Public advocate candidates eye Bronx


The two candidates vying to represent the Democratic Party in the public advocate election hail from Brooklyn, but they have both cast their vision on the Bronx. 

Letitia James referenced the borough’s ongoing fight for living wage jobs when speaking with The Press

State Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Riverdale native now living in Carroll Gardens, touted his neighborhood knowledge, praising his favorite eateries and community organizations, while saying he knows the community has struggled to maintain services for seniors because his aunt in the area relies on Access-A-Ride.

Local political groups have staked out a horse in the race, too, with the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club and many local politicians endorsing Mr. Squadron and the Northwest Bronx Democrats backing Ms. James. 

Ms. James, 54, of Clinton Hill, and Mr. Squadron, 33, will face off in a Tuesday, Oct. 1 run-off. The victor will not face a Republican challenger in the general election. However, several candidates representing smaller parties will run.

Administering the run-off will cost $13 million, which has sparked conversations about altering the election system because the figure is several times the public advocate’s annual budget. 

Ms. James touted her experience as a public defender, assistant attorney general, lawyer for the state legislature and councilwoman, during which she said she opposed permitting Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run for a third term and restored cuts to subsidized child care and senior centers.

“With that as my record and as my background, I think that uniquely qualifies me as the next public advocate because some have argued I’ve been the public advocate,” Ms. James said.

Mr. Squadron, who worked as a top aide to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer before being elected to office, highlighted his work advocating for expanded public transportation services and needy New Yorkers.

“Everyone who has ever had a problem with schools or trains or fines with nowhere to turn needs a public advocate, a citywide voice that’s free of the bureaucracy and can change it,” Mr. Squadron said. “That’s what I was doing. That’s the record I have.”

Both candidates listed expanding middle-class housing as a priority, though Ms. James placed precedence on negotiating new contracts with city unions alongside the mayor. 

Ms. James said the city must plan for affordable housing in all zoning that permits it, focusing on accommodating parents with children and ensuring that the 421a tax abatement program is not abused and used for luxury buildings.

Mr. Squadron called housing affordability “the great challenge” of the city’s next decade and said he would strive to convince city and state officials that neighborhoods like Riverdale will slowly become too expensive for middle class families to live in.

The state senator would also push to end the roughly $75 million the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) annual contributes toward policing projects under a 1994 agreement. Mr. Squadron said NYCHA should not be the only landlord in the city to pay for policing and the agency is experiencing a cash shortage.

Both politicians said they would monitor the state’s closure of adult homes for the severely disabled — Mr. Squadron expressed hope the North Riverdale community’s voice was heeded on the Van Cortlandt Green project — as well as seek to assist the surge of those in homeless shelters and build more senior housing.

If elected, Mr. Squadron would identify residential clusters of seniors to help the city locate naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) and begin to make them more physically accessible to the elderly so they can better age in place.

Ms. James said for years, she has called for a hearing on Access-A-Ride deficiencies, while Mr. Squadron said few other public services as expensive managed to escape scrutiny.

The councilwoman said she would advocate for strengthening laws regulating project labor agreements and apprenticeship programs for major construction projects. Ideally, she said city policies would compel developers receiving city benefits to build with unions, hire locally and offer apprentice opportunities. 

When asked about agreements thrown by the wayside, such as the $200 million Mr. Bloomberg pledged to spend on Bronx parks in exchange for building the Croton Water Filtration Plant in Van Cortlandt Park, Mr. Squadron said that was an example of negotiations his office would investigate and monitor.  

Ms. James said she would like to audit the Department of Environmental Protection because its commissioner had told her water bills have increased due to capital projects, such as Croton, which she questions.

Both candidates said they wanted to strengthen parents’ voices in the education system, with Mr. Squadron aiming to transfer training of Community Education Councils over to borough presidents’ and the public advocate’s offices. According to him, the Department of Education cannot be trusted to empower parents.

The two politicians also railed against the Bloomberg Administration centrally administering programs for children and seniors, with Ms. James saying the stifling of community organizations has made people cynical of government and Mr. Squadron noting he has seen firsthand how organizations such as the Riverdale Neighborhood House know who they serve better than City Hall.