Table of Contents
II. Candidate Evaluation Principles and Process
III. Our Criteria
IV. Public Advocate Office
VI. Candidates and Endorsement
VII. Voting and Registration Information
On Tuesday, February 26th, New Yorkers will vote in the Special Election for New York City Public Advocate. To help voters prepare for the upcoming election, we bring you our 2019 Special Election Voters Directory. The Voters Directory provides a description of each candidate evaluated by Citizens Union’s Local Candidates Committee, their responses to Citizens Union’s good government questionnaire, and information about the rigorous evaluation process and assessments of candidates.
New York City Special Elections are nonpartisan, meaning you do not need to be registered with a political party to cast a ballot. For more information about the Special Election, visit the NYC Board of Elections website at http://vote.nyc.ny.us or call (866) VOTE-NYC.
In this election cycle, Citizens Union has evaluated 11 out of 17 candidates running to fill the Public Advocate’s Office after the seat was vacated by Letitia James when she became the state Attorney General in January. Interview teams made up of Local Candidates Committee members assess the candidates based on their responses to CU’s questionnaire (a pre-requisite for interviews), research, first-hand knowledge of the candidates, and interviews with the candidates, which are approximately 30 minutes each. The interview teams then make advisory recommendations to the full Local Candidates Committee, which deliberates and makes recommendations to the Citizens Union Board, which makes the final decision. An “Endorsed” rating reflects a candidate that Citizens Union deems not only qualified for the office with a viable candidacy, but also committed to an agenda of positive reform. Please note that candidates not endorsed may nevertheless be highly regarded, which is generally reflected in the commentary. Citizens Union issues a “Preferred” rating in primary elections, and an “Endorsed” rating for Special and General Election contests. A “No Endorsement” rating may result when there is insufficient information available, it is believed that the candidates are of equal merit, or if no candidate interviewed by Citizens Union is believed to be effective or capable of representing the district.
The following guidelines are used by the Local Candidates Committee and Citizens Union Board of Directors in the evaluation of candidates:
- Support for Citizens Union’s reform agenda shall be the primary criteria used in deciding its support for a candidate.
- Evidence of ability to wage an effective and competitive campaign shall be considered, but shall not be determinative.
- Ability to advance CU’s goals, if elected, shall be considered, but shall not be determinative. Incumbents will be held accountable for their record of reform in office and shall be judged accordingly on the basis of their demonstrated support for CU’s issues.
- State, local, or community issues specific to the race’s jurisdiction shall be considered, as will candidates’ ability to grasp these issues and propose thoughtful solutions to represent their constituents’ interests.
- Evaluation of the candidates and the decision to support a particular candidate shall be made without regard to political party and in a nonpartisan manner.
The Public Advocate essentially serves as a watchdog and as the city’s ombudsman. According to the City Charter, the Public Advocate’s major responsibilities are to:
- Monitor the operation of the city’s public information and service complaint programs;
- Review complaints of a recurring and multiborough or citywide nature relating to city services and programs and make proposals to improve the city’s response to such complaints;
- Receive, and investigate and attempt to resolve, individual complaints concerning city services and administrative actions of city agencies; and
- Review programs of city agencies, with a focus on the effectiveness of the agencies’ public information and complaint procedures and the responsiveness of city agencies to requests for information.
The Public Advocate may conduct hearings, issue reports and make recommendations with regard to the Public Advocate’s responsibilities. S/he has the authority to appoint members to various city entities, including the City Planning Commission, and also serves on a number of bodies. The Public Advocate also has a seat on all City Council committees and may introduce legislation but may not vote on Council matters.
In the event the mayor is temporarily unable to perform his/her duties the Public Advocate steps in to perform those duties, and if the Mayor leaves office during his/her term the Public Advocate serves as Mayor the next general election.
Below are descriptions of each candidate Citizens Union interviewed. As a preliminary manner, we note that generally the candidates favored stronger authority for the Public Advocate, including subpoena power, an independent budget, and some kind of role or authority over the Department of Investigations or the city’s investigation function. As these views were so frequently expressed, we did not identify those issues in each write-up.
