When Letitia James took the oath as New York City’s fourth public advocate last week, the former City Council member became the first African-American to hold the citywide office. Hers is an extraordinary achievement.
Created in 1993, the public advocate operates as a voice for the city’s residents and as a watchdog over scores of city agencies.
James, a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn, has long supported better access to housing, social justice, job development and environmental laws.
She has a proven record. James served as a public defender with the Legal Aid Society, representing young people navigating the city’s criminal justice system.
She also was an assistant state attorney general in charge of the regional office for her home borough, where she worked to reform the city police department’s policy on stop-and-frisk, end immigration schemes and curb violations of environmental laws. We can’t forget that as council member, she introduced the Safe Housing Act, groundbreaking legislation that ensures families in rental buildings receive prompt and full repairs.
All worthy causes, of course. But as public advocate James should really delve into areas that may not be as popular, and have not received the city’s full attention in the past 12 years.
She should advocate:
For women issues, regardless of race — especially fair pay, as well as better access to education and health care.
For the city to award more contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses in all five boroughs, many of which have not benefitted from the city’s renaissance.
For finally declaring a war against domestic violence, which devastates so many city families.
For more city resources to help police and prosecutors curb violent crimes against women — particularly rape.
James has a bully pulpit, and she should not be afraid to use it. In no uncertain terms, she should signal that she intends to prioritize the development and advancement of women because it’s the moral thing to do.
Women’s issues have to be the priority during her tenure. Advancement of the cause of women can be her legacy.