In theory, everyone likes the notion of opening up the political process. When people take advantage of that opening, however, that principle of openness clashes with our other notions about what politics is supposed to look like.
This year’s race for public advocate is creating such a clash. Even with the field for the February 26th special election narrowed to 16, it’s hard for journalists to write about it, radio shows to cover it, debate organizers to handle it without sacrificing depth for breadth or vice versa. A messy outcome is likely: The sheer size of the field means the person who wins might receive a stark minority of ballots cast and could face a serious primary or general election challenge before the year is out. (There will definitely be a general election in November; the question is whether that’s a real race or not.)
There is abundant political experience in the race in the form of three Assemblymembers, four City Councilmembers and a former Council speaker. The rest of the field could be considered outsiders. But there’s “outside” as in out the parking lot—like the candidate who is a well-connected attorney, or the other who is a high-profile progressive activist who’s getting some Hollywood money for the race—and then there’s “outside” like outside in the woods next to the highway.
Metaphorically speaking, that’s where one would find the men who joined WBAI’s Max & Murphy on Wednesday: activist Benjamin Yee and attorney Jared Rich.
Both are first-time candidates for public office. Neither has much campaign money on hand, Yee having raised and spent a modest amount, Rich having barely fundraised. The first official debate for the office next Wednesday will feature neither man because they didn’t have the cash to qualify.
But even these guys are very different kinds of outsiders. Yee worked for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, has been involved in efforts to reform the Manhattan Democratic party and has launched a tech start-up. Rich is a self-employed lawyer who always wanted to run for office but hasn’t been formally involved in politics. Both have firm, distinct ideas for how to use the office of public advocate: Yee emphasizes civic education and community empowerment, Rich the office’s role as “the people’s lawyer.”
If you’re committed enough to voting to schlep out to the polls on a Tuesday in February, that suggests you believe fairly strongly in democracy. And if that is the case, then both these 15-minute interviews are worth a listen—especially because you won’t hear Yee or Rich at the debate next week, and won’t hear very much of them at the second debate, on February 20, when it will be a struggle to get seats for everyone, let alone mic time.
Listen to the full show to hear Max and I break down the Amazon hearing, Corey Johnson’s mayoral exploration’s and Bill de Blasio’s presidential non-self-elimination.
(You can also hear our earlier interviews with other special-election candidates: Assemblymember Michael Blake, Councilmember Rafael Espinal, Assemblymember Ron Kim, journalist Nomiki Konst, Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, attorney Dawn Smalls, Councilmember Eric Ulrich.)
Public advocate candidate Benjamin Yee
Public advocate candidate Jared Rich