By Arthur Schwartz
To date, the fact that on February 26 the voters of NYC will get to vote for the person first in line to succeed the Mayor hasn’t broken through most people’s consciousness. In fact, on Tuesday February 26th NYC voters get to go to the polls to choose a replacement for Tish James, who was Public Advocate, and is now Attorney General for all of NY State.
What does the Public Advocate do?
First, he/she is an ombudsman, the person in government that you can call if you have a problem with someone in City government. The Public Advocate’s staff are supposed to be problem solvers. Sometimes that means bringing a lawsuit. (I am proud to say that I represented Tish James in six different lawsuits where she successfully addressed important issues.)
The Public Advocate chairs City Council meetings and has the right to propose legislation for Council consideration.
The Public Advocate chooses a member of the City Planning Commission, which has the final say on most land use issues.
And, as I said earlier, if the Mayor moves on, the Public Advocate is next in line.
The election on February 26 is a “non-partisan” election. No one runs as a Democrat or a Republican. No one must surpass 40% of the vote to win (which is the rule in regular City elections). And since 23 candidates have submitted petitions to be on the ballot, every vote will count. The candidate who hits 20% could win.
A lot of us have heard of Jumaane Williams. He is a City Council Member from Brooklyn who ran for Lieutenant Governor against the incumbent in last year’s Democratic Primary, and with the NY Times’ endorsement received 47% of the vote. His opponent spent $34 million—he spent $300,000. Around the state people who met him were impressed.
I had the pleasure of being his (pro bono) lawyer in that election. I got to know him well. In my almost 30 years of working with elected officials, I have never met a candidate who was more down to earth. He isn’t full of himself, he isn’t arrogant, he thinks strategically but he is straightforward. He has no fear about putting himself on the line. For a Caribbean-American guy who until a year ago wore dreadlocks, he puts people of all colors and nationalities at ease. I have sat with him at meetings where someone screams at him about a statement he once made, or a vote he took, and he has calmly responded, sometimes explaining and sometimes apologizing.
He seems tireless. Last year he drove back and forth from one side of the state to another. And he overcomes a disability, Tourette’s Syndrome, which would scare others off the stage.
Jumaane went to Brooklyn Tech and Brooklyn College. He wanted to be an actor but got out of college and got a job as Executive Director of the advocacy group Tenants and Neighbors. Jumaane ran on the Working Families Party line against the Democratic nominee and won. In the 2017 election he got 99% of the vote in his district against his opponent. His constituents love him.
He has become well known for getting arrested, five times in all, most recently when he blocked a vehicle which an Immigration Movement activist had been placed into by Immigration Police after he went to do his monthly check in. Having experienced mistreatment by police himself, he was at the forefront of a successful fight against former Mayor Bloomberg’s “Stop and Frisk” policy. That policy led to one in four Black men being stopped in any given year by the NYPD. And, as he predicted, even with the arrests stopped, NYC has become safer.
But Jumaane hasn’t just been oppositional. In his first eight years on the City Council he authored 58 bills which passed, which means that he knows how to work with colleagues to get things done. And just last month, Mayor de Blasio adopted Jumaane’s 2014 bill requiring, at the minimum, a week of paid vacation no matter where someone works.
Jumaane is a special man, running in a Special Election. We will be a proud, well-served City if we elect him.
Vote on Tuesday February 26th.
Arthur Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village.