Fueled by a low turnout and a dedicated voter base, Councilwoman Letitia James defeated state Sen. Daniel Squadron to become the Democratic party nominee for public advocate, almost certainly becoming the first African-American woman to win citywide office in New York, since the Republicans did not field a candidate for the general election.
“Today, you elected me the first —” she said in her victory speech as the room erupted into wild cheers, “the first woman of color to win citywide office.”
Unofficial returns from Tuesday’s election showed James defeated Squadron by a significant margin, taking just about 60 percent of the vote. With nearly all precincts reporting, there were under 190,000 votes cast.
James and Squadron were the top two finishers in the Sept. 10 primary, but neither eclipsed the 40 percent threshold that would have avoided the costly runoff. The
winners of the higher-profile mayoral and comptroller primary contests stayed above that mark, meaning the race to fill the little-understood public advocate position was the only one on the ballot.
The public advocate position has little real power and an annual budget of just $2.1 million, a small fraction of the $13 million it cost the city to hold the runoff, which was required by law.
In her victory speech, James sounded stridently progressive notes at the end of a bitterly contested race, mocking her opponent for his huge cash outlay and endorsements by the majority of elected officials and all three major newspaper editorial boards.
She slammed “right wing Republicans … who are more invested in destroying this country, destroying President Obama, than they are in making America work.” She pointed out that her victory came despite being outspent, “despite the tabloids going to bat for our opponent … despite all of the rich and the one percent-ers that supported our opponent.”
Bill de Blasio, the current public advocate and Democratic candidate for mayor, congratulated James on her victory. De Blasio is the frontrunner to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a target of a joke by James Tuesday night.
“And no, Mayor Bloomberg, we don’t need any more billionaires,” she said.
James promised to be a thorn in the next mayor’s side, on education, housing and jobs.
Not far away, Squadron gave his concession speech, praising James for her campaign and wishing her well.
“We also know that Tish James will be a great advocate for those communities and so many others,” he said. “She ran a great campaign. Her supporters worked every bit as diligently as everyone in this room.”
The post has become a springboard to higher office. If elected in November, James would rank second only to the mayor, according to the city charter, and would be in a position to badger the administration.
James, a three-term councilwoman from Brooklyn, had the support of most unions, including the Uniformed Firefighters Association. James 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 will remain on as a state senator, as opposed to James, who was term-limited in her council seat and would have been out of a job if she would have lost.