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Think of the Public Advocate's office as the city's watchdog, making sure that government agencies and elected officials run things in ways that best suit the needs of the populace. That includes helping the public to navigate city bureaucracy, as well as fielding queries directed by 311 when the system can't handle the requests. The office also makes appointments to multiple committees, including city planning and management of retirement funds.

The Public Advocate is also ex-officio member of all the City Council committees, so they are able to introduce legislation but are unable to vote, leaving them somewhat at the whims the Speaker. Similarly, the office depends on the Speaker and the Mayor for its funding and the office has seen both financial and staff cuts in recent years. However, the Public Advocate is first in the line of succession should anything happen to the Mayor, at least until a special election can be held.

2013 Public Advocate Candidates:

  • Letitia James: Native New Yorker and City Council member representing Clinton Hill, Fort Greene and parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant since 2004.

  • Reshma Saujani: Former litigator and Deputy Public Advocate.

  • Daniel Squadron: New York State Senator for the 26th district, which represents most of Western Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.

  • Sidique Wai: Emigrated from Sierra Lione in 1972 and has served as a Community Relations Specialist and Adviser on police-community relations to New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly since 2006.
  • We asked each candidate for Public Advocate to answer a questionnaire for their positions on issues facing the city, as well as some personal information relevant to the job. Candidate Cathy Guerriero decided not to participate.

    We've done the same for all other major elections and will be posting a Mayoral Guide later this week.

    Mouse-over icons for quotes from the candidates and more details about the questions.

    Do you rent?Do you have a pet?Do you bike?Do your kids attend public school?Do you ride public transportation?Victim of a crime?

    Letitia James
    City Councilmember

    Reshma Saujani
    Founder of Girls Who Code

    Daniel Squadron
    State Senator

    Sidique Wai
    Advisor to the NYC Police Commissioner

    What specific measures should the City take to prevent widespread destruction from Sandy-level storms?

    James: We should consider some of the Mayor's 250 recommendations, as unveiled in June, to protect low-lying areas like the Rockaways and Staten Island. We also need to invest in upgrading our City's infrastructure so should we experience another storm like Sandy we can limit loss and damage.

    Saujani: We should explore the innovative projects being implemented across the world, and not just enter into a contracting process that repeats more short-term thinking.

    Squadron: This requires a number of changes, from building codes to new infrastructure to even seeding our harbor with a billion oysters. And it also means dramatically improving preparedness in communities that were left behind during Sandy, including NYCHA developments, both when it comes to evacuations and to responding to needs in the aftermath of the storm.

    Wai: Limit developments in low lying areas, solicit the opinions and recommendations of environmentalists, oceanographers, building engineers and other experts before undertaking a major policy decision.

    How would you lobby to modify the Bloomberg administration's waterfront development policy?

    James: Through legislation and hearings.

    Saujani: I believe further waterfront development must be done in accordance with expert consultation about the long-term effects of global climate change on the city and with greater input of community members to ensure clear public benefits, including affordable housing, living wages and local hiring requirements, and community spaces.

    Squadron: I would fight to expand the Harbor Park—a central park for the center of our city—and other waterfront revitalization to new neighborhoods, especially those that are often left behind when it comes to public parks and open spaces...I also believe that a true working waterfront is vital to our city's economy and would fight to ensure that water-dependent industries and the many jobs they create are not pushed out by big developers.

    How can the city reduce the number of teachers in "rubber rooms?"

    James: Hire more Administrative Law Judges.

    Saujani: I believe that we need to conduct more front-end screening of teacher candidates, particularly to determine prior acts of sexual misconduct. In addition, we need ensure that our current due process system for teachers is subject to reasonable inquiry and judgment timeframes.

    Squadron: No one supports having large numbers of teachers on the payroll and outside the classroom. The 2010 agreement to deal with this provides a path, but there must be the staffing and resources to deal with each case fairly and expeditiously.

    Wai: By speedy investigation and resolution of the wrong the teacher is accused of wrongdoing.

    How would you increase transparency in New York City government for citizens and the press?

    Saujani: I believe the Public Advocate should play a central role in both empowering underrepresented communities into city decision-making processes and improving transparency across city functions. As the Chair of the Commission on Public Information & Communication, I will work with technology entrepreneurs and government reform experts to develop new approaches for distributing city data in an accessible manner. I will also build on the efforts of the current Public Advocate to open up the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) response process across city agencies. I will also fully utilize the City Charter power of the Public Advocate to sue for access to important public documents that have been improperly hidden from public view.

    Squadron: Increasing government transparency has been a cornerstone of my work...The Public Advocate has a unique role, inside city government but free of the bureaucracy. Just as I've done since I was first elected in 2008, I will bring an independent and transparent approach to the job of Public Advocate, allowing me to deliver meaningful results for the individuals, communities, and businesses that too often get left out by powerful interests and bureaucracy.

    Wai: A well informed citizenry and a vigilant press are the best guarantees to ensure transparency. My idea of government on wheels based my ACT principle is my way of ensuring transparency and accountability.

    JamesSaujaniSquadronWai
    Change Stop and Frisk?
    Marijuana?
    Inspector General?
    Free Speech Zones?
    More $ for Accident Investigation Squad?
    Drink on your own stoop?
    Drink in parks?
    Change bike lanes?
    Livery cab street hails in outer boroughs?
    Congestion pricing?
    Outdoor decks on SI ferry?
    Platform gates on subways?
    Salt ban?
    Soda ban?
    No smoking in parks?
    Restaurant letter grades?
    Styrofoam ban?
    Rebuild in flood-prone areas?
    Ban chain stores?
    Wal-mart?
    NYCHA housing?
    Tax breaks for corporations?
    Public-private parks?
    Schools distributing morning after pills?
    Term limits?
    AirBnB?

    Daniel Squadron leads the pack when it comes to campaign contributions, with a total of $1,570,953.19 raised so far with Reshma Saujani close behind with $1,475,878.22 raised. James and Wai trail with $762,260.39 and $41,629.00 respectively. The polls show a different set of leaders, with recent polls putting James in the lead with 17%, followed by Cathy Guerriero with 16%, Squadron with 8% and Saujani with 4%.

    Squadron received endorsements by BK Beep Marty Markowitz, former Public Advocates Mark Green and Betsy Gotbaum and the New York Times. BX Beep Ruben Diaz Jr, Queens Beep Helen Marshall and multiple labor organizations and council members. Saujani got nods from Councilman Mark Weprin, Russel Simmons and multiple Assembly Members.

    To read the candidates' full responses to our questionnaire, click below:


    Previously:

  • The Gothamist Guide to the Manhattan Borough President Race

  • The Gothamist Guide to the Queens Borough President Race

  • The Gothamist Guide to the Brooklyn Borough President Race

  • The Gothamist Guide to the Comptroller Race
  • Election charts designed by Aaron Marks

    Gothamist and our partners, NY1 News, NY1 Noticias, WNYC, Citizens Committee for New York City, Citizens Union, Hispanic Federation, and Transportation Alternatives, are sponsoring official Campaign Finance Board debates, including the official Democratic mayoral debate on August 21.