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Countdown to the NYC Public Advocate Election: What, Who & Why You Will Vote in the February 26t

As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu

May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah (God) Be Upon You

It's February. Not September when we would usually vote in a primary election or November when the mid-term or general election is held. Let's get beyond that right away. A VERY important *SPECIAL election will occur on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 for the Public Advocate of New York City. This is a very important election for all New Yorkers-- make no question about it! The outcome will result in the appointment of an elected official to serve in this office until January 2020-- but wait! Will there will be a primary for the Public Advocate in June and another election to be held in November 2019 to fill the remainder of the term of former New York City Public Advocate Letitia James who now serves as the New York State Attorney General? Yes, that is true. What comes first, comes first and that is what you need to know about the candidates vying for this important office from whom a new Public Advocate will be elected on February 26th.

If you don't know about the role of the Public Advocate, as stipulated in the New York City Charter, let's start with the basics:

What Is The Role of Public Advocate and What Does the Public Advocate Do?

The Public Advocate acts as an "ombudsperson," a government official who hears and investigates complaints by private citizens against other officials or government agencies. He/she serves as a direct link between the electorate (all New Yorkers who voted or could) and city government.

The Public Advocate is a non-voting member of the New York City Council with the right to introduce and co-sponsor legislation.

The Public Advocate acts as a watchdog to ensure government is responsive to New Yorkers' needs. This includes monitoring the operation of the public information and service complaint programs of city agencies and making proposals to improve such programs; review complaints of systemic problems with city services and programs. If there are concerns that may require investigation, the Public Advocate can call for such and act otherwise in attempts to resolve complaints from individuals concerning city services and other administrative actions of city agencies.

The Public Advocate is first in line to succeed the mayor. If something were to happen to the Mayor, the Public Advocate assumes the role on a temporary basis.

This Office and role in City government was created in 1993 by the City Council when it renamed the title of the President of the City Council. Twenty-five years in the making, the role of this elected official has expanded well beyond being the tie-breaking vote in the City Council. Former Public Advocates have been outspoken critics of City government and driven legislation. Former Public Advocates include: Mark Green, the first Public Advocate; Betsy Gotbaum; Bill de Blasio, current New York City Mayor and Letitia James, currently New York State Attorney General. Presently, Corey Johnson, Speaker of the New York City Council is the Acting Public Advocate until the conclusion of the February 26, 2019 election. These names are familiar to New Yorkers. It could be stated that the Public Advocate role provides advancement opportunities, further enhancing its importance and impact upon all New Yorkers. The candidate elected for this role will be the voice of the people throughout the remainder of this year, at least. Speaking of terms, the term for this office is four years about which one can be re-elected once. The election on February 26, 2019 will determine, from among seventeen remaining candidates vying for this elective office the next New York City Public Advocate.

It should be noted that the South East Queens Muslim Collective (SEQMC), Inc. does not endorse candidates for any elective office. Our role, at this time related to our mission to encourage civic engagement, is to introduce them to you and share a little of what we have heard from them or know from recorded history of their community involvement. SEQMC will also be engaged throughout the remainder of this critical race in voter education activities that include encouraging New York City registered voters to make sure to vote on February 26, 2019. SEQMC emphasizes the importance of being an active voter and participating in ALL elections as they pertain to the stability and development of our communities. We may hail from different communities, yet we are still one community. Our diversity and our interactive sincere intentional dialogue are among our many strengths!

Public Advocate candidates speak at February 13, 2019 Forum at ICNA, Jamaica, NY

On February 13, 2019, a majority of the Board Members of SEQMC attended a New York City Public Advocate Candidates Forum, organized by the South Asian American Voice (SAAVoice) and co-sponsored by CHHAYA CDC, SHETU, Jahajee SIsters, Guyanese Girls Rock Foundation and the Indian Diaspora Council, held at the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) in Jamaica, NY. The forum was moderated by Jennifer Bisram, Author and reporter for WPIX11. Publicity for the forum indicated that there were six confirmed candidates that would participate. The forum started with five candidates present, four of whom arrived at later times and as such were not able to participate completely i.e., specifically to answer all of the questions that were asked by the moderator. By the forum's end, nine candidates were present. None left early.

Public Advocate Candidate's Forum at ICNA, Jamaica, NY February 13, 2019

Presence and time permitted, allowed for five of six questions to be posed to the candidates. These included: 1) how the candidates are and, if elected, would engage with the South Asian community; 2) the availability of key positions for South Asian individuals and who to reach out to in their campaigns; 3) given a limited budget, how the candidate would make the Public Advocates office effective; 4) how the candidates felt about specialized school testing and its impact-- did they support it or not; and 5) what were their thoughts about the recent case of a Muslim death row inmate who was denied, by a rushed Supreme Court decision, the presence of an Imam at his execution- should a religious advisor of one's faith be available? There was also a speed round that asked if the candidates were 1) anti-bullying (all); 2) would support Diwali as a school holiday (all); 3) thought the Public Advocates office needed more funding (all); and 4) queried support (or not) for the Amazon deal (mixed support and expressions that it was a complicated deal). At the time of this writing, Amazon has withdrawn its agreement to have a New York City hub in Long Island City. The one and one-half hour forum that was to have concluded at 9:30 PM was extended an additional hour given the appearance of three more candidates than expected on the panel. Al-hamdulillah (Praise be to Allah (God)), the presence of so many candidates reflects interest in the Muslim and South Asian communities whose number of significant votes to be cast in New York City have grown particularly over the last few years as all have become more politically and consistently active.

