Light Turnout Predicted In Public Advocate Runoff

NEW YORK -

Democratic voters — or, most likely, just a small percentage of them — will head to the polls Tuesday in New York City for the little noticed public advocate runoff election.

City Councilwoman Letitia James and State Sen. Daniel Squadron were the top two finishers in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary but neither eclipsed the 40 percent mark needed to avoid triggering the runoff.

The winners of the higher-profile mayoral and comptroller contests stayed above that threshold, meaning the public advocate race is the only one on the ballot and turnout is expected to be very low. In a city of more than 8 million people, only 100,000 to 175,000 voters are expected to vote for the
often-misunderstood post.

Despite that, the city is spending $13 million to hold the election, which is far more than the office’s tiny $2.3 million annual budget. That adds up to nearly $100 spent per vote cast.

The cost has prompted calls for reform, including an instant runoff system, which would ask voters to rank candidates by order of preference. The system is already utilized in several American cities including San Francisco and Minneapolis.

A lack of understanding about the post, which was created in 1993, will also likely depress turnout. The public advocate is the city’s elected watchdog and would take over if the sitting mayor was incapacitated, but it has a small budget and very little real power. Critics have said that they replicated the job of city councilmen, and that the introduction of the 311 calling center made the post redundant.

Despite that, several occupants later became their party’s nominee for mayor, including current Democratic standard-bearer Bill de Blasio, who said he believes that runoff reform is needed.

The winner of Tuesday’s election is all but certain to be elected the next public advocate since there will not be a Republican candidate on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The two Democrats have similar liberal positions on most issues, from the need for school reform to the creation of more affordable housing.

James, 54, a three-term councilwoman from Brooklyn, has the support of most unions, including the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which endorsed her on City Hall’s steps Monday afternoon. James, who is black, has argued for the need to have a person of color and a woman in a citywide office, since the leading candidates for mayor and comptroller are white men.

Squadron, who is white, has utilized a larger campaign war chest and has the backing of the city’s major newspaper editorial boards and many high-profile politicians, including his former boss, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Squadron’s father was a past president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Squadron, 33, and Schumer walked together through Brooklyn’s large “Atlantic Antic” festival on Sunday shaking hands with would-be voters. James was also there, flanked by a group of sign-carrying volunteers as she stepped around food vendors and balloon hawkers for some last-minute retail politicking.

On Monday, the Daily News endorsed Squadron, citing his efforts to create the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

“The winner in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff for public advocate is all but guaranteed on New Year’s Day to take over an office that has never fulfilled its potential to serve as a platform for bettering city government,” the News wrote. “Squadron is suited to make much more of it.”

James, on the other hand, the News claimed, “is vocal and energetic and would be likely to apply both qualities to the agendas not of the public but of the unions.”

With reporting from The Associated Press.