Michael Blake – Citizens Union’s Endorsed Candidate
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: NYS Assembly Member, District 79
Education: Northwestern University, BA
Michael Blake is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “For The People” line. He has served as state Assembly Member for the 79th District since 2014 and currently serves as a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee. He is also the Chair of the Subcommittee on Mitchell-Lama and is a member of eight other Assembly committees. Prior to his Assembly service, Blake served as Associate Director of Public Engagement and Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in the White House during President Obama’s first term. Blake’s campaign for Public Advocate focuses on using the office’s ombudsman role to hold NYCHA more accountable and preserve and expand affordable housing opportunities in New York City; demand a seat for the Public Advocate on the MTA board; create a Chief Diversity Officer across city agencies to support inclusive business practices; promote criminal justice reform; and uphold the ideals of good governance and transparency in the Public Advocate’s office. He says his time spent in the Obama Administration and state Assembly is a unique quality that enables him to balance accountability with finding common ground. Citizens Union believes Blake’s thoughtful approach to the root causes of issues and his extensive knowledge of the matters he is focused on will be a valuable asset in the Public Advocate’s Office and to the people of New York.
Michael Blake’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: Columbia University Lecturer
Education: Columbia University, BA, MA, MPhil, PhD
David Eisenbach is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “Stop REBNY” line. This is Eisenbach’s second bid for Public Advocate, after challenging incumbent Letitia James in the 2017 general election, where he earned 92,246 votes (23.42%). After the 2017 election he founded the Friends of SBJSA (Small Business Jobs Survival Act) and if elected Public Advocate has promised to pass the SBJSA, which would provide rights to commercial tenants, including the right to renew leases. He has authored three books, the first of which was named a Stonewall honor book by the American Library Association in 2007. In 2008, Eisenbach worked as communications director for Alaska Senator Mike Gravel’s presidential election campaign. If elected Public Advocate, Eisenbach also promises to work to stop displacement in the city caused by new developments, to reform ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), to commit to building no new jails in New York City, and to strengthen enforcement of labor laws and stop wage theft.
David Eisenbach’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: NYC Council Member, District 37
Education: Queens College, BA
Rafael L. Espinal, Jr. is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “Livable City” line. Espinal is the City Council representing the 37th District and had previously served in the state Assembly. Espinal identifies his legislative accomplishments as including sponsoring the repeal of New York City’s Cabaret Law, a prohibition-era law that limited dancing in food- and drink-serving establishments – and which was unevenly enforced in black and queer establishments throughout its history – as well as working to create the NYC Office of Nightlife. As the Chair of the Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, Espinal managed the successful adoption of NYC’s Paid Sick Leave Law, and more recently advocated for mandatory green roofs and other eco-friendly infrastructure initiatives in the city. Espinal was one of the first Council Members to have his district (East New York) rezoned, which he negotiated with the de Blasio administration as part of the mayor’s affordable housing plan. In his campaign for Public Advocate, Espinal has vowed to hold the mayor accountable for any failed initiatives, to continue to fight for climate change and expand the city’s green spaces, to advocate for the passage of new labor laws, and to serve as a watchdog for both NYCHA and the MTA and advocate for a seat on the MTA board. Espinal considers the Public Advocate’s ability to introduce legislation in the City Council as the office’s most important power.
Rafael Espinal’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: President of the NY Multi-Cultural Restaurant & Night Life Chamber of Commerce
Education: George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School
Anthony “Tony” Herbert is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “Residents First” line. Herbert was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Public Advocate in 2017 but dropped out before Election Day, and also ran for NYS Assembly in 2012 and 2014. He currently serves as the President, CEO, and Chairman of the Multi-Cultural Restaurant and Nightlife Chamber of Commerce. His political work includes time spent as the Special Assistant to former New York City Council Member Priscilla Wooten, the Special Assistant to former Congressman Edolphus Towns, and the New York Statewide Director of African American Affairs for the state Senate Minority Re-apportionment Task Force. Herbert experienced homelessness in his youth and credits this for why he is prioritizing homelessness and affordable housing concerns in his Public Advocate campaign. Herbert promises to prioritize reducing homelessness in the city, with a particular concern for the mentally ill homeless population (for whom he would provide supportive housing in unused space within city hospitals), and to introduce legislation to mandate use of city businesses in projects where city tax dollars are spent, with a 30% set-aside for minority and women-owned businesses. He will also seek an alternative to the mayor’s plan to close and sell Riker’s Island, and will work to enhance the city’s workforce through increased vocational training for New York high schoolers.