Starting with the nine candidates that attended last week's forum and completing the list of seventeen with other candidates listed in alphabetical order, we invite you to meet the candidates.

Meet The Candidates for New York City Public Advocate

The Public Advocate race is non-partisan, meaning that candidates do not identify themselves with a traditional political party. However, each candidate was able to focus upon a theme i.e., party name for their candidacy which appears below in blue. Given the presence of SEQMC, in addition to notes from their comments and distributed campaign literature available at the Public Candidates Forum held on February 13th, this writer will take the liberty to share impressions of their presentations. Please use the provided website links to read more information about each candidate. It is important to know WHAT and WHO you will be voting for EVERY time you vote! Why we vote is because it is our civic duty and a right we will NOT relinquish nor take lightly. Every election counts; every vote counts!

Michael Blake, For The People

New York State Assemblyman, District 79, Bronx; Vice-Chair, Democratic National Committee

Mr. Blake reflected upon his experience working with the Obama administration on a variety of issues that were related to human rights, diversity, inclusion and the protection of communities. He stated that he would be attentive and converse broadly with the South Asian community. He stated he would support halal food in schools and supported the protection of masajids. Access to religious advisors is a human right, he stated when responding to the Supreme Court decision question (he shared that he is a lay Minister). All faiths should be protected. He commented that the Public Advocate's Office should focus on justice and equity.

Impression: Mr. Blake has the experience to be the Public Advocate and would want to take it to the next level.

David Eisenbach, Stop REBNY

Columbia University History professor and ex-candidate for Public Advocate

Mr. Eisenbach conveyed that discrimination violates the principles upon which the country is founded. The Public Advocate can demand that respect and rights be afforded to all minorities; calling out the Supreme Court and the President for such decisions. He conveyed that some Public Advocates i.e., James, whom he ran against in 2017 as having been too close to the Mayor.

Impression: Mr. Eisenbach, as a Professor (educator) would be a serious watchdog, confronting the Mayor as Public Advocate.

Ron Kim, People Over Corporations

New York State Assemblyman, District 40, Queens

Mr. Kim expressed his understanding of the issues facing communities. He stated he would work on a plan to cancel taxi driver debt of those who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to UBER entering the industry. Mr. Kim shared his awareness of issues impacting the Islamic community as his wife is a Chinese Muslim among whom they, as family members, have experienced discrimination as well as him being Asian. Mr. Kim also expressed that there is no justice without economic justice.

Impression: Mr. Kim has passion and expressed his concern for others in all of his answers. He would be a sensitive Public Advocate.

Nomiki Konst, Pay People More

Journalist and Activist

Ms. Konst shared her concerns about the devastating impact on taxi drivers that will result from congestion pricing and transportation, in general in the City. She would work with the South Asian community and already has trained volunteers working with her campaign. Ms. Konst reflected on some of her journalistic experiences from Libya and what she thought was deep-seated racism of the current President concerning immigrants. Stated she would preserve the diverse tapestry of New York and as Public Advocate she would fight for those impacted by discrimination. She stated that the Public Advocate's office should be of the people and one of integrity.

Impression: Ms. Konst is outspoken and seems well aware of where New Yorkers are hurting. She would be an assertive, investigative Public Advocate.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, Fix The MTA

Senior Adviser, Latino Victory Fund; Former Speaker, New York City Council; Former City Councilmember, District 8, Manhattan

Ms. Mark-Viverito conveyed that her experience as Speaker of the Council as well as her being of Puerto Rican descent sensitized her to the issues of various and diverse communities. Stated that she would aggressively outreach to ensure reflective reality of the needs within communities. Has someone from the South Asian community as a key adviser presently. Ms. Mark-Viverito stated outright that she is against the death penalty. She detailed the role of the Public Advocate as a public watchdog and that it can monitor agencies to ensure that one's faith, being "sacred," should be respected as well as our values of inclusion. She conveyed that the Office of Public Advocate would be effective working with community activists, outside coalitions and women; that it would be an office of research and investigations; engagement working with the community.

Impression: Ms. Mark-Viverito answers questions with knowledge drawn from her broad experience as a City leader. She would be an effective and productive Public Advocate who would work with the Mayor but would challenge and not work with him, as well.

Ydanis Rodriguez, United for Immigrants

New York City Councilman, 10th District, Manhattan, NY

Mr. Rodriguez expressed that he was against discrimination, particularly having been born in another country himself. He was concerned about social justice and education. He wants to be the voice of the voiceless. Stated he would include South Asians as staff as well as those of other communities. Shared that 38% of New Yorkers are born in families that include someone having immigrated to this country. Stated that the resources in schools are poorly utilized and that New York City has the most segregated school system in the nation. He believes that those in the working class should be able to live with dignity.

