Clear-cut progressive victory in New York City public advocate race

NEW YORK-A progressive trend already quite pronounced in the New York City elections for mayor, comptroller, borough offices and city council became even more clear-cut in the runoff Democratic Party primary for the third city-wide office: public advocate.

City councilwoman Letitia (Tish) James beat state Sen. Daniel Squadron by a healthy margin, 60 – 40 percent, in the Oct. 1 runoff election. This was a battle between the state Democratic leadership, closely connected to some of the developers, Wall Street and the wealthy and an outspoken champion of working people and labor, the racially and nationally oppressed, women’s rights, peace and all progressive causes – a consistent progressive.

A very broad people’s democratic coalition formed around Tish James. Nearly the entire labor movement supported her, and not only with paper endorsements but with real work that pulled out union members for the vote.

Her good relations with labor started years ago when she battled against the outsourcing of city work to non-union employers. In this electoral cycle she is the only candidate for citywide election who supports the pubic workers’ demand for retroactive pay for all the years Mayor Michael Bloomberg denied them a contract.

James was endorsed almost unanimously by the leaders and elected officials of the African American, Latino and Asian communities, representing a majority of registered voters and 70 percent of the population of the city. All the major organizations of women, environmental organizations and good-government organizations supported her. Even some of the Hassidic Jews and the Democratic Party Committees of Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens, supported her.

Squadron had no endorsements from labor or any of its allies. His main support came from a handful of politicians connected to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Squadron, a protégée of Schumer, sent out mailers, the first nine of which made it appear that Schumer was the one running for the position.

The public advocate is supposed to replace a mayor who becomes unable to serve. The advocate provides a place for individuals and groups who feel wronged by city action or inaction to find help in correcting the wrong, and the advocate is supposed to help see to it that the elected officials carry out their promises. The advocate may also introduce legislation in the city council.

The victory for James is being attributed to the fact that survival in the city is becoming increasingly difficult for the vast majority while for Wall Street, the developers and the rich things are getting better and better.

While Bloomberg occasionally made minor concessions to the people’s forces he generally supported Wall Street and the developers over the interests of working people. The unemployment and poverty figures for NYC were significantly worse than the country as a whole.

More than 45 percent of the people are living at, below or barely above the official poverty standard. Especially victimized are the masses of the racially oppressed.

These threads, constituting the vast majority, found in the Democratic Party some candidates who championed their demands to turn the direction of the city around. These included Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson and John Liu for mayor, Scott Stringer for comptroller and James for public advocate.

James had a 10-year history of providing very effective constituent services on problems of everyday living. She was widely known, appreciated and even loved by large numbers who received her help in her district that covered a significant part of Central Brooklyn, the largest African American community in the country, and some in mixed neighborhoods adjoining.

She is known as a stalwart fighter against the developers and for affordable housing. She fought in the City Council and won a bill to help protect tenants from landlord abuses, supported all of labor’s campaigns including the bills for sick leave and for a living wage.

She fought the “stop and frisk” racial profiling policy of the Bloomberg administration and recently has been fighting the efforts to close libraries, hospitals and other public facilities for the benefit of the developers. She says she comes by her staunch views in favor of working people against the rich ad powerful naturally, as a result of her “humble beginnings.”

Squadron began campaigning as the “me too” candidate, though he had supported Bloomberg most of the way. His campaign was responsible for a flood of mailers aimed at personally smearing James before white audiences in particular sections of the city.

He avoided large-scale television advertising, however, in order to keep the size of the vote down – the less people that know about an election – that thinking goes – the better.

Although the James campaign was based in the African American community it had hundreds of volunteers also in mixed and white communities.

Volunteers went to subway stops and the other places big crowds can be found but also used “dear friend” letters in which supporters tell in their own words why others (neighbors, co-workers, co-activists) should support the candidate. The letters went out to thousands of people by e-mail and through the social media.

The strategy paid off.

James carried white neighborhoods that Squadron was expected to win. And in the African American neighborhoods she racked up over 90 percent of the vote. The Latino vote went better than 70 percent for James.

James had a big “ground game” of volunteers, while Squadron had none. His campaign finished with a big mailing of a letter from Sen. Schumer sent to his preferred demographics. The James campaign benefited in a decisive way from the big unions with large memberships in Central Brooklyn and other such communities who turned out their membership.

So far, despite a red-baiting attempt, de Blasio leads the Republican disciple of Giuliani, Joe Lhota, by 50 percentage points in this city where the Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1.

Undoubtedly, the city with a Mayor de Blasio will face great resistance from the world’s center of finance capital and developers as it fights to change direction at the expense of those on Wall Street and the developers. A unity similar to that achieved in the Tish James election will be needed to win.

Photo: Letitia “Tish” James with members of DC37 in New York, NY.