Betsy Gotbaum Gets Mad and Ready

Betsy Gotbaum, the soft-spoken Public Advocate who has been part of city government since John Lindsay was Mayor in the 1970’s, has suddenly found quite a lot to complain about.

The eight-year term limits on the City Council, she says, are distracting the members, whose meetings she gavels into session and watches from the highest seat in the Council’s chamber.

“I see people who are so desperate,” Ms. Gotbaum said in an interview this week in a diner on the Upper West Side. “They don’t know what they’re going to do. And they’re all running. Look at the Council—they’re all running for office. And, you know, I think it’s wrong. I think it’s a mistake. I think they should be focused more on what they’re doing right now.”

Ms. Gotbaum also has problems with the Tweed Courthouse, where the Department of Education is headquartered.

“Tweed is lawyers and consultants and kids,” she said. “And nobody has educational, real background.”

“I hope he can turn it around,” she said of City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “I don’t wish him badly, and I think his motives are good. I just don’t think he knows how to manage anything. I mean, he’s never managed anything. He hasn’t.”

Ms. Gotbaum, who is interested in running for Mayor in 2009, was trying to make a point here: She has experience. In her late 20’s, she advised Mayor John Lindsay on education and women’s issues; then she was parks commissioner for Mayor David Dinkins in the 1990’s, and was elected to her first office in 2001.

She certainly has long-term policy goals: tweaking Mayoral control of schools, reviving parental involvement, extending term limits to 12 years for City Council members.

But for now, she’s not saying what comes next for her.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said. “I’m not being sarcastic. I’m not going to retire. I’m not going to leave city government.”

Why not?

“I love it,” she said, smiling.

Technically, Ms. Gotbaum is next in line to take over City Hall should anything happen to Michael Bloomberg.

But actually getting elected mayor is another story, with an already crowded field of outspoken candidates who are cranking up their own campaigns and raising money. And they’re younger. At 68, Ms. Gotbaum could wind up on the receiving end of the campaign slogan that her old boss, John Lindsay, once employed: “He is fresh and everyone else is tired.”

“I have as much energy as Anthony Weiner, and Bill Thompson, and Christine and Adolfo and Tony Avella, all put into one,” said Ms. Gotbaum, who recently stopped wearing her signature bifocals when she’s not reading.

And also: “Fund-raising has never been a problem for me.” Betsy Gotbaum Gets Mad and Ready