21 March 2005, AM New York, pg. 4:
The race for public advocate
To some observers, such as Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, the public advocate is essentially "pointless."
THE OFFICE OF PUBLIC APPENDIX
28 December 2004
New York Post
Publicity-hound lawyer and public scold Norman Siegel says he's decided to challenge incumbent Betsy Gotbaum next year for New York City public advocate - a position whose only other prior holder was Mark Green.
Apparently, the 2-to-1 trouncing he got from Gotbaum in the 2001 Democratic primary runoff hasn't lessened Siegel's appetite for the office.
Well, that's his right, of course.
But does anyone need further proof of this job's utter uselessness than the fact that Norman Siegel aspires to win it?
Voters in 2002 overwhelmingly approved a measure that not only stripped Gotbaum of the ceremonial position of presiding over City Council meetings but also mandated a special election within 60 days of a mayor's incapacity - instead of letting the public advocate take over for the rest of the term.
In other words, whatever substance this job might once have had is gone.
Since then, Gotbaum's most notable achievement has been a "report" charging that the 2003 summer blackout inconvenienced seniors. Wow.
As for Siegel - well, it's been 15 years or so since he last took a pitiful, mentally ill homeless woman to Harvard as a "lecturer" on New York's shortcomings.
But the fact remains that the Public Advocate, a job created 10 years ago, is the most pointless political position in the entire city. It provides nothing of value except a platform for someone who likes holding press conferences - to wit: Green, Gotbaum, Siegel - and hopes to run for higher office.
And that's no reason to be spending scarce tax dollars.
This position has to go.
I was cheated out of running for our first "public advocate," in 1993. It is now 2005, and I hope, after all these years, for justice. For me, and for the African-American stablehands who have never been honored, and for Audrey Munson who has never been honored, and for all New Yorkers.
Justice is long over due.
In 1993, Helen Hayes died. In 1992, I had solved both "the Big Apple" and "the Great White Way." I had tried for one year to speak with Helen Hayes, the first lady of American theatre.
No one in New York had helped me at all - not the mayor, not the city council president (later renamed "public advocate"), not the city council speaker, not the Manhattan borough president, not my city councilman.
Not the New York Times, not the New York Post, not the New York Daily News, not New York Newsday, not the Village Voice, not New York Press, not New York magazine, not the New Yorker magazine, not any television station, and not any radio station. I had written to everyone in New York, and no one had helped me. NO ONE. And now Helen Hayes was dead. But Charles Gillett (the former president of the convention and visitors bureau, who directed the "Big Apple" campaign in the 1970s) was still alive. There was still time to do something here.
In early 1993, the city council president's office was re-titled "public advocate." The new city charter had made the position almost useless. Basically, the position consisted of waiting for the mayor to die. Also, the "public advocate" would have the power to break ties in the city council, but this never occurred.
An editorial in March 1993 in New York Newsday called the position useless, declaring that if someone really loved New York City, that person would run for the new position of "public advocate," not take a salary, and return all monies to the city's budget.
That sounded like a good idea to me. I wrote to Newsday, telling them also that I'd solved "the Big Apple." Their Pulitzer-prize winning columnist at the time, Jim Dwyer, wrote a serious article on this. Then he profiled some non-serious people and made a joke of it all. I was not included in those profiled.
The first step for any public servant (I was and still am a parking ticket judge) to run for office -especially in a situation such as this - is to go to the Conflicts of Interest Board. I did in March 1993, photocopying the Newsday article.
And I waited. And waited. And waited. There was no response. But, unlike everybody else, who were perhaps "morally" required to respond to me about "the Big Apple," the COIB was required by respond to me under the city charter. They issue advisory opinions to candidates. It wasn't a favor. It was why the COIB existed.
I wrote a certified letter to the Board of Elections, telling them about the situation and asking for advice on what to do. The BOE didn't respond, either. [Unfortunately, this is not rare in New York elections. The New York Post, in March 2005, did a story about how, in October 2004, it had asked the BOE where to vote in the November 2004 election. Responses were mailed out in March 2005!]
I walked into the COIB and asked someone there when I was going to get an advisory opinion. The person there, having pity on me, told me that she was told to ignore me, and that I would never receive any advice at all. This is a violation of the city charter. I told the COIB that I intended to sue.
I received a COIB advisory opinion - in November 1993, after the general election!
Parking Violations would be moved from the Department of Transportation into the Department of Finance. I wrote to the Inspector General of the Dept. of Transportation. I was told to write to the Department of Investigation. I wrote to the DOI, stating that I was a public servant, I did everything I was supposed to do, and that I was denied the ability to run for office by the COIB and the Board of Elections. No one responded. Years later, upon asking the status of my complaint, I was told that it was "closed."
I wrote to the American Civil Liberties Union, asking for help. [Ironically, Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union would seek the "public advocate" position.] The ACLU often defends the worst sort of people in our society. However, I just wanted to run for office and honor some African-Americans without names. The ACLU responded - two years later! - that it would not help me.
"Big Apple Corner" was dedicated by me, alone, in the rain, in early 1997. Both my mother and my father would die in 1997. I didn't try to run again. In 1997, Mark Green would be re-elected "public advocate."
I also didn't run in 2001. The office's position has, through a public referendum, been made even weaker. A special election will now be held in the event of the death of the mayor; the public advocate no longer assumes the rest of the mayor's term in office. The public advocate's budget has been severely cut. There is no real reason the position still exists.
Years ago, someone at parking violations told me that he had decided parking tickets from the public advocate's office (then Mark Green's office). One offense claimed for "official business" was parking at a fire hydrant. And I rolled my eyes, and made a sick joke: "PEOPLE OF NEW YORK! I KNOW THAT YOUR BUILDING IS BURNING DOWN! BUT I'M FROM THE PUBLIC ADVOCATE'S OFFICE, AND I'M HERE TO BREAK POTENTIAL TIE VOTES IN THE CITY COUNCIL!"
In 2004, I started this website. In late 2004, I received the embarrassing, potentially career-ending "Big Apple" response from Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's office.
It's difficult to say how much money has been wasted over these past twelve years, but my guess is that it's been at least $40 million. Hence, the sub-title of this piece: "How to waste $40 million, violate the City Charter, disregard our Civic Fame, and promote fictional Big Apple whores, all without really trying."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sworn to uphold the city charter. I would very much like to speak with him. I have long since earned it.
In an entry below, I will tell you what you can do to help. It might cost you a letter or two, or an e-mail or two, but that's it. And if I am elected "public advocate," you will all be getting refunds.
The work I do for New York City, as always, will be for free.