Brooklyn City Council member Jumaane Williams will be New York City’s next public advocate, winning Tuesday’s special election with a solid plurality of the vote.
“We’re going to hold the powerful accountable,” Williams said during his victory speech at Cafe Omar on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, where the incoming public advocate said he felt “at home.”
“I ran this campaign to be the voice of the people, and I do promise to raise my voice and raise the issues of the people of this city,” he said. “To the people who said it can’t be done, please move out of the way of the people who are doing it.”
Turnout wasn’t exactly high for the election, with fewer than 500,000 New Yorkers ultimately heading to the polls. The special election was called by Mayor Bill de Blasio in January to replace Letitia James, who vacated the role when she became the state’s attorney general earlier this year. Ultimately, voters chose William—who’s served on the council since 2010, representing Brooklyn’s 45th district—for the role.
The city describes the public advocate position as “an ombudsperson for all New Yorkers,” which is often interpreted as being a foil for the mayor and entrenched city officials. And Williams has not shied away from criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio in the past; as recently as last week, he said that “[t]he mayor I endorsed in 2013 is not the mayor I’ve seen lately.”
But on Tuesday evening, Mayor Bill de Blasio—himself a former public advocate—did not hint that an adversarial relationship with Williams would necessarily be in the cards.
“As a former Public Advocate, I know firsthand how important this office is to our city,” he said in a statement. “The Public Advocate holds our entire City government accountable and amplifies the voices of all New Yorkers. I look forward to working with Public Advocate Williams to continue making this the fairest big city in America.”
“Together, we have to make sure that government is working on behalf of the people,” Williams said, addressing de Blasio directly during his victory speech.
In a very wide pool, Williams was perhaps the candidate with the most name recognition, thanks to his earlier run for lieutenant mayor alongside Cynthia Nixon during her failed 2018 gubernatorial campaign. But he’s also made a name for himself as a champion of progressive issues, and racked up endorsements from many prominent advocacy groups—including New York Communities for Change, 350 Action, and the New York Progressive Action Network—during his campaign.
Among the issues that Williams has stated he will make a priority is a broad platform of “housing justice,” which speaks to his past as a tenant organizer. (In 2015, he was also one of several City Council members arrested outside of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office during a protest for stronger rent laws.) His platform includes pushing to reform the city’s rent stabilization laws, enacting a moratorium on neighborhood rezonings as a way to “end displacement,” and holding the New York City Housing Authority accountable for the myriad issues its residents have had to contend with in recent years. He also said he’d keep NYCHA on the public advocate’s “worst landlords” list, which the agency landed on for the first time in 2018.
Other key issues on Williams’s platform include making it easier for New Yorkers to vote, supporting criminal justice reform (including the closure of Rikers Island), legalizing marijuana, and combating climate change. He also wants to give the public advocate more power, including “subpoena power and the addition of voting rights in the council” (right now, the advocate can only introduce legislation).
Williams’s closest competition in Tuesday’s race was fellow City Council member Eric Ulrich, a Republican who represents the 32nd District in Queens. Former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito came in third.