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Bklyn pol pushing to axe Public Advocate office

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A Bensonhurst councilman on Wednesday introduced a bill to eliminate the watchdog position of Public Advocate, weeks ahead of a special election to fill the seat that the current officeholder will vacate to become the state’s next attorney general.

Councilman Kalman Yeger’s (D–Bensonhurst) legislation proposes letting voters decide via a future ballot referendum on whether to keep the office of Public Advocate, which Attorney General–elect Letitia “Tish” James will leave in January after besting three competitors in the race to become New York State’s top prosecutor earlier this month.

Yeger — the colleague of several Kings County pols who’ve already launched bids to replace James, including Flatbush Councilman Jumaane Williams — reportedly proposed the bill because he’d rather see the taxpayer dollars that now fund the office, which the city created in 1993, spent elsewhere.

“This is an experiment that’s literally been going on for about 30 years now, and I think it’s run its course,” the councilman told website Patch on Monday.

The Public Advocate is meant to serve as a check to city officials — such as when James, a former Fort Greene councilwoman, demanded the Landmarks Preservation Commission rescind its vote approving a controversial makeover of the neighborhood’s eponymous park last year. The officeholder can introduce legislation before Council, and participate in debates on bills, but cannot vote on them, according to the city charter.

James, whom voters reelected to a second four-year term last year, begins her new role as Attorney General on Jan. 1, after which the city charter requires Mayor DeBlasio to hold a special election to fill her seat no sooner than 45 days later.

The office of Public Advocate cannot be eliminated through legislation, however, which is why Yeger’s bill would put it up for a vote on a future ballot, according to his spokesman Jay Ackerman, who said there is no definitive timeline for when a referendum would appear should the bill pass.

Ackerman said that theoretically there could be a vote as early as November 2019, but that a referendum would more likely appear on the November 2020 general election ballot, meaning that whomever is elected to replace James will still serve in the office for a few years.

“The likelihood of a referendum election will be the November general election of 2020,” he said.

The city allocated some $3.6 million of its total $1.2-billion budget to fund the office for its current fiscal year, according to records, which show James took home a salary of just more than $184,000.

And James isn’t the only Public Advocate who has used the role as a stepping stone to higher office — Mayor DeBlasio held the position before voters elected him the city’s top pol in 2013, and the inaugural officeholder, former Public Advocate Mark Green, ran an unsuccessful 2001 mayoral campaign against Michael Bloomberg, who won the election that year.

But critics who claim the office is merely a way to collect a check while boosting one’s resume are ignoring its importance, according to Williams, who said the position should be strengthened, not eliminated.

“The Public Advocate was not created to be a stepping stone or a launch pad, it was designed to be a vital watchdog for issues that New Yorkers are struggling with every day while holding government accountable,” he said. “It seems odd to me that the answer to the watchdog not being strong enough isn’t to empower more but to eliminate it.”

Williams — who in September lost a primary bid to become the Democratic nominee for New York State Lieutenant Governor to incumbent Kathy Hochul, but won 6,000 more votes than Hochul within the five boroughs — is one in a group of ten likely candidates to succeed James.

That group includes other Brooklyn electeds such as Councilmen Robert Cornegy (D–Bedford-Stuyvesant) and Rafael Espinal (D–Bushwick), who with Williams spoke to voters at a Monday forum for Public Advocate hopefuls hosted by advocacy group the Progressive Action Network, whose leaders endorsed the Flatbush pol following the event.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 8:49 am, November 15, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
This is a great idea. Our mayor and the city council members should advocate for the public. We don’t need a separate position for it. If not that, we should select the public advocate by getting rid of the mayoral primary and making the public advocate whoever gets the second most votes in the mayoral race.
Nov. 14, 2:26 am
John from Bay Ridge says:
I support this initiative. The office of Public Advocate is useless in fact and redundant in purpose.
Nov. 14, 6:40 am
Sam from Brooklyn says:
Let's axe as many city offices as possible to reduce government waste of tax payer monies. More importantly, is for the citizens to decide what and how much government to have, rather than government deciding for the citizens. Citizens need to take control of government rather than the other way around. Remember always that they work for us!
Nov. 14, 9:53 am
Bunny from Brooklyn says:
I believe this office was created to protect and aid our residents. Don't be so quick to agree to terminate a position without knowing all the details, and I doubt that people do. Politicians are anxious to look good in our eyes by saving money, but when we need someone in that position to do the job they were appointed to do, the elimination of that position doesn't always serve us for the better.
Nov. 14, 10:06 am
Frank from Furter says:
yep spend money on replacing the position and call it ombudsperson.
Nov. 14, 10:22 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
If this call to eliminate the Public Advocate and the work of the office is based on money issues, why don't we reduce the pay of council members too? There could just as well be an argument made these positions could all be volunteer.
Nov. 14, 11:02 am
Josh from Park Slope says:
Definitely get riuid of this political place holder. De Blasio created the famous Worst Landlords list but the list seemed just as long under Letitia James, just as ceremonial as the position. Does the Public Advocate have any actual power? Now that the public approved the creation of the new, useless Department of Civic Engagement, why don't we swap out the useless Public Advocate office for it and keep government creep in check at least by one superfluous agency?
Nov. 14, 11:02 am
Moe from Bk says:
Let's abolish Yeger's position and spend the money saved on important things, like bike and bus lanes, that he rails against.
Nov. 15, 9 am
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
Public Advocate or the office of Ombudsman is needed in big cities because council members often don't answer emails from constituents in the community. For example, the lack of lighting in Seth Low Park in Councilman Kalman Yeger’s Bensonhurst.
Nov. 15, 9:53 am
Jeff from Brooklyn says:
Why don't we axe the council members instead! Public Advocate should have stronger power. someone should keep the government in check. Too many times the council members comes up with these off the wall laws. Most of the time these are not voted upon by the people of NYC. Remember our "wonderful" Mayor Bloomburg who bought his third term. The Public Advocate should have had the power to stop his third term which was against city's charter of two term limits. I have a great idea, why don't the council members vote themselves another raise like they did in the past. SO MUCH FOR GOVERNMENT WORKING FOR THE PEOPLE!!!
Nov. 15, 11:11 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
I don't know what could possibly make someone (like Jeff, above) think that all elected officials except one are "the government" but this one other elected official, which has no power, keeps the government in check. If you want the government to do different things, elect different mayors and council members and governors.
Nov. 15, 11:24 am
Jeff from Brooklyn says:
If Mike(above)read entire content, it also states that the Public Advocate should have more powers. What different things are you talking about? How about a Mayor who "bought" his third term (which was illegal because of term limits) from the City Council, or a council member picking his own replacement instead of having the public voting him in office! Open your eyes, there is too much BS going on in city government that a lot of the public do not know about!
Nov. 17, 12:50 pm

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