Jumaane Williams is running in his fifth election in 18 months. He cruised to victory in a primary and a general election for his Council seat in the fall of 2017, ran unsuccessfully for Council speaker the following winter and mounted an aggressive primary campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018. Now he’s one of 16 people on the ballot in next Tuesday’s special election for public advocate.
Williams’ name recognition likely makes him one of the putative frontrunners in the crowded field. His spending on the race, which at last count was the highest in the race by a comfortable margin, probably helps, too. His self-imposed label of “activist-elected official” seems well suited to the post of public advocate.
But like the other legislators in the special election (three other Councilmembers and three Assemblymembers), Williams has had to articulate how he would manage a citywide office with potentially sweeping focused but fairly limited resources. On Wednesday’s Max & Murphy Show on WBAI, Williams talked about his planned approach.
I think the administration – this one especially but I think administrations in general – make decisions high up in the tower and then try to do them to the community. The public advocate’s office should be set up so there can be a conversation with the community. The way we want to set up—the office the way I previously discussed—is, whether it’s housing policy, or rezoning, or Rikers, there should be some kind of communications pipeline from the community to the public advocate’s office, then to government, so the community has a real say in these things because right now New Yorkers don’t think they get to have a say. … These things are done to them and the public advocate’s office has to be a balance in that way.
Williams also made reference to being a “charter cop.” Asked to elaborate on whether he knew of city agencies that were not meeting their Charter responsibilities, he mentioned the NYPD “where there’s been a resistance to anything that has to do with how police officers are disciplined,” the Administration for Children’s Services (where “there have been lots of stories of women of color in particular who have been losing their babies to poverty, not to neglect), the Department of Education “that is making decisions where we haven’t been able to figure out what they’re based on – whether it’s the size of their budget, whether it’s the money going to charter schools.” and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “It just came out they’re not enforcing where we finding bad landlords doing things they shouldn’t.”
Asked about the Amazon pullout, Williams said he would have tried as public advocate to bridge the gap between opponents and proponents of the deal.
“If you’re asking, [are] there people who went extreme, the answer is yes. If I were public advocate, I would have met with Amazon. I’m always into engaging people. But I also want to point out what was presented. … When it was presented, the deal was just that bad. And when people started to point that out, it wasn’t like [Mayor] de Blasio and Governor [Cuomo] said, ‘OK, let’s talk.’ They basically poo-poo-ed the people who were bringing this up,” Williams said. “So the only way [the opponents] could have pushed was to push hard because no one was listening. And unfortunately, we didn’t have people who wanted to listen. So someone like me who wanted to engage, wasn’t engaged either. … I think the blame for all this is on Jeff Bezos, Cuomo and deBlasio. How they started to have the conversation to begin with and when people pushed back, they didn’t take a leadership moment and figure out how to engage. Instead, they immediately tried to demonize the folks who had real concerns.”
Listen to the conversation with the Brooklyn Councilmember below, or hear the full show, which includes an interview with a second public advocate candidate, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez.
(And check out our Special Election Voters’ Guide to hear more interviews and see all the information you need on everyone who’s running.)
Public Advocate candidate Jumaane Williams
Max & Murphy: Full Show of February 20, 2019