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Letitia James Likely City’s Next Public Advocate After Winning Democratic Runoff

City Councilwoman Won't Face A Major-Party Candidate Nov. 5
Letitia James speaks after winning the Democratic nomination for public advocate on Oct. 1, 2013. (credit: Sonia Rincon/1010 WINS)

Letitia James speaks after winning the Democratic nomination for public advocate on Oct. 1, 2013. (credit: Sonia Rincon/1010 WINS)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — City Councilwoman Letitia James won the Democratic public advocate runoff Tuesday, becoming the party’s nominee and all but assuring she will become the city’s elected watchdog.

James defeated state Sen. Daniel Squadron and faces a general election next month without a Republican opponent. With 99 percent of precincts reporting around 11 p.m. Tuesday, James had 59.6 percent of the vote, CBS 2 reported; Squadron had 40.4 percent.

“There’s so much more work to do because the next generation of New Yorkers are at risk of losing the opportunities that allowed us to make it in this city,” she said.

James and Squadron were the top two finishers in the Sept. 10 primary, but neither eclipsed the 40 percent threshold that would have avoided the costly runoff. The winners of the higher-profile mayoral and comptroller primary contests stayed above that mark, meaning the race to fill the little-understood public advocate position was the only one on the ballot.

Despite criticizing James for going negative in the campaign earlier in the day, Squadron praised James in an emailed statement Tuesday night.

“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. “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.”

The public advocate position has little real power and an annual budget of just $2.1 million, a small fraction of the $13 million it cost the city to hold the runoff, which was required by law.

But the post has become a springboard to higher office. The current public advocate, Bill de Blasio, is the Democratic nominee for mayor.

James and Squadron have similar liberal positions on most issues, from the need for school reform to the creation of more affordable housing.

If elected in November, James would rank second only to the mayor, according to the city charter, and would be in a position to badger the administration.

James, a three-term councilwoman from Brooklyn, had the support of most unions, including the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which endorsed her on City Hall’s steps Monday afternoon. James, who is black, argued for the need to have a person of color and a woman in a citywide office, since Squadron and the leading candidates for mayor and comptroller are white men.

Squadron, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, had utilized a larger campaign account and had the backing of the city’s major newspaper editorial boards and many high-profile politicians, including his former boss U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Earlier Tuesday, James’ eyes filled with tears as she cast her ballot in Clinton Hill, WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman reported.

“It’s been hard. So I thank everybody,” she said. “All these personal attacks. We really need to do better.”

Squadron also voted Tuesday in Cobble Hill.

Both candidates agreed that it’s a lonely day at the polls. One election district in Brooklyn had just 20 votes counted five hours in.

“I’ve been a long-time supporter of instant runoff voting,” said Squadron.

“And so clearly for a runoff, it only should be the office of the mayor,” James concurred.

She supports an instant process, in which voters would rank the candidates, for the other city offices.

The runoff was held since neither candidate secured 40 percent of the vote during last month’s primary.

“That has to take place during a deliberative process, not simply a sound bite in the news media,” said Michael Ryan, who runs the Board of Elections.

The winner of Tuesday’s runoff for the city’s watchdog will not face a Republican on Nov. 5, but the Libertarian and Green parties have candidates in the race, WCBS 880′s Monica Miller reported.

Only registered Democrats were eligible to vote in the runoff.

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