Monday, February 25, 2019

New York Note

Tomorrow is a special election in New York City, for the position of public advocate, a weird NYC institution dating back to 1993, in which the designated successor in case anything happens to the mayor is a kind of official opponent of the mayor, a citywide ombudsman or tribune whose main job is to complain to the city on behalf of the citizens and attempt to shame the mayor and city council and city agencies into action.

It's also become a significant factor in electoral politics, in that the last two public advocates have successfully used the job as a springboard to higher things, Bill de Blasio to the mayoralty and Tish James to the post of state attorney general, in last November's election, which is why this election is being held, to fill it until the coming November, when there will be another vote.

It's a nonpartisan contest, though I think in fact there are only two Republicans on the list. and there are 17 candidates, which is just insane; there is a statistical possibility that somebody could win with just 6% of the vote, which is clearly very unlikely, but a win with some horribly low number under 25% and an essentially random result based on the vagaries of turnout is not inconceivable at all, and there are candidates trying unapologetically to work this.

In particular, because my family is on I don't know exactly what list of of Chinese or Asian voters, our mailbox has been full of bilingual Chinese-English fliers from one of the Asian American candidates, Ron Kim, directly appealing to us to vote for "one of us", which really kind of bothers me (that's the Korean; the Chinese guy, Ben Yee, is not doing that at all)—it suggests the possibility that the election could be won by voters of a single ethnic group.

In the same way, one of the Republicans, Eric Ulrich, could quite possibly win just by uniting the tiny minority of Republicans; or Danny O'Donnell, who was a pioneer as a victorious openly gay candidate for the state assembly in 2003 and has served there ever since, could be swept into office by a unified gay vote. Or Nomiki Konst bringing together all the Young Turks fans or just those who have a sense they've seen her name before and she's some kind of celebrity. Not that there's anything wrong with any of these people, other than Konst—O'Donnell in particular has been a fine assemblymember and there's no reason to think he wouldn't be a fine public advocate. Most candidates seem to take very similar policy positions and indeed struggle to distinguish themselves from each other. But I hope whoever emerges from this circus will give a sense of having been backed by a cross-section.

To that end, I've had my eye on two candidates in particular, former city council president Melissa Mark-Viverito and Jumaane Williams, the city council member who was crazy enough to run as Cynthia Nixon's running mate in last year's gubernatorial primary but sober enough to be endorsed by the New York Times for tomorrow. And his mom likes him, as he has pointed out. Williams has been the favorite, and I'll be voting for him because of that, in the hopes of encouraging it to look like a mandate.

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