All four Democratic candidates for public advocate think the obscure position should remain a part of city government — but beyond that, each member of the quartet seeking the city’s second-highest office differ on what the position should do.
Last week, the candidates — Councilmembers Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope) and Eric Gioia (D-Queens), civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel and former Public Advocate Mark Green — clashed in a spirited debate held by The Brooklyn Paper in conjunction with Brooklyn Independent Television.
The debate aired on the BCAT TV Network last week, but it’s available to watch whenever you want both on this Web site and on BoroPolitics.com, a new site set up by the Community Newspaper Group, the parent company of this newspaper.
Some of the great moments in the debate included:
• DeBlasio hammering away at Green for not participating in other debates.
• Green answering “David Dinkins” when asked what New York City politician, past or present, that he admired.
• Siegel and Green fighting each other over interpretations of the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision on the use of eminent domain.
Indeed, some of the most-heated exchanges came during a question about the city’s use of eminent domain in its Willets Point redevelopment.
DeBlasio said he supported eminent domain in “very certain circumstances,” including the Queens project, while Gioia called the practice “absolutely wrong” for economic development.
“Often the city says it will only use eminent domain if it has to, but that’s like negotiating with Al Capone, who walks in, puts a gun on the table, and says, ‘Pay no attention to the gun. I’ll only use it if I have to.’”
Siegel agreed that there has been “abuse” of eminent domain, not just at Willets Point, but at Atlantic Yards, too. He cited the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo verdict, which allowed such use of eminent domain to seize privately owned land under many circumstances, but not if there is a closed process or if there is bad faith.
Green, who supports the Willets Point redevelopment, challenged Siegel’s reading of the law, but Siegel’s reiterated that his interpretation of the 5-4 verdict was correct because there had been both bad faith and a closed process at Willets Point.
Green also demanded that Gioia retract his comparison to Mayor Bloomberg and a notorious Mafia gangster, though it was unclear if Green was offended because of the civic implications of Gioia’s comment or a possible anti-Italian slur.
Gioia, given the chance to retract the statement by moderator Gersh Kuntzman of The Brooklyn Paper, refused.
“Come on, stop it, Mark,” Gioia said. “You’ve been doing this for three decades, now you’re doing it with a new generation. Grow up.”
Kuntzman tried to put a punctuation mark on the flare-up. “Let the record show that Eric Gioia was given a chance to retract whatever it was that offended Mark Green and he declined,” Kuntzman said.
DeBlasio came to Gioia’s, saying that he was not offended “as one of the two Italian-Americans in the race.”
Regarding the office itself, all four candidates said it was an important position.
“The city needs a fighter for the powerless,” Siegel said.
DeBlasio called the office a vital “accountability mechanism” that should have its own budget, independent of Council and the mayor, while Gioia said, “If you’re not wealthy or well connected, City Hall doesn’t hear you.”
When it was his turn, Green bellowed: “I was the public advocate. I know what this office can do.”
Other debates in the Community Newspaper Group–Brooklyn Independent Television series are archived at BoroPolitics.com.