In City’s Only Runoff, Public Advocate Candidates Meet

In City’s Only Runoff, Public Advocate Candidates Meet

Low turnout seen as Daniel Squadron faces Letitia James today.

In the city’s only runoff contest, Democrats Daniel Squadron, a state senator, and Letitia James, a city councilwoman, will vie for their party’s nomination for public advocate today.

The Board of Elections on Friday declared that the current public advocate, Bill de Blasio, has enough votes for mayor to avoid a runoff with second-place candidate William Thompson, Jr., clinching the Democrats’ nod for de Blasio.

Formerly known as the City Council president, the public advocate is next in line to assume the mayoralty and presides over Council meetings but has a largely undefined job that tends to cultivate mayoral candidates, such as de Blasio and 2001 Democratic nominee Mark Green.

With no Republican candidate on the ballot, the runoff between the two Brooklyn-based pols essentially ends the race, but turnout is expected to be exceptionally low, between 100,000 and 175,000 people. More than 625,000 Democrats voted in the Sept. 10 primary, which gave James a slight edge, 36 percent, vs. Squadron’s 33 percent. There were two other candidates in the race.

If no candidate wins 40 percent a runoff election is legally required.

Squadron, 33, is the latest alumnus of the Charles Schumer political camp, having served as an aide to the senator and former House member in an office that has produced many elected officials and political consultants. Squadron was elected to the state Senate in January and has Schumer’s endorsement for public advocate.

“This is about who has a plan to make the office most effective for seniors, children and families,” Squadron told The Jewish Week in a phone interview Monday.

“I have a history of taking on tough fights and getting results. I took on the MTA, I took on the Bloomberg administration, I took on the gun lobby.”

On calls by many commentators that the office should be eliminated, Squadron says “there are a whole lot of New Yorkers who aren’t well-served by government, so this is an office whose job it is to be independent [for people] who have nowhere else to turn, those affected by disasters or any New Yorker who has ever been fed up with schools.”

Squadron is the son of the late attorney Howard Squadron, who was president of the American Jewish Congress, and later a chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in the 1980s and was outspoken on behalf of Jewish issues and Israel.

Squadron, 33, a Riverdale native, said he learned from his father that “you should always be guided by a sense of right and fairness and justice. I learned that you roll up your sleeves and don’t just talk about doing things. I learned that public service and community is really the most fulfilling way to engage with the world.”

Asked to contrast his qualifications with those of his opponent, Squadron said “I have a plan to increase the scope and breadth of the office and make it essential for the people who most need it. And I don’t take any corporate or political action committee contributions. I have pledged to keep shadowy independent expenditures out of the race.”

A former public defender, James was elected to the Council in 2003 representing Crown Heights and other Brooklyn areas, filling a vacancy created by the murder of Councilman James Davis. Nominated by the Working Families Party, she won a rare third-party victory against Davis’s brother Jeffrey as the Democrat, with backing from the Crown Heights Jewish community’s political action committee.

One major difference between the candidates is that James favors retroactive pay raises for municipal workers when contract negotiations commence next year, while Squadron has said the city can’t afford them. The public advocate, however, has no direct role in the negotiations.

In a phone interview Monday afternoon James, 54, said she hoped for a good turnout Tuesday but sensed some public cynicism about politics in general and the public advocate office in particular.

“We’re trying to get as many voters as possible in all five boroughs,” James said. “But only only 23 percent of voters turned out in the primary.”

Asked how she would take the office in a new direction, James said “I want to focus on education, on making sure all voices are heard in the city of New York. I want to move past the Bloomberg era with a more progressive agenda and work with Bill de Blasio to build more affordable housing and create more child care slots, which is a major issue in the Jewish community and African American community.”

James added that she worked with Councilman David Greenfield, who represents Borough Park and Flatbush, to fight the cutting of voucher programs for child care for lower-income families.

Asked how her experience as a public defender prepared her for the job, James said it involved “standing up for people who don’t have a voice and making sure their rights are protected.”

She said her two role models as an elected official are the late, pioneering congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug, who served at a time when few women ran for office.

“They were both women who were unbought and un-bossed,” James said. “Women who just stood up for the little guy and individuals who cared about issues that affect most New Yorkers, like the cost of living.”

The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For voter information, click here.

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