Donate

NYC Has A Very Special Election On Tuesday. Here's What You Need To Know Before The Magic Happens

This Upper West Side polling site is all fired up and ready to participate in representative democracy. ARE YOU?
Dashed Arrow
This Upper West Side polling site is all fired up and ready to participate in representative democracy. ARE YOU? Scott Heins / Gothamist

Sure, voting is a fun and essential part of determining our collective destiny. But sometimes you wanna vote a little more...special. This coming Tuesday (February 26th), you'll get the rare chance to commit an act of suffrage in the dead of winter, thanks to the special election for New York City's Public Advocate. Are you ready?

May I vote?

If you're one of the 4.6 million New York City residents who are registered to vote, you may vote, no matter your party affiliation. Unsure if you're registered to vote? Check your status here. If it's your first time voting, it's not a bad idea to bring some form of photo ID or utility bill, bank statement, or government document that shows name and address.

If you're a convicted felon on parole, you can probably vote. Check here or ask your parole officer if you've received a “voting pardon” under Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2018 executive order.

The last day to register to vote in person for this special election was February 16, but there will be more elections in the future, so you should register here anyway.

Where can I vote?

You can find your polling place here.

When can I vote?

Polling sites are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. As long as you're on line by 9 p.m., you can vote. Turnout for special elections is usually not good, but if there are problems at your polling site, contact the Board of Elections or the State Attorney General's office.

The city will send you updates if you text NYCVOTES to + 1 917-979-6377, or you can sign up here to receive email alerts. Yes, there are also social media accounts.

What if I can't make it to the polls?

You'll need an absentee ballot that you (or a representative) will have to apply for in person, at one of the Board of Elections' five borough-based offices. Their contact info is here. You have until the 25th to apply in person, and you'll have to postmark your absentee ballot by the 25th as well. (You can submit an absentee ballot in-person on the 26th.)

Wait, hold on a second, all this voting lust has blinded me—what am I actually voting for here?

New York City's Public Advocate is supposed to act as a watchdog over City Hall and the current administration. They can introduce and co-sponsor legislation into the City Council, investigate complaints, file lawsuits, and use their municipal megaphone to, yes, advocate on behalf of New Yorkers. The position comes with a small staff and a $165,000 annual salary. In the event the mayor is unable to serve, the Public Advocate steps in to fill the void.

Because the Public Advocate's duties are somewhat nebulous (critics say "good for nothing"), the office has become a platform for ambitious politicians who have their sights set on bigger prizes: the reason we are having this special election is to fill the seat vacated by former Public Advocate Letitia James, who was elected to be the New York State Attorney General in November (City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is the acting Public Advocate in the meantime). Mayor Bill de Blasio was also a Public Advocate, as was almost-mayor Mark Green.

Who is running? A handful of seasoned politicians with a fresh face or two sprinkled in? I want to have enough time to thoughtfully weigh all my options.

Ha ha ha. There are SEVENTEEN candidates on the ballot (hey, it could have been 23). WNYC's Brigid Bergin has written about some of them in her series on the special election, and so has Gothamist's Ross Barkan. Some notable candidates include the former City Council Speaker, three current State Assembly Members and four current City Council Members. There are Democrats and Republicans. Assembly Member Latrice Walker is on the ballot, but says she no longer wants to run. Tricky!

Here are the candidates in the order in which they'll appear on the ballot, courtesy of the good people at Gotham Gazette, but minus Latrice Walker who would prefer it if nobody votes for her:


  • Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito

  • Assemblymember Michael Blake

  • Attorney Dawn Smalls

  • City Council Member Eric Ulrich

  • City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez

  • Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell

  • Assemblymember Ron Kim

  • City Council Member Jumaane Williams

  • City Council Member Rafael Espinal

  • Activist Benjamin Yee

  • Attorney Manny Alicandro

  • Activist Nomiki Konst

  • Columbia history professor David Eisenbach

  • Former City Council candidate Helal Sheikh

  • Community activist Anthony Herbert

  • Attorney Jared Rich


Ahh jeez, OK, so...how am I...jeez...

There has been one debate so far (watch it here), and there will be another tonight at 7 p.m for "leading contenders." Who is a "leading contender"? Those requirements are here. Catch tonight's debate on Spectrum News NY1 and NYC-TV, or stream them live (for free) on NY1 or NY1's Facebook page.

(There is also a "candidate forum" to discuss the topic of homelessness at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Win Family Shelter in East Harlem, but only Michael Blake, Rafael Espinal, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Dawn Smalls are slated to attend.)

There is no runoff in this election, so the winner need only get 6 percent of the vote to prevail. And "prevail" in this sense just means serve until the general election in November. Yes, we'll be electing the Public Advocate again in nine months.

The bizarre circumstances of this election, and its temporariness, have led some to suggest that it will be about the failed Amazon campus deal, of all things. Of course, the Public Advocate had no oversight over the arrangement, or Amazon's decision to back out.

As always, Gothamist urges you to resist all gimmicks and Hot Takes and vote your conscience. Who will truly earn their $165,000/year? Who will best hold city agencies and the mayor to account? Who will fight for all New Yorkers?

May I take a ballot selfie with my extra-special ballot and post it to Instagram along with some kind of caption to signify how informed I am?

Only if it's blank. A federal judge ruled last year that you may not take a photo of your completed ballot, and you're also not allowed to take photos in the polling site (journalists have some access). Selfies with stickers are a better bet.

Featured in News