Sunday, September 6, 2009

NYC Public Advocate Race: One Clear Choice

In looking over what I have written about the Public Advocate's race, it strikes me that what I originally wrote about Public Advocate candidate Norman Siegel back in 2005 still applies now and is worth reviewing why I think there is only one candidate in the race worth considering. Since 2005 I have watched Norman defend the rights of bloggers, firefighters and so many othres and to stand up during each and every major civil liberties battle in the city that to me it is inconceivable that anyone else should be our Public Advocate. But my best piece on him was back in 2005 and best expresses why I still think he is the ideal Public Advocate for NYC. So I want to update a piece I wrote back in 2005 when my son first went out campaignig with me:

Public Advocate: this office is, as far as I am aware, unique to NYC. In a city where the mayor has so much (almost dictatorial) power, the Public Advocate is the counterbalance to the mayor--the person who stands up to the mayor on behalf of the people. At least that is the ideal. Our current PA is Betsy Gautbaum. I voted for her when she first ran. For the life of me I have no idea what she has done for the past 8 years. When Bloomberg refused to give people permits to protest the invasion of Iraq, Betsy wasn't there for us. When Bloomberg arrested and illegally held hundreds of protestors during the Republican Convention, Betsy wasn't there. When Bloomberg wanted to use eminent domain to take private property to give it to developers, Betsy wasn't there. When Bloomberg started routinely arresting the Critical Mass bicyclists, Betsy wasn't there. Many New Yorkers have felt helpless as financial scandals eat away at our pension funds, slush fund scandals run rampant, the school admissions process becomes increasingly insane and divorced from the actual needs of children (as opposed to the needs of companies Bloomberg outsources the process to), ground zero remains an empty hole in the ground, the subway system gets cut back more and more while fees climb...all under the watchful eyes of Michael Bloomberg, Betsy Gotbaum and Christine Quinn.

You know who WAS there at each of those violations of civil rights that Bloomberg was responsible for? Norm Siegel. He was out there defending protestors when Betsy was nowhere to be seen. Norm Siegel has helped communities fight to keep firehouses open from Williamsburg to Staten Island. Norm Siegel has helped communities from Prospect Heights to Harlem try to stop the government from using eminent domain to take their homes for the enrichment of private developers. Norm Siegel has helped firefighters seeking the implementation of a skyscraper safety program and provisions for our firefighters to guarantee they have proper working communication equipment. Norm Siegel has helped families who lost a loved one on September 11th, 2001, as they seek the public release of materials from that day, including 911 emergency tapes and transcripts. And, here in 2009, Norm Siegel stood up against Michael Bloomberg's putch to arbitrarily extend term-limits against the explicit vote of the people. Norman has been there for protesters, bloggers, bicyclists, firefighters, 9/11 families, homeowners, renters and just about every single New Yorker at one time or another.

Back in 2005 when I met Norman Siegel, I also met another man, Paul Wooten. Paul Wooten was one of the people who wrote the law that created the Public Advocate's position, or so he told us. He said that when they wrote the law, they envisioned someone just like Norman Siegel in the position. Now, I had the impression that he also thought Mark Green had been a reasonable Public Advocate, so I can't speak to how the writers of the law creating the Public Advocate's position would choose between Green and Siegel. But Wooten specifically mentioned Norman Siegel as the perfect Public Advocate as the job was originally written.

Norm Siegel has ALREADY BEEN the public advocate for New Yorkers even though he hasn't yet held that office yet. He was Executive Director of the NYCLU from 1985-2000 and even afterwards has been standing up for the civil rights of New Yorkers to this day (including winning a case for bloggers getting their rights when it comes to press credentials). Siegel has actually been working with the ACLU and Southern Justice and Voter Law Project since 1968, so his civil rights credentials go all the way back. He even spearheaded the New York campaigns for the impeachment of Nixon. I cannot think of a better advocate for the people of NYC.

Norman Siegel has also been endorsed by the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Democracy for NYC, Park River Independent Democrats (Upper West Side), the Village Reform Democratic Club, the Grand Council of Guardians (an organization of African-American law enforcement officials), Room 8 blogger and Brooklyn City Council candidate Rock Hackshaw, the New York Metro Area Postal Union (APWU, AFL-CIO), Audubon Reform Democratic Club (Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights), and Brooklyn Democrats for Change (Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, Fort Hamilton, Bath Beach and Gravesend).

I should also add that fellow blogger Rock Hackshaw saw this one as a given and endorsed Norman Siegel early on. I have had the pleasure of Rock and Norm interacting at a BBQ at Wellington Sharpe's place and have reported on the mutual respect Rock and Norm have for eachother even if they don't agree on all issues.

Among the other candidates I have nothing negative to say for Mark Green, who showed he was a capable Public Advocate before, or Eric Gioia, who I have personal reasons for not supporting but may well be a decent Public Advocate. Only Bill de Blasio seems unqualified for the position both because of the major scandals he has been involved in (slush fund scandals and the WFP violations of campaign finance laws) and because he is widely known as being the advocate only for developers, not the people. But of the four, Norm Siegel stands out as being the MOST qualified and the STRONGEST advocate for the people. If we can elect Norm Siegel as Public Advocate, we will go a long way to restoring some common sense and honesty to this city government even if Bloomberg manages to annoint himself to a third term.

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