Tony Herbert’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: NYS Assembly Member, District 40
Education: Hamilton College, BA; Baruch College, MPA
Ron Kim is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “People Over Corporations” line. Kim is the first Korean-American to be elected to the New York State legislature, where he has represented the 40th District in the New York State Assembly since 2013. Kim currently serves as the Chair of Majority House Operations, as well as the Co-Chair of the Asian Pacific American Task Force, and is a member of the Health, Education, Housing, and Social Services Committees, among others. During his time in office, Kim has focused on passing legislation aimed at decreasing personal and student debt for New Yorkers and supporting the DREAM Act at the state level. He has also maintained a sharp focus on taking on large corporate tax cuts by introducing the New York Tax Justice Act, The New Yorkers Financial Freedom Act, and the Anti-Monetization Clause in the state legislature. If elected Public Advocate, he would seek to introduce similar legislation at the city level. Kim has focused his campaign for Public Advocate on his promises to reduce the burden of debt on New Yorkers, to pressure the Mayor and City Council to end taxpayer-funded giveaways to large corporations, to encourage investment in local communities and businesses, and to break up exploitative corporate trusts. A unique focus of Kim’s campaign for Public Advocate is his pledge to devote the office towards alleviating student debt for New Yorkers.
Ron Kim’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: Investigative Journalist
Education: University of Arizona, BA
Nomiki Konst is a Democratic Socialist running for Public Advocate on the “Pay Folks More” line. Konst has worked with The Young Turks Network, CBS, and Sirius XM Radio as an investigative journalist, and served as the national co-chair of Gen 44 during Obama’s re-election campaign to target young people for fundraising. A self-proclaimed socialist, Konst worked closely with Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and served as Sanders’ representative in the DNC’s Unity Reform Commission. In her campaign for Public Advocate, Konst reimagines the office as an investigating, anti-corruption watchdog, separating the power of the Public Advocate from politics. She would remove its role as successor to the mayor and bar any elected official from running for the office for five years after her/his term ends. Konst wants to focus on climate change initiatives in the city, to decentralize the structure of the Public Advocate office, to push for a $30 minimum wage for businesses with over 75 employees, to end corporate tax breaks, and increase taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers.
Nomiki Konst’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: Former NYC Council Speaker, District 8
Education: Columbia University, BA; Baruch College, MPA
Melissa Mark-Viverito is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “Fix the MTA” line. Mark-Viverito served in the City Council from 2006-2017, and for the last four years of her service was the first Latinx to serve as Speaker of the Council. During her time in the Council, she co-founded and co-chaired the Progressive Caucus, sponsored multiple bills including many in the 2016 Criminal Justice Reform Act, and in 2011 was among the first Council Members to introduce Participatory Budgeting to her district. Mark-Viverito also sponsored a 2014 bill that helped solidify New York as a sanctuary city by easing the NYPD’s and DOC’s requirements to comply with ICE. If elected Public Advocate, Mark-Viverito has vowed to maintain the independence of the office from the mayor and special interests; address the city’s affordable housing crisis; work to create a reliable public transportation system; create a five-borough Office of Community Engagement to work with the Public Advocate; and establish an Office of Legal Aid, which would partner with law firms to provide pro bono legal services to meet city needs. Mark-Viverito’s identified the MTA as the most glaring discrepancy between services promised and provided in the city, and advocates using the revenue from marijuana legalization to help fund the system.
