Special Election Voters’ Guide:
The Race for Public Advocate

David Shankbone, CyVance for DA, William Alatriste for the City Council, Mayoral Photography Office

New York’s previous public advocates: Mark Green (1994-2001), Betsy Gotbaum (2002-2009), Bill de Blasio (2010-2013) and Letitia James (2014-2018).

On Tuesday, February 26th, all registered voters in New York City can participate in a special election for public advocate to replace Letitia James, who resigned on January 1 to become state attorney general.

The job
The public advocate, one of New York’s three citywide posts (along with mayor and comptroller) is a position unique to New York City, one created in the early 1990s to replace the office of City Council president. Critics have repeatedly called for the office to be disbanded, but proponents say it serves as an important check on the power of the mayor in New York’s “strong mayor” system.

The public advocate has the power to collect citizen complaints, investigate city agencies, propose legislation, preside at general meetings of the City Council, and sit on various boards. The public advocate becomes interim mayor if that offices is vacant. (Watch this video for more on the office’s role.) The office has an annual budget of $3.6 million and a staff of 45 people. The office has served as a “stepping stone” to higher posts: One-time Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013 and James won the office of state attorney general last fall.

The candidates
Sixteen declared candidates are running. (The official ballot contains one additional name, Brooklyn Assemblymember Latrice Walker, but she has dropped out of the race.) There are no party primaries for the February 26th election, and the established political parties cannot designate candidates. So each candidate creates her or his own party. Unlike normal citywide races that require a runoff if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote, there is no runoff provision in this special election.

The winner on February 26th will take office immediately, replacing City Council Speaker Corey Johnson who, under a provision in the city charter, has been serving as interim public advocate. In November, the office of public advocate will be up for election again—this time to select someone to serve the reminder of James’ term, which runs through December 31, 2021. It’s possible one or more parties will hold a primary before that final vote.

For information on the candidates, click on their names below or scroll down.

Melissa Mark-ViveritoMichael BlakeDawn SmallsEric UlrichYdanis RodriguezDaniel O’DonnellRafael Espinal Jr.Jumaane WilliamsRon KimBenjamin YeeA. Manny AlicandroNomiki KonstDavid EisenbachJared RichAnthony Tony HerbertHelal Sheikh

The debates
Televised debates were held on February 6 and February 20.

Key coverage
We Asked Public Advocate Candidates: Is NYC Following the Freedom of Information Law?
In Second Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Argue Over Amazon, Insult De Blasio & Make Closing Cases
How Many Voters Will Turn Out for the Public Advocate Special Election?
In First Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Take on De Blasio, Amazon & Each Other

(For a comprehensive list of news coverage of the race, click here.)

Other voters’ guides
New York City Campaign Finance Board
Girl Scouts of Greater New York: How Will You Fight for Girls?.
AARP: Meet the Candidates


The Candidates

 

Melissa Mark-Viverito

 

Party name: Fix the MTA

Bio: Mark-Viverito is a former speaker of the New York City Council.

The big idea: Mark-Viverito has focused on her accomplishments as speaker and the need for a female voice in citywide office.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Melissa Mark-Viverito Points to Her Track Record in Bid for Public Advocate
Promising to ‘Tell New Yorkers the Truth,’ Mark-Viverito Launches Public Advocate Campaign
Max & Murphy (Dec. 2017): Exit Interview With Speaker Mark-Viverito


 

Michael Blake

 

Party name: For The People

Bio: Blake is a Democratic member of the state Assembly from the Bronx.

The big idea: Says the city needs a coalition builder in the office; emphasizes “jobs and justice.”

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Michael Blake
Bronx’s Blake Says NYC Needs a ‘Coalition Builder’ for Public Advocate


 

Dawn Smalls

 

Party name: No More Delays

Bio: Smalls, an attorney, worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

The big idea: She’d fix the MTA by pushing for full rollout of Fair Fares, more buses and broader accessibility for the disabled.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Dawn Smalls
My Vision for the Role of Public Advocate: Dawn Smalls
Smalls Brings White House Experience to Public Advocate Race


 

Eric Ulrich

 

Party name: Common Sense

Bio: Ulrich is a Republican Councilmember from Queens.

The big idea: Emphasizes his willingness to challenge Mayor de Blasio; notes his opposition to congestion pricing and closing Rikers.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Eric Ulrich
Council Republican Takes a Shot in Non-Partisan Race for Public Advocate


 

Ydanis Rodriguez

 

Party name: Unite Immigrants

Bio: Rodriguez is a Democratic Councilmember from Manhattan.

