Sizing Up the Public Advocate’s Race

Now that the public advocate’s office is being vacated, here’s a look at the prospective candidates.

Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, ran for the office before, earned a reputation as a reformer, and is unique among the field of likely candidates because he supported the term-limits extension. Michael Bloomberg could look favorably on him should he decide to support anyone in that race.


Also, having Manhattan Democratic voters in your backyard, who vote in greater numbers than those in the outer boroughs, is an advantage.

If Stringer enters, he would be the conventional-wisdom front-runner. The drawback is he’d have to give up a safe re-election to his current seat in order to run.

A source close to Stringer said he’ll announce his plans for 2009 next week.

Eric Gioia, a city councilman from Queens, has been unofficially campaigning for the office for years, is a prolific fund-raiser and has a knack for getting media attention. He may not win a popularity contest among his colleagues in the City Council, but has built a record of advocacy outside his work in the Council. For example, he lived off food stamps for a week. Later, he grilled one of the mayor’s budget experts over the slush-fund scandal. It didn’t produce results, but it gave him a very public opportunity to ask some of the toughest questions any elected official has come up with on that issue.

If Gioia enters, he’d have to improve his name recognition citywide and explain how he’d use the office.

Bill de Blasio, a Brooklyn City Councilman, could come into the race with an eight-year record of advocacy as chairman of the General Welfare Committee, and as the former highest-ranking official in the New York-New Jersey region for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton years. He managed Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate race, and worked closely with labor unions for years.

De Blasio would instantly be considered a top-tier candidate if he decided to enter the race.

John Liu, the first Asian-American elected to the city council, has been raising money in anticipation of a citywide race next year. He’s unscripted and often delivers anticipated highlights, when he offered “lollipops” to City Council members complaining about cuts in the city’s budget. Liu has been highly critical of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s handling of the slush fund scandal, and he was one of the earliest and most vocal opponents on the Council to the extension of term limits. His political strength was somewhat diminished when his former staffer, Assemblywoman Ellen Young, lost a Democratic primary in his backyard of Flushing Queens.

If Liu enters, he’ll be well-funded and extremely quotable.

Norman Siegel, the civil rights attorney, has run twice for this seat and lost both times to Betsy Gotbaum. Siegel is an unapologetic paleoliberal and civil libertarian. His name recognition is high, and he’s been meeting with legal groups and contributors for some time, signaling at least that his seriousness about getting elected hasn't diminished with his successive failures.

If he enters, Siegel will have to explain his vision for the office as something other than an extension of his current role as a gadfly lawyer.

Adam Clayton Powell IV, an assemblyman from Harlem, was twice accused of rape by women in previous years, but was never charged with a crime. He’s passed very few bills in the Assembly, and is best known for the legendary work of his father, the legendary civil rights leader and congressman. Sizing Up the Public Advocate’s Race