The lowest hanging fruit in America.
A political parking spot with a salary.
An only-in-New-York boondoggle that’ll make your head explode if you think about it too much on a bad subway morning.
It’s the New York City public advocate position and it’s blown tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue over the past 25 years — on salaries, overhead, pension costs, medical benefits and 6-1 campaign matching funds, based on the roughest back-of-the-napkin estimate. Its 2,700-word job description in the City Charter spells out exactly what it does: Essentially nothing. Another number to call after complaining to the governor, the mayor, the city comptroller, 311, your state senator, Assembly member, City Council member and community board.
Yet every Democrat and his or her mother, and at least one Republican, is running for the job that opened up when Letitia James won the state Attorney General seat. And, scruples aside, why not? It comes with a $184,800 salary, Tiffany-quality benefits, a fawning $3.4 million staff that doubles as a personal PR machine, a car and police shield that lets you park anywhere you darn well please — that alone is worth a million bucks — and a leg-up on the next highest open seat. The only downside? No one knows what to call you. Madame Advocate? Your Public Advocatiousness?
Brooklyn Councilman Kalman Yeger suggests getting rid of the position in a 2021 public referendum, (very) politely calling it “a failed experiment.” He’s right, and reports of his wife having applied for a job in the office earlier this year don’t make him wrong. Others suggest increasing the powers of an ostensible public “watchdog” office that would have closed on its own if it truly were.
Any honest person who was around city government in 1993 will tell you exactly why the public advocate position was created: to avoid a game of musical chairs. The City Council president position was eliminated under a court-forced government restructuring, and the new office was invented to smooth feathers. The rationale for the office followed the decision to create it.
Next time you trip in a pothole, don’t call the public advocate to complain. Ask him or her how many potholes could have been filled with the money the office has wasted.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.