Impression: Mr. Rodriguez is concerned about education as all New Yorkers should be as children, employers and employment depend upon a prepared and educated populace. He respects people (evident by his standing each time he spoke). He could be an effective Public Advocate.

Dawn Smalls, No More Delays

Partner, Boles, Schiller Flexner Law Firm; Former lawyer in the Obama administration

Ms. Smalls stated that she would partner with South Asian American Voice and currently has volunteers and Advisers working with her campaign from the South Asian community. While a lawyer, Ms. Smalls admitted that she had not read the Supreme Court decision but would and stated it is advisable that one's faith be respected. Ms. Smalls stated that she would work together with stakeholders to improve the effectiveness of the office given its limited budget.

Impression: Mr. Smalls experience as a lawyer and prior work in the Obama Administration i.e., public service provides a foundation to be the Public Advocate.

Jumaane Williams, It's Time, Let's Go

New York City Councilman; 45th District, Brooklyn; 2018 candidate for NYS Lieutenant Governor

Mr. Williams delineated the five responsibilities of the office of the Public Advocate stating that he would have five deputy Public Advocates to ensure that these responsibilities were met. He reflected about his development from community and tenant organizer to being an individual who works for the people. Expressing his own personal experience as a graduate of a specialized high school, he felt the existence of the schools was appropriate but that more than testing scores could be utilized so that the opportunity existed for other measurements to reflect ability. Mr. Williams recounted the amount of legislation he has introduced at the City Council being among its most productive council persons concerning legislation.

Impression: Mr. Williams possesses leadership; has legislative experience, passion and strong community ties in social justice arenas. He would be an effective and productive Public Advocate working on a people's agenda.

Benjamin Yee, Community Empowerment

Entrepreneur and Activist

Mr. Yee has trained over 4000 individuals in civics and believes in civics for all.

Impression: Cannot hold it against Mr. Yee that he arrived near the end of the forum, but did not get to hear as much from him as a result. He showed up. That counts. He could become Public Advocate.

Did not attend the forum; however the following eight candidates are running for Public Advocate. The website of each candidate is listed for your perusal.

Manny Alicandro, Better Leadership


Rafael Espinal, Jr. Livable City

New York City Councilman, 37th District, Brooklyn

Anthony Herbert, Housing Residents First

Community Activist

Daniel O’Donnell, Equality For All

New York State Assemblyman, District 69, Manhattan

Jared Rich, Jared Rich For NYC


Helal Sheikh, Friends Of Helal

School Teacher and Advocate; Prior City Council candidate

Eric Ulrich, Common Sense

New York City Councilman, 32nd District, Queens

Latrice Walker, People For Walker

New York State Assemblywoman, District 55, Brooklyn (ended her campaign and withdrew but remains on the ballot)

If you are interested in seeing who has endorsed these candidates, please visit their websites or for an early listing, see City and State's February 1, 2019 post. There are sure to be more endorsements today as will there be more prior to the end of the race:

Also, see Ballotpedia's page on the Public Advocate 2019 election:,_New_York_(2019)

Seven of the seventeen candidates have qualified i.e., met thresholds stipulated by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to participate in the Second Televised Public Advocate Debate for "leading contenders" to be held at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and available on NY1 (as well as live-streamed), Wednesday, February 20, 2019 at 7PM. These candidates include: Michael Blake, Rafael Espinal Jr., Ron Kim, Nomiki Konst, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Dawn Smalls and Jumaane Williams. The candidates who qualified, according to the CFB, needed to have raised and spent $170,813 as of February 15. They also need to have received an endorsement from either a NYC city, state or federal public official, or from one or more NYC organizations with more than 250 members. Co-sponsors of the debate include Spectrum NY1 Noticias, POLITICO New York, Citizens Union, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Latino Leadership Institute, The League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NAACP New York State Conference, Metropolitan Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., East Kings County Alumnae Chapter.

The first debate, also held on NY1 on February 6, 2019 featuring ten candidates can be viewed here.

The February 26th, "leading contenders" debate can be viewed here.

SEQMC encourages EVERYONE who is registered to VOTE on February 26, 2019. The election of the most qualified individual is at stake. New York and New Yorkers needs a competent, hard working and effective Public Advocate's Office to monitor the numerous agencies, issues and concerns that impact New Yorkers citywide. In order to resolve problems we all need to be a part of the solution. Make your vote count by going to the election polling location in your community and fulfilling your civic duty on February 26th. If you don't know where to vote e.g., you missed the mid-term election-- then don't sit this one out, please use this link to find your polling location:

Polling locations are open from 6:00 AM until 9:00 PM.

SEQMC President Dr. Abdus-Salaam Musa distributing WE WILL VOTE flier on February 20, 2019

Please use this link to check to make sure that your voter registration is still active:

Please do not hesitate to share this blog post/information being provided by SEQMC with your friends family and online contacts. Please encourage them to VOTE on February 26, 2019.

May Allah (swt) continue to reward all of our good endeavors.

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