A conversation on politics and the public advocate

Evan Farley, ‘20, and Kieran Cusack, ‘20

February 2019

There are a lot of people who don't care about politics in this school. Are they lesser human beings? Probably not. But folks should care about what goes on in the real world. There was an election, for example, on Tuesday, February 26th for the position of public advocate of New York City. Only 300,000 people voted in the whole city despite every registered voter being eligible to vote regardless of party. Most people don’t even know what the public advocate does, much less who is running for the office. This is a good thing because people don't like to waste their time on silly meaningless bureaucracy which is one of the many ailments that our country faces. If do nothing politicians did not create so many meaningless positions and laws a lot of money and time could be saved in government thereby helping the people both have an understanding of their ruling circumstances and also creating faster progress and growth for the nation. The public advocate, however, breaks from this tradition and offers a valuable service to the people of New York City, acting as an accountable watchdog to the mayor and city council. While some watchdogs and their agencies are career government servants (god bless their souls) the public advocate is elected to their position and must be reelected when their term expires in four years. It is tasked with ensuring that elected officials do the job that voters sent them to City Hall to do, a vital job indeed. The voter might then ask the question “Why can’t we voice our opinions directly to higher officials increasing efficiency and making change more likely to happen?” This is a question that has plagued Americans forever because rather than being set up to actually act as a democracy American government acts as a republic often squandering the interests of the people under the heels of business and the pursuits of individuals. This issue has gotten worse and worse in recent times and is a lot of what has lead to the popularity of populace figures such as President Trump. This is just one example of this misguided angst at the injustice of the system and the existence of the public advocate just another side effect of that system. We live in a republican system of government (that is republican with a lowercase r), this is true, and the public advocate is not an obstacle to talking to one’s representative. It is an added layer of representation, if anything, one of three citywide elected positions (the other two being the mayor and the comptroller). In recent years there have been calls to abolish the office of the public advocate because it has been used as stepping stone to higher public office (two recent public advocates have been Letitia James, now Attorney General of New York State, and Bill De Blasio, now Mayor of New York City) and sometimes has a limited range of abilities. However, these calls have largely been dismissed because New York City politicians and those interested in politics recognize the value of the role that the public advocate plays. Even if they do nothing more than meet and recognize members of the community