Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reviving the Advocate

In this week's Observer, Azi reviews the Public Advocate's race with a focus on Eric Gioia and Bill deBlasio: "For both Eric Gioia and Bill de Blasio, a seat on the City Council was always supposed to be a stepping-stone. Mr. Gioia, 35, has been preparing for higher office since his election to the Council seven years ago, and has raised more money since then than all but three of his Council colleagues. Mr. de Blasio, 47, was a White House aide and the manager for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate bid before he decided to run for Council, and is still a respected name in national Democratic circles."

The real issue, of course, is who among a plethora of candidates, can revive this office so it truly advocates for the folks-and does so by confronting the power of the mayor; an office that is given inordinate control over the city's direction. The Observer gives our take on the two hard chargers:

"As public advocate, said pot-stirring New York lobbyist Richard Lipsky, “the power you have is to do what Eric does, which is create public interest in an issue, and B, to do what de Blasio does, and that’s bring a whole lot of people together. Bill is less enamored with making it a personality vehicle for himself, and that’s one thing Eric has to learn as he gets more experience, is to be able to utilize an issue for his own personal benefit—which all elected officials do—but at the same time learn to share the spotlight with others, so that he can have more power in doing what he’s doing.”

And the one issue that Gioia has distinguished himself-underscoring his potential-is on food stamps; where he continues to hold Costco's hands to the fire. As Crain's Insider reports this morning (subscription only): "Costco has not cut off communication with City Councilman Eric Gioia, D-Queens, since he staged an event to criticize the company for not accepting food stamps. “It’s always a delicate balance of asking nicely but also showing that you won’t back down,” he says. Gioia has spoken with Costco’s chief executive to make the case that rejecting food stamps is bad for business. “They’re turning down the currency that’s used by a million New Yorkers,” he says. The councilman expects to hear from the company soon."

But there are a number of other formidable candidates in the race-John Liu and Norman Siegel come to mind-who could also do well as a robust advocate. Liu in particular has distinguished himself as an advocate for the city's green grocers, bodegas and supermarkets-witness his stellar performance on the peddler issue, as well as on the mayor and term limits (where Norman has also shined in both of his capacities-legal and political).

So, whatever happens next September, the PA's role should become invigorated, and if we have Mayor Mike for a third term the role will be that much more important. Keping the mayor honest-politically-is mission one for the new PA.