Letitia James wins public advocate run-off and likely the office

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Letitia “Tish” James won the Democratic public advocate run-off on Wednesday night, in all likelihood launching her from Fort Greene’s three-term councilwoman to a heartbeat away from the mayor’s office.

James garnered about 60 percent of the vote, handily beating state Sen. Daniel Squadron for the Democratic nomination which, because no Republican is running, almost assures her the seat and likely makes her the first African-American woman to hold a citywide political office. At the moment her win was assured, James brandished the same populist rhetoric that defined her campaign and her tenure as councilwoman.

“There’s so much more work to do because the next generation of New Yorkers are at risk of losing the opportunities that allowed us to make it in this city,” James told a crowd of supporters at her victory party on the roof of Manhattan’s Copacabana Club.

The run-off race saw its share of mud-slinging, but Squadron and James held similar stances on many issues and the contest was the only thing on the ballot, which may explain why only 187,877 New Yorkers turned out to vote, though pundits had predicted as few as 100,000 would turn out.

At the decisive hour, Squadron, who will maintain his position as state senator, was able to muster some kind words for his victorious foe.

“I know that Tish will be their great advocate for New Yorkers across the city,” Squadron said in an e-mailed statement. “Although we did not win tonight, I will keep on doing what I’ve always done in public office — fighting for New Yorkers and a city I truly love.”

James is a former Legal Aid lawyer who, as a councilwoman, opposed the threat of eminent domain to seize property by proponents of the Atlantic Yards development, fought Mayor Bloomberg’s term limit extension, and campaigned against racial profiling by police. But not all of her initiatives have been so political. In 2010 James sued a day laborer after she cut her shin walking into the trailer hitch on his parked truck.

The public advocate is supposed to serve as ombudsman for the city, though what duties that entails is somewhat undefined. The office has been in the spotlight over the past year as current public advocate Bill DeBlasio has used his position as a launching pad for his mayoral campaign and clinched the Democratic nomination going into November’s general election. And though the public advocate’s powers have been steadily limited over the past two decades, the officer still appoints city planning and budget officials and is the second in command if something takes the mayor out of commission.

The low turnout run-off election cost the city $13-million to facilitate, prompting some politicians to call for instant runoff voting, in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.

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