Although it has garnered little attention, there is an election for NYC Public Advocate next Tuesday, November 5th. This official is first in line to succeed the mayor and acts as an ombudsman between residents and city government. The race can be framed as a symbolic referendum on the criminal justice reforms that have taken hold in our city and state, and be a harbinger of state legislative races next year.
The two main candidates running, incumbent Democrat Jumaane Williams, and Republican Joseph Borelli, offer a clear contrast for voters. Williams, who was elected in a special election earlier this year, is part of the new progressive movement and has supported the recent fundamental changes to our criminal justice system.
Borelli, a well liked and respected Councilman from Staten Island, has been a consistent critic of these changes. This includes his opposition to closing Rikers Island and the new reforms passed at our city and state levels of government that focus on protecting and defending those that commit crimes rather than law abiding residents.
For example, the recent bail reform legislation passed by Albany Democrats that takes effect in January forbids judges from imposing bail for many crimes, even if the person has a long rap sheet and has a likelihood of committing further crimes. During their debate on NY 1 last week, Williams expressed his staunch support for bail reform while Borelli strongly opposed this legislation.
Indeed, come January, a perp must be released within hours of their arrest for crimes including burglary of your home, grand larceny, second degree manslaughter, aggravated assault on a person less than 11 years old, possession of a gun on school grounds, sale of a gun to a minor, and aggravated harassment in the first degree, These are just a few. Democrats in Albany obviously sold us a bill of goods when they said that only those that committed “minor non-violent crimes” would be released.
When most people make decisions they consider a cost-benefit analysis for their actions and this includes criminals. From their perspective, the benefits now far outweigh the potential costs. Think about it, if someone served time for murder or rape and then assaulted someone or robbed a home, that person would have to first get caught. If they are, a judge is required to release them on their own recognizance based on the law that begins in January. They then must return to court based on their word. Joe Borelli gets the lunacy of this, while Williams and most other Democrats don’t.
Also, last week, the City Council celebrated their passage of the law that would close Rikers in 2026 and replace it with four smaller jails in local communities. In the City Council, Borelli voted against this plan. While the Mayor, Public Advocate, and City Council members that voted to approve this plan patted themselves on the back, criminals gave each other high fives because to meet the much lower maximum capacity of the new jails fewer of them will be sent to jail.
The lynchpin is that the jail population in New York City, come hell or high water, must be reduced to 3,300, which will be the full capacity of the four new neighborhood jails. The number of those incarcerated here has not been this low since the 1920’s when there were about three million less residents. To further put these numbers in perspective, in the bad old days of the early 1990’s there were 20,000 at Rikers and in the summer of 2017 when the Mayor first announced his plan, it was just over 9,000. Today it is about 7,000.
Corrections Officers President Elias Husamudeen brought up the obvious point when he told radio host John Catsimatidis on his radio show, The Cats Roundtable last week, “When you’re not listening to your police chief who said, ‘Listen, you might be having a problem here because you’re building jails that only hold 3,300. What are you going to do if we have more than 3,300 inmates?’” The answer is we can’t have more inmates, which means more people on the streets that will endanger law abiding New Yorkers.
Here is the bottom line, come January, due to the implementation of the new bail law and the continued need to reduce the city jail population to 3,300, odds are that unless you commit murder or rape, you will be free to be on the streets. Amazingly, there are even a growing number on the far-left that believe no one should go away and therefore, nothing should replace Rikers Island.
New Yorkers have a chance to send a message that they disagree with the grave path New York is heading down by filling in the oval for Joe Borelli. Next year, the entire state legislature is up for election and I suspect that as the reality of more crimes against New Yorkers occurs, the Democrats who allowed it to happen will have tougher races.
A respectable showing for Borelli would demonstrate that city residents are tired of one party controlling government and want a real debate about these issues, and would add hope to the GOP’s efforts next year.
Bob Capano served as Director of Community Boards under former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and was a senior staffer to former GOP Members of Congress Vito Fossella and Bob Turner. He has also been an adjunct Professor of Political Science for over 15 years.