Monday, January 04, 2010

True Advocacy

After eight rather fruitless years where the Public Advocate's office was seen-with good reason-to be a waste of the tax payers' money, it now appears that an extreme makeover is being planned by Bill de Balsio, the new officeholder. As the NY Times writes: "In a challenge to the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the city’s new public advocate, Bill de Blasio, will unveil a plan on Monday to train aggrieved residents to organize petition drives, demonstrations and civic actions against City Hall."

Here, here-it's about time. The incumbency of Betsy Gotbaum was a somnambulant one; and we never really had any interest in even reaching out to her office because it-and the Advocate herself-was seen as meek and lacking in exactly what the office should be-a true bully pulpit. In the entire campaign for a living wage at the Kingsbridge Armory no one said, "How about getting Betsy Gotbaum involved." It never even crossed our minds-or anyone else's, for that matter: "and Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Betsy Gotbaum, kept a low profile over the past eight years. For much of that time, the office had been criticized as ineffectual, so much so that the City Council slashed its financing and Mr. Bloomberg called the job “a waste of everyone’s money.”

And de Blasio seems to get this: "Mr. de Blasio also suggested pressuring the mayor to require that publicly subsidized development projects employ nearby residents and contain greater benefits for their neighborhoods." Wonder what he might be referring to here?

So good for Big Bill: "Moving swiftly to redefine a sedate office at the periphery of New York City government, Mr. de Blasio is creating a department of community organizing, which will seek to turn those who grouse about city policies and practices into advocates who band together to reshape them." And he is focusing some extra attention on education-an area that needs to be addressed because it represents-in the Bloomberg/Klein era, all of what is wrong with a top down approach.

As the Times reports: "Mr. de Blasio said the focus of community organizing would be city agencies “where there is evidence of systemic failures.” He criticized the Department of Education, citing its announcement, with scant warning, that half of a neighborhood public school would shut down and its space be given to a new charter school. “I am going to fight to make sure there is community involvement,” he said. And if the administration’s plans hurt residents, he said, “I will fight to reverse it.”

So, as Auntie Mame once famously said, "Get my shawl, I feel the winds of change blowing." But we do hope that de Blasio doesn't forget the city's small business community. Over the past thirty years we have found-whether it's a fight against Wal-Mart, or generating an opposition to peddler proliferation-the most successful battles are those where the neighborhood businesses, labor, and the local civic organizations come together in a coalition.

So we're hopeful that Advocate de Blasio will be an effective ally for grass roots lobbying all over the city-and we already have some ideas percolating as to how he can really help make a difference in challenging the Lord Mayor: "The traditional vision was to call a press conference, issue a report, file a lawsuit,” he said. “I don’t think any of those tools, which are typically used in a drive-by manner, have the same impact as organizing communities.”

Well said, Brother Bill!