to try to restore to the office the profile that Green lent it during his eight-year battle with the administration of Mayor Giuliani. An ally of Mayor de Blasio’s primary opponent Sal Albanese, Eisenbach says James has failed to challenge the mayor aggressively enough, especially over what Eisenbach says is the mayor’s “pay to play” dealings with donors. (James has agreed to appear on next week’s Max & Murphy).
Below, Eisenbah discusses what should be done with the statue of Columbus, Rikers Island, affordable housing, his shared byline with Larry Flynt and what he’d do if he became interim mayor.
With only $11,000 on hand compared with the $300,000 in James’ war chest, Eisenbach faces long odds. The hope he has—and, in some ways, the rationale for his candidacy—is reflected in a July 31 Quinnipiac Poll, which found that while 45 percent of those surveyed approved of the job James is doing as public advocate, and only 17 percent disapproved, a sizeable 38 percent of voters didn’t know enough about her to answer. Tapping into those undecided potential voters is key to Eisenbach having the longest of shots to win; reducing that number will be his a priority if he does prevail.
Whoever wins on September 12 will pace a handful of general election opponents, including Republican JC Polanco.