Public advocate position would be eliminated under City Council bill

Letitia James, the current public advocate, will become New York's attorney general in January.
Letitia James, the current public advocate, will become New York’s attorney general in January. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

A group of City Council members is working on a bill that would eliminate the public advocate position, according to Bronx Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr.

The public advocate, first in line in succession to the mayor, is arguably the second-highest ranking office in city government, tasked with making sure City Hall is more responsive to New Yorkers’ needs. Since its institution in 1993, it has been seen in some quarters as little more than a ceremonial position without much actual power.

“I don’t think that office is necessary. You tell me, what do they do?” Díaz Sr. said on Monday.

The legislation would be introduced Wednesday. Díaz Sr. said he’d introduce it, along with Brooklyn Councilman Kalman Yeger and others.

Doing away with the office, currently held by State Attorney General-elect Letitia James, is a bad idea, according to Eric Lane, a law professor at Hofstra University who was executive director and counsel to the 1989 New York City Charter Revision Commission, which created the City Council president, the predecessor to the public advocate.

"The more voices that can check on the mayor’s office, the better," he said. "The public advocate plays an important role in doing that, and the City Council does not do a good job of that.”

Manhattan Assemb. Danny O’Donnell, who plans to run for public advocate, agreed with Lane.

"There’s a lot to be said about attempts to eliminate a voice for the public in the context of what’s happening in this nation," he said in a statement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who held the position before becoming mayor, is also not a fan of its elimination, according to a spokesman.

"The Mayor supports the advocacy and the check on City Hall power that the office provides," he said.

With Newsday

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Eric Lane’s city government experience.