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New York Post

 

A City Job That's Worse Than Useless

October 17, 2013

By Stephen Eide

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This November, the city’s office of public advocate looks poised to ascend to new heights of irrelevancy. Assuming Bill de Blasio’s massive lead in the mayor’s race holds, he will find in Public Advocate-presumptive Letitia James a self-described "close supporter" and "close friend."

For someone running to be the mayor’s watchdog, friendship and loyalty sound more like vices than virtues — but then, coherence has never been the public advocate’s strong suit.

The original intention of the public advocate was to serve as New York’s ombudsman. A mid-70s charter revision commission took an existing ceremonial office, "City Council president," and tasked it with fielding and reviewing public complaints about city government.

Unlike its present form, in which the office has almost no formal power, the council president at least had a vote on the old Board of Estimate. That ended with the dissolution of the board by the 1989 charter commission, which seriously considered abolishing the office altogether. That didn’t happen partly because the office’s then-occupant, Andrew Stein, had powerful allies on the commission who weren’t about to allow him to be turned out into the cold.

That was, in a way, a perfectly appropriate outcome, because nourishing the personal ambitions of New York politicians has been one of the few things one can confidently say the office has accomplished. Since 1975 (it was renamed "public advocate" in the early 90s), four out of six occupants have used the office as a springboard for a mayoral bid, including, of course, de Blasio himself.

In fiscal year 2014, the office of the public advocate will cost $3.2 million, funds that would yield inestimably greater public benefit if used to hire 60 new cops or teachers. Because 2013 was a competitive election year, New York taxpayers coughed up an additional $13 million to finance the runoff between James and her opponent Daniel Squadron, and $5 million in public matching funds. That $18 million should have been given to the New York Public Library, to address its massive backlog in deferred maintenance and renovations.

Or perhaps the funds could simply be transferred to future Mayor de Blasio’s press office budget, since a glorified mayoral PR flack is what New Yorkers will be getting in James.

James not only endorsed de Blasio, she was unable to identify a single issue on which she was likely to disagree with him when asked directly to do so during the primary debates.

They share a longstanding connection to the Working Families Party, which was founded in 1998 by left-wing activists at odds with the centrist drift of the Democratic and Liberal parties. Now a formidable influence in city politics, one of the Working Families Party’s first major successes was in electing James to the ­council in 2003.

The only possible argument to make for the public advocate is that a city with such a dominant executive branch needs a special watchdog for the mayor, to ensure checks and balances.

Otherwise, there’s truly no point to the office, since, after all, "the public" already has countless advocates in and out of political office, from city councilmembers and community boards to the media and interest groups.

Insofar as it makes sense to speak of a "successful" public advocate, this has typically been measured based on how effectively he or she has opposed the mayor. Conventional wisdom judges Mark Green to have been a stronger public advocate than Betsy Gotbaum, because he was, to Mayor Giuliani, a bigger nuisance than she was to Bloomberg.

So much for that. With the City Council’s left-wing now emboldened and eager to appoint one of their own as the next speaker, and ideological soul-mates soon to become mayor and public advocate, checks and balances in New York City has never looked more precarious.

Original Source: http://nypost.com/2013/10/16/a-city-job-thats-worse-than-useless/

 

 
 
 

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