In This Fight, Public Advocate Is The Underdog

When the New York Times delivered its all-important endorsement to then-City Councilman Bill de Blasio in last year’s race for public advocate, the paper noted that the winner’s chief task would be “demonstrating whether this position truly serves New Yorkers.” If the subtext wasn’t clear then, it was brought into sharp focus when the mayor’s charter revision commission announced that its agenda for this year would include the possible elimination of the public advocate position. A little-understood office that was itself created in a 1993 charter revision (out of the wreckage of the title of City Council president, which had been stripped of most of its power by a Supreme Court ruling), the public advocate is supposed to act as an independently elected “ombudsman” to keep watch over the mayor and City Council. That means the future of the office could rest in the hands of de Blasio, the former councilmember, federal housing official, and Hillary Clinton campaign manager who won the job after a tight four-way primary race and subsequent runoff against former public advocate Mark Green last fall. As chair of the Council’s General Welfare Committee, de Blasio had been a vocal critic of many of Mayor Bloomberg’s policies, particularly his refusal to allow able-bodied single adults to receive food stamps unless they’re working, and what de Blasio considered an insufficiently robust approach to reducing poverty.