By Jonathan Lemire
Councilwoman Letitia James won the Democratic public advocate runoff on Tuesday, becoming the party's nominee and all but assuring she will become the city's elected watchdog.
James defeated state Sen. Daniel Squadron, according to incomplete and unofficial returns, and faces a general election next month without a Republican opponent. She said in her victory speech the contest had been "an intense journey but one worth taking."
"There's so much more work to do because the next generation of New Yorkers are at risk of losing the opportunities that allowed us to make it in this city," she said.
James and Squadron were the top two finishers in the Sept. 10 primary, but neither eclipsed the 40 percent threshold that would have avoided the costly runoff. The winners of the higher-profile mayoral and comptroller primary contests stayed above that mark, meaning the race to fill the little-understood public advocate position was the only one on the ballot.
The public advocate position has little real power and an annual budget of just $2.1 million, a small fraction of the $13 million it cost the city to hold the runoff, which was required by law.
But the post has become a springboard to higher office. The current public advocate, Bill de Blasio, is the Democratic nominee for mayor. He did not endorse anyone in the runoff.
De Blasio was one of many public officials who called for reforms to the costly runoff system.
James and Squadron have similar liberal positions on most issues, from the need for school reform to the creation of more affordable housing.
Squadron praised James in an emailed statement Tuesday night.
"We ran this campaign making the case that the public advocate's office can be essential to our city — getting results for New Yorkers who need them," he said. "For New Yorkers without a voice, without high-powered lobbyists, without City Hall on speed dial. For people with no place else to turn. Their families need a strong public advocate. And I know that Tish will be their great advocate for New Yorkers across the city."
If elected in November, James would rank second only to the mayor, according to the city charter, and would be in a position to badger the administration.
James, a three-term councilwoman from Brooklyn, had the support of most unions, including the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which endorsed her on City Hall's steps Monday afternoon. James, who is black, argued for the need to have a person of color and a woman in a citywide office, since Squadron and the leading candidates for mayor and comptroller are white men.
Squadron, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, had utilized a larger campaign account and had the backing of the city's major newspaper editorial boards and many high-profile politicians, including his former boss U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.