There are two ideas competing for our endorsement for the Democratic nomination for public advocate: the notion of getting rid of this vestigial office altogether against the candidacy of Norman Siegel.
But after consideration of all the issues — and the fact that the budget of the public advocate’s office is a mere $1.7 million in a city budget of close to $60 billion — we are happy to both endorse the continuation of the office and Siegel’s qualifications for his party’s nomination.
The Democrats have three other capable men running for the city’s second-highest office: Councilmen Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope) and Eric Gioia (D–Queens), and former Public Advocate Mark Green.
Green did a good job with the position for the eight years during which he held it, but he has approached the campaign with a feeling of entitlement that is at best unbecoming and at worst downright arrogant. Democratic voters should reject his has-been candidacy.
Meanwhile, DeBlasio and Gioia would bring an energy to the office that could use it after eight years under Betsy Gotbaum. Both are ambitious men who see the advocate job as a stepping stone to higher office.
But we don’t want a skilled lawmaker as the party’s standard-bearer for the position. We want an attack dog. Norman Siegel is that man.
As a longtime civil rights lawyer and head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Siegel has led principled fights whenever society runs the risk of being unjust: he’s fought an NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy that tends to only stop and frisk black teens; he’s battled police brutality and worked to create a truly independent Civilian Complaint Review Board; he went down South in the 1960s to win civil rights for millions; he’s unabashedly in favor of gay marriage; and he is a true proponent of free speech.
And his Brooklyn street cred is solid: A decade ago, Siegel defended the Brooklyn Museum when Mayor Giuliani wanted to cut off its funding because of a piece of artwork that the mayor didn’t like. More recently, he spoke out in favor of Kimber VanRy, the Prospect Heights man who got a ticket for drinking a beer on his stoop.
All the Democratic candidates talk about using the public advocate office to help the average Joe fight City Hall. But Siegel is the only one who has never been co-opted by having an office in the building. As such, he is the only one who constantly challenges the old orthodoxies that government insiders follow instinctively. If you watch him during our Community Newspaper Group-sponsored debate, which can be seen on the BoroPolitics Web site, you’ll see that he’s the only Democratic candidate who truly gets it.
We especially like his promise to use the public advocate’s obscure power to drag city agencies to court to root out government impropriety.
Yes, DeBlasio and Gioia have fought for the public during their eight years in office. But Norman Siegel has done it his entire life — at considerable personal risk, mind you. As such, he has earned the Democratic nomination for public advocate.