Flatbush Councilman Jumaane Williams will be the city’s next Public Advocate, after claiming victory in Tuesday’s special election that featured a whopping 17 candidates battling for the office.
Williams came out on top after winning some 33 percent of votes, according to the New York City Board of Elections, which reported he earned some 133,809 out of a total 402,778 ballots cast with more than 98 percent of precincts counted by Wednesday afternoon.
The Brooklyn pol handily beat his second-place competitor, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R–Queens), who won some 77,026 votes, roughly 19 percent of all cast, according to the board.
Williams celebrated his win at an East Flatbush cafe, where he spoke about the office’s important role of holding city leaders accountable, and rebuked legislation to abolish the position that his colleague Councilman Kalman Yeger (D-Midwood) introduced last year.
“The public advocate — the people’s advocate — is a role that I am incredibly excited to fill, and one that is crucial to our city. I know that there are some who have sought to get rid of it — and now, I’m sure there are powerful people who want it gone even more. But we aren’t going anywhere. Instead, we’re going to hold the powerful accountable. The mayor, the police commissioner, the governor, the big-money interests — we are watching, and we will speak out,” the pol said.
Williams’s win comes after his several previous unsuccessful bids for higher office, including two runs for Council speaker in 2013 and 2017, and his campaign for the state office of lieutenant governor last year, when he lost to incumbent Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul in the September primary election despite winning the majority of votes cast within in the five boroughs.
The pol, while delivering his victory speech, teared up as he addressed his past mental-health struggles and the challenge of overcoming stereotypes facing young black men, calling his win a success despite those obstacles.
“I’ve been in therapy for the past three years. I want to say that publicly, I want to say that to black men who are listening,” Williams said. “I know there’s a young black boy somewhere who’s young, cries himself to sleep sometimes — nobody knows what he’s going through, and this world tells you that you have to hide it and can’t talk about it. But I’ve got something to say to that young man: his name is Jumaane Williams and I’m the public advocate for New York City.”
Candidates in the public-advocate race — the city’s first nonpartisan election — ran on their own party lines, with Williams campaigning on the “It’s Time Let’s Go” line and a platform of affordable-housing, criminal-justice, and immigration reform.
In addition to Ulrich, Williams’s competitors included former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who came in third earning some 44,158 votes, Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake, Bushwick Councilman Rafael Espinal, activist and journalist Nomiki Konst, attorney Dawn Smalls, and others — many of whom battled it out in heated debates, including two televised forums where participating candidates argued about issues such as the beleaguered public-transit system, Nycha, affordable housing, the now-dead Amazon deal, and expanding the public advocate’s oversight ability.
Mayor DeBlasio earlier this year called the special election to fill the watchdog seat vacated by former Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James, who left office to become New York State attorney general in January.
And in addition to keeping city officials and agencies in check, Williams, as public advocate, is now first in line to succeed DeBlasio — a chain of command that could come into play if Hizzoner, who held the seat before being elected mayor, next year chooses to leave office and mount a presidential bid before his second term concludes in 2021.
But the public advocate–elect said he would not follow Hizzoner’s footsteps and use the office as a launchpad for the top office in City Hall.
“To the mayor, I’m not running for your job. But I’m going to work with you to make sure we work on behalf of the people,” he said.
Williams, however, could only serve as public advocate for 10 months. A partisan primary will be held as soon as June, followed by a November general election to determine who will finish out James’s second term, which also ends in 2021.