The big idea: Has said he would push a bill to allow immigrants with green cards and work permits to be able to vote in local election, according to Gotham Gazette.

TwitterFacebookDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Ydanis Rodriguez Focuses on Immigrants & Small Businesses in Run for Advocate
Driving Forces: Interview with Ydanis Rodriguez


 

Daniel O’Donnell

 

Party name: Equality For All

Bio: O’Donnell is a Democratic member of the state Assembly from Manhattan.

The big idea: Highlights his opposition to the Amazon deal and long experience (since 2003) in government.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Danny O’Donnell
O’Donnell Points to Amazon Stance in Bid for Public Advocate


 

Rafael Espinal Jr.

 

Party name: Livable City

Bio: Espinal is a Democratic Councilmember from Brooklyn.

The big idea: Has spotlighted bread-and-butter issues like “cleaner streets, functioning transportation systems, and safer communities.”

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Rafael Espinal
My Vision for the Role of Public Advocate: Rafael Espinal
Rafael Espinal, Candidate for Public Advocate


 

Jumaane Williams

 

Party name: It’s Time Let’s Go

Bio: Williams is a Democratic Councilmember from Brooklyn.

The big idea: Projects himself as a grassroots activist running for office; primary focus is on housing: Ending sale of public land, suing NYCHA, universal rent control.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: ‘Activist-Elected Official’ Williams Talks PA Race & Amazon Pullout
Driving Forces: Interview with Jumaane Williams
Max & Murphy Election Night Special (Nov. 2018): Jumaane Williams
Max & Murphy (Feb. 2018): Jumaane Williams on his Run for Lt. Governor


 

Ron Kim

 

Party name: No Amazon

Bio: Kim is a Democratic Assemblymember from Queens.

The big idea: Proposes an aggressive effort to relieve New Yorkers of excessive student-loan debt.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Ron Kim
My Vision for the Role of Public Advocate: Ron Kim
In First Mailer of Public Advocate Race, Kim Targets Amazon, and Prominent Opponents
As Public Advocate, Ron Kim Would Lead Aggressive Assault on Student Debt


 

Benjamin Yee

 

Party name: Community Strong

Bio: Yee is a community advocate.

The big idea: Says he’d focus on civic education and elevating community voices if elected.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Ben Yee
Benjamin Yee and Jared Rich Offer Distinct ‘Outsider’ Choices for Public Advocate


 

A. Manny Alicandro

 

Party name: Better Leaders

Bio: Alicandro is an attorney in Brooklyn.

The big idea: Republican Trump supporter says the city has swung too far to the left.

TwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Driving Forces: Interview with Manny Alicandro


 

Nomiki Konst

 

Party name: Pay Folks More

Bio: Konst is an advocate and journalist.

The big idea: Supports a $30 minimum wage and vows to take on the real-estate industry.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Nomiki Konst
Nomiki Konst Wants to Change the Role of NYC’s Public Advocate


 

David Eisenbach

 

Party name: Stop REBNY

Bio: Eisenbach is a professor and author.

The big idea: Eisenbach is championing the fight against big real estate and for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramDonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Driving Forces: Public advocate candidates Eisenbach and Herbert
Max & Murphy: 2017 interview with PA Candidate Eisenbach


 

Jared Rich

 

Party name: Jared Rich for NYC

Bio: Rich, a Brooklyn resident, is an attorney in private practice.

The big idea: Emphasizes his outsider status and transferring his legal experience to the post of “the people’s lawyer.”

WebsiteFacebook DonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Max & Murphy: Public Advocate Candidate Jared Rich
Benjamin Yee and Jared Rich Offer Distinct ‘Outsider’ Choices for Public Advocate


 

Anthony Tony Herbert

 

Party name: Residents First

Bio: Herbert is a community activist and media personality.

The big idea: Is running as a community advocate who has been on the ground fighting for NYCHA tenants and against gun violence.

WebsiteTwitterFacebook DonorsCFB Voters’ Guide pageCFB Video Voters’ Guide
Key coverage:
Driving Forces: Public advocate candidates Eisenbach and Herbert


 

Helal Sheikh

 

Party name: Friends of Helal

Bio: Sheikh is a public-school teacher.

The big idea: Has a lengthy housing-policy agenda that includes ambitious goals like, “Reform rent-setting policies in a manner that suits both tenants and landlords.”

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Photos courtesy of Twitter and the respective campaigns