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Everything you need to know about NYC’s public advocate special election

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The race for New York City’s next public advocate is on

New York’s public advocate candidates during an open forum on January 23, 2019.
Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Former New York City public advocate Letitia James has moved on to her new role as the state’s Attorney General and the race to fill her old position is on.

And today is the day for the special election to fill the public advocate seat—for a few months, anyway, since whoever wins will run for re-election in November. As of right now, there are 17 candidates who are in the running. If you’re not sure why this election is important, or simply want to know how to vote, then read on.

When is the Special Election?

The special election is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, February 26. Polls in New York City will open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m., as with other elections.

What exactly is the Public Advocate position?

According to the the City Charter, the public advocate is responsible for receiving and investigating citywide and individual complaints “concerning city services and other administrative actions of city agencies.”

Practically speaking, the public advocate presides over City Council meetings, can conduct investigations into agencies where complaints have been made against them, and has the power to introduce legislation, though they can not have a vote. Additionally, the public advocate is next in line of succession if something were to happen to the mayor.

Who’s running in the Special Election?

The initial pool of two dozen candidates has now been winnowed down to … 17! The roster of candidates includes several City Council members (past and present), a few State Assembly members, and a handful of folks without any political experience—including a Columbia University history professor, several activists, and one “bitcoin entrepreneur.”

The candidates with the most name recognition include former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and current Council members Jumaane Williams, Eric Ulrich, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Rafael Espinal.

City & State also has a thorough breakdown of every candidate and the endorsements they’ve racked up. Some candidates have garnered endorsements from major publications:

New York Times: Jumaane Williams

New York Post: Eric Ulrich

New York Daily News: Eric Ulrich

El Diario: Melissa Mark-Viverito

How does it work?

Well, it’s quite different from other elections. The special election is nonpartisan and candidates can’t run on existing party lines; they have the option to form their own party labels. For example, the platform that Rafael Espinal is running on promotes his “Green New City” plan for “expanded funding to develop jobs and skills installing solar panels, roof gardens, and urban agriculture.” Jumaane Williams’s platform, called “The People’s Advocate,” promotes his ability to “serve as a true watchdog for New Yorkers” and Melissa Mark-Viverito’s campaign is called “Fix the M.T.A.”

In theory, people can choose to rally behind candidates that support values most important to them, can support someone who champions who specific local communities, or however else determines any specific candidate would be suitable for the job.

What’s next for whoever wins?

So this is the tricky part: Per the Times, the winner will only hold the position for a few months and will need to run for re-election in the fall. There will be primary and general elections, in September and November, respectively, where candidates can run for the position that will offer a four-year term through the end of 2021.

How can I vote?

Voting is as simple as heading to your normal polling site on February 26. If you’re not sure where your polling site is, you can find it here. For additional information on how to vote, you can check out the city’s Board of Elections website.