Letitia James cruises to victory in public advocate runoff

In the 2013 version of the Battle of Brooklyn, a seasoned councilmember won out over a relatively newly minted state senator for the Democratic nomination for New York City public advocate.

In the runoff election held on Tuesday, October 1, Councilmember Letitia “Tish” James – who has represented Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant since 2003 — handily bested State Senator Daniel Squadron, who was elected in 2008 to represent Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, as well as portions of lower Manhattan.

The runoff was required because no candidate snagged 40 percent of the vote in the September 10 primary. This time around, James – who led in September as well – scored 59.4 percent of the vote, compared to Squadron’s 40.6 percent. With low turnout (only 187,000-plus Democrats bothered to come out), James unofficial vote total was 111,654; Squadron’s was 76,223, according to the New York City Board of Elections.

With no Republican opponent on the ballot in November, James will likely become, in her words, “The first woman of color to hold citywide office in our city.

“All of us, all of us broke through that glass ceiling and I am so proud of what we accomplished together and yes, I’m proud that we made history tonight,” she told supporters in her victory speech.

Squadron, whose campaign turned negative as D-day came closer, congratulated James on her historic victory. “We ran this campaign making the case that the public advocate’s office can be essential to our city – getting results for New Yorkers who need them,” he said in an email statement.  “For New Yorkers without a voice, without high-powered lobbyists, without City Hall on speed dial. For people with no place else to turn. Their families need a strong public advocate. And I know that Tish will be their great advocate for New Yorkers across the city.”

Among the ironies of the runoff was the fact that the election – which attracted fewer than 200,000 voters out of the city’s 2.8 million registered Democrats — cost some $13 million to run, several times the annual budget of the public advocate’s entire office.

That fact gave fuel to advocates of instant runoff voting, who turned out on the steps of City Hall on the morning after the runoff to renew their call for a voting system that would allow those who go to the polls to rank the candidates in order of preference. With such a system, should no candidate break the required percentage threshold, the ballots would be recounted with the lowest scoring candidates eliminated.

“Instant Runoff Voting is the best of both worlds,” contended Councilmember Brad Lander, a supporter. “You have more people participating in the runoff and you save money.”

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY, agreed. “Instant Run-off Voting is a cost-effective and inclusive solution to executing run-off elections.

“The current system leaves important elections subject to a shrinking fraction of voters at great tax payer expense. IRV expands our democratic institutions, rather than restricting them as is currently the case,” she stressed.

There are currently two bills on Instant Runoff Voting in front of the City Council. One would establish Instant Runoff Voting in all city elections, once voters then approve the change via a referendum. The second bill would allow the city to test instant runoff voting as a pilot program for absentee and military voters.

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