The other night, a friend asked me who I would vote for in Tuesday’s Special Election to fill out the remainder of Letitia James’ term as Public Advocate, I answered plainly: I don’t know. I’ve had a day to think about it and to read up on many of the seventeen candidates, and I can now give a more informed answer: I don’t know.
Public Advocate is the minister-without-portfolio office created by the City of New York to replace the elected position of City Council President once it had been declared unconstitutional. The PA has no official duties, which is fortunate because the office has no executive power. It can investigate but can’t issue subpoenas or hold hearings. It is an office that is mostly about being a foil to the mayor. Historically, the office has been a stepping-stone for young pols, who seek the searchlights of the City.
The PA’s megaphone and $3.6 million budget galvanize ambitious people. Seventeen heat-seeking prodigies (15 Democrats and 2 Republicans) have stepped forward for this one-off vote. The Democrats are fighting for the ambience of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bright sunlight. They agree in varying but insignificant ways on the two leading issues of the day: Diversity and Amazon, as the embodiment of all income inequality issues. The better-known Republican has been the only supporter of the now-scuttled Amazon deal. This may boost him above the mostly-partisan affair; aside from political rhetoric, many New Yorkers considered Amazon’s selection of Long Island City to be good for New York. For good or ill, Amazon has been a linchpin for his pitch.
New York is a city engulfed by end-stage capitalism, having fully gentrified two of five boroughs already. Progressives have good reason to fear the introduction of a new corporate predator to the already-unbalanced New York Eco-System, More corporate jobs, more displacement of long-time residents and the dismantling of residential communities. The crux of the Democratic argument is that rather than suck up $3 billion in tax subsidies, Amazon should have been willing to pay for its place in the New York firmament.
The law of supply and demand is sometimes suspended in New York politics. Over the past 50 years, New York has lost its position as the center of the corporate and financial universe. It is a notoriously expensive and challenging place to live and work. This is one reason that so many corporations removed headquarters from Manhattan. It was astonishing that Amazon selected New York at all. Naturally, tax subsidies sweetened the pot.
Amazon had pledged 25,000 corporate jobs, the kind that creates the demand for new housing stock, services, good schools, etc. This is a boon to a city whose economy is closely tied to finance, real estate and tourism. The return of corporate jobs is a good thing but for the fact that those who provide services to the new enclaves are being priced out of the places where they now live and arguably would work. Many working people already have long and largely unpleasant commutes. A good transit system would help, but our crack lawmakers don’t have a clue about that. New York needs the jobs and the revenues but it also needs to figure out a way to make life available and affordable within the city precincts.
I’ve searched in vain for a candidate who articulates even an acknowledgment of the complexity; never mind the solution. Retail politicians advance on the quality of rhetoric. They depend upon others to develop new ideas. Judging by the discourse, New York’s think tanks are at drought levels. Its public advocate candidates have nothing new or interesting to offer. Under the circumstances, I Don’t Know is a ringing endorsement.