Melissa Mark-Viverito’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: NYS Assembly Member, District 69
Education: George Washington University, BA; CUNY Law School, JD
Daniel O’Donnell is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “Equality for All” line. O’Donnell is the first openly gay man to serve in the Assembly and is the longest-serving elected official running for Public Advocate, holding his Assembly seat since 2003. In the Assembly, O’Donnell has sponsored multiple bills, notably the Marriage Equality Act, which passed in 2011 to give LGBTQ+ people the right to marry. He also sponsored the Dignity for All Students Act, intended to protect students from harassment and discrimination by requiring school districts to create anti-intimidation procedures and guidelines for training personnel. In his campaign for Public Advocate, O’Donnell stresses the importance of the Public Advocate’s investigative power, drawing on his background as Chair of the Assembly Ethics Committee, to hold the government accountable and on track in meeting its goals. He also stresses the value of providing constituent services, including having borough offices and a legal-aid program. O’Donnell also plans to work to end cash bail and continue to advocate for the closure of Riker’s Island, to push for public input in development decisions, to increase affordable housing requirements and opportunities for New Yorkers, and to create a dedicated revenue stream for New York City’s public transit operations.
Daniel O’Donnell’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: Partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP
Education: Boston University, BA; Stanford Law School, JD
Dawn Smalls is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “No More Delays” line. She currently works as a partner in the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, where her litigation work has included representing over 90,000 au-pairs as co-lead counsel for one of the largest Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits. Smalls serves as a National Board Member of the American Constitution Society and has also served as a Commissioner of the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics. In her political career, Smalls worked in the Obama Administration as the Executive Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. She also served as the New York State Political Director for the Obama for America campaign, as well as the Regional Political Director for the Hillary Clinton for President campaign. If elected Public Advocate, Smalls has promised to work towards improving the MTA, including expanded bus service and access for persons with disabilities, and would seek a seat on the MTA board; to introduce a plan to repair and stabilize NYCHA; to improve the living situations of homeless women and children; to increase affordable housing options for families; and to work to modernize voting in the city. She would seek to use the fund for public advocacy to support initiatives addressing her core platform issues.
Dawn Smalls’ Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: NYC Council Member, District 32
Education: St. Francis College, BA
Eric Ulrich is a Republican running for Public Advocate on the “Common Sense” line. Ulrich has represented the 32nd District in the New York City Council since 2009, when he was elected one of the youngest incoming council members at age 24. One of three Republicans currently serving in the Council, Ulrich describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal and has harshly criticized President Trump. During his time in the Council, Ulrich has served as Chair of the Veterans Committee and helped pass legislation to address issues such as veteran homelessness, education, and veterans treatment courts, and also helped to create the Department of Veterans’ Service. In the aftermath of devastation from Superstorm Sandy in his district, Ulrich sponsored a bill to create a city monitor at the Department of Investigations to keep an eye on federal recovery funds. In his campaign for Public Advocate, Ulrich has promised to serve as a strong check on the mayor; to dedicate the Public Advocate’s office to promoting transparency and openness at all levels of government, including improved compliance with freedom of information and open government laws; to support a family’s right to choose where to send their children to school; to sponsor more inclusive community-based development in the city; and to seek a seat on the MTA board. Ulrich asserts that he is the only candidate for Public Advocate that actively supported the Amazon H2Q deal.
Eric Ulrich’s Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]Occupation: NYC Council Member, District 45
Education: Brooklyn College, BA; Brooklyn College, MA
Jumaane Williams is a Democrat running for Public Advocate on the “It’s Time Let’s Go” line. Coming from a background in community organizing, Williams has served as the City Council Member for the 45th District since 2009 and had an unsuccessful bid for New York State Lieutenant Governor in 2018. His time in the Council has been marked by a focus on community policing and combating gun violence. Williams sponsored the Community Safety Act, which created the Office of Inspector General for the New York Police Department, as well as the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits NYC employers from asking about the criminal record of job applicants before making a job offer. Williams also co-chaired the Council Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, and launched the National Network to Combat Gun Violence, which is a nationwide association of local elected officials. Williams sees the Public Advocate’s role as a “charter cop,” serving as a watchdog and making sure agencies are executing their responsibilities as mandated by the City Charter. He would appoint a deputy public advocate for each borough. In addition, Williams promises to pursue housing justice for all New Yorkers through more income-targeted affordable housing programs, to promote an overhaul of NYC’s criminal justice system, to seek a seat on the MTA board, and to protect the city’s immigrant communities.
Jumaane Williams’ Special Election Questionnaire
[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Click for details” collapse_text=”Less” ]A. Manny Alicandro
Candidate could not be reached in time for this evaluation.
Candidate could not be reached in time for this evaluation.
Candidate did not return Citizens Union’s questionnaire.
Helal A. Sheikh
Candidate could not be reached in time for this evaluation.
Latrice M. Walker
Candidate did not return Citizens Union’s questionnaire.
Benjamin L. Yee
Candidate did not return Citizens Union’s questionnaire.
REGISTERING TO VOTE
You are eligible to vote in municipal, federal and state elections if you are:
- 18 years of age (on the date of the election. You can register at 17 if you will be 18 before the election – Send your voter registration card in the year you turn 18 and it will be filed on your 18th birthday);
- United States citizen; AND
- Registered to vote 25 days before the election.
VOTING IN A NEW YORK CITY SPECIAL ELECTION
New York City Special Elections are nonpartisan, meaning you do not need to be registered with a political party to cast a ballot.
TO OBTAIN A VOTER REGISTRATION FORM OR ABSENTEE BALLOT:
- Go in person to your local county Board of Elections office;
- Call the Board of Elections at 1-866-VOTE-NYC
- Visit the Board of Elections website at http://www.vote.nyc.ny.us/html/voters/register.shtml
- Absentee Voting: http://www.vote.nyc.ny.us/html/voters/absentee.shtml
VOTING ON ELECTION DAY
The Special Election will be held on Tuesday, February 26th. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. If you have general questions regarding eligibility or the location of your polling place, please call 1-866-VOTE-NYC. You can also locate your polling place online, including handicap entrances, at https://nyc.pollsitelocator.com/search
Under federal law, if you are disabled and choose to vote in person rather than by absentee ballot, you are entitled to assistance. You can rely on the election employees for help. At the polls, if you are not on the voter registration list, it may be because your registration form was not received in time or was filled out incorrectly. If you believe that you are eligible to vote, you can still vote by requesting an affidavit ballot. After the election, the Board of Elections will check its records and your vote will be counted if you are indeed eligible.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
To Research Campaign Contributions
NYC Campaign Finance Board (212) 409-1800 www.nyccfb.info
NYS Board of Elections (800) 458-3453 www.elections.ny.gov
To Research Candidates and Issues
Citizens Union (212) 227-0342 www.citizensunion.org
Gotham Gazette (212) 227-0342 www.gothamgazette.com
NYPIRG (212) 349-6460 www.nypirg.org
League of Women Voters of NYS (518) 465-4162 www.lwvny.org
Project Vote Smart (888) VOTE-SMART www.votesmart.org
To Research Incumbent Records
New York State Assembly (518) 455-4218 www.assembly.state.ny.us
New York City Council https://council.nyc.gov
This Voters Directory would not be possible without the hard work of members of the Citizens Union Board, Local Candidates Committee (LCC), staff and interns. Eighteen volunteer LCC members, one intern, and staff formed nonpartisan interview teams and evaluated 11 candidates running in the 2019 Public Advocate Special Election. We thank them for contributing their time, energy, and expertise this winter to interviewing and evaluating candidates. We thank you for your support, and hope you enjoy the latest edition of the Voters Directory.
Citizens Union Board of Directors
Randy Mastro, Chair
Lorna B. Goodman, Vice Chair
Nancy Bowe, Treasurer
Christina R. Davis, Secretary
Penelope L. Christophorou
Allan H. Dobrin
Ester R. Fuchs, Ph.D.
Robert M. Kaufman
Anthony S. Mattia
Gary P. Naftalis
Peter J.W. Sherwin
Anthony R. Smith
Darryl C. Towns
David W. Wang
Local Candidates Committee
Anthony S. Mattia, Chair
Grace Lyu Volckhausen
Betsy Gotbaum, Executive Director
Rachel Bloom, Director of Public Policy and Programs
Jane Dowd, Public Policy Intern
Dakota Dula, Development and Membership Associate
Ethan Geringer-Sameth, Public Policy and Program Manager
Nelson Mallory, Executive Assistant
Sally McCullough, Office and Finance Director
JaVon Rice, Technical Manager and Web Producer