In his bid to unseat Democrat and incumbent Public Advocate Letitia James, Bronx Republican J.C. Polanco faces a huge fundraising disparity, a large party-registration disadvantage and little in the way of promising electoral history in seeking a post the GOP has never come close to winning.
But while he lacks political resources, he does not want for ideas. Polanco characterizes his views as “moderate,” although some are fairly conservative by local standards. “There’s a monopoly of ideas from the far left in the city today,” he says.
He believes the public advocate should have control over the child-welfare and homeless-services systems. He wants the state to introduce early voting and voter IDs. He supports expanding charter schools and does not want to close Rikers Island in favor of neighborhood jails (“The last thing I want our kids to see on the way to school is a jail.”). He wants the city to offer more detailed records on who’s lobbying whom and why, supports creation of a confidential database of the severely mentally ill, and thinks NYCHA should privatize public housing by giving residents the chance to buy their own apartments. “You need a public advocate who thinks outside the box,” he says.
An attorney and former teacher who served as president of the city’s Board of Elections and is now the regional director for the minority conference in the state Assembly, Polanco publicly opposed his party’s 2016 presidential nominee. He has $9,000 in his campaign war chest against the $325,000 in James’s arsenal; she won election in 2013 with 83 percent of the vote. The office of public advocate was first elected in 1993, when Democrat Mark Green won with 60 percent of the vote. Since them, the Democratic candidate has never won less than 74 percent of the ballots.
In a conversation with Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max and City Limits’s Jarrett Murphy, Polanco discuss the challenge, his vision for the job (he thinks Green’s approach to the post is the one he’d most closely emulate) and how he fits in with the national Republican party.