NEW YORK (AP) — Democrat Jumaane Williams won a special election Tuesday to serve as New York City’s public advocate, a position that holds little authority but offers access to a bully pulpit that can be used to scold more powerful officeholders.
Williams defeated 16 other candidates to fill a vacancy created by former Public Advocate Letitia James’ victory in the race for New York state attorney general.
William, 42, is a former tenant organizer who has served on the City Council since 2009.
He defeated a field that included former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and state Assemblyman Michael Blake, a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Williams had been considered the front-runner after his strong showing in the race for lieutenant governor last year. Running on a ticket with actress Cynthia Nixon, Williams came within 7 percentage points of unseating incumbent Kathy Hochul in the Democratic primary.
Williams’ campaign was shaken over the weekend by reports of a decade-old arrest stemming from what he called a “verbal disagreement” with his girlfriend at the time.
Williams was never prosecuted in the January 2009 incident and the arrest records were sealed.
Mark-Viverito and another female candidate, activist Nomiki Konst, held a joint news conference Monday to call attention to the arrest.
The public advocate functions as city ombudsman and can investigate citizen complaints about agencies and services but has no subpoena power. The office comes with a $165,000 salary a $3 million budget.
The election attracted a crowded field of current and former elected officials, lawyers and activists, partly because the position can serve as a stepping stone to higher office.
The four people who have held the job since it was created in 1993 include James and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Mark Green, the first public advocate, ran for mayor in 2001, but lost to Michael Bloomberg in an election two months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Green and de Blasio, both Democrats, both saw the job as to act as a watchdog on the city’s powerful Republican mayors, Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani. James, also a Democrat, had a non-confrontational relationship with de Blasio, who was from the same party.
Williams won’t have long to rest on his laurels but will have to compete again in a June primary and a November general election if he wants to serve as public advocate past the end of 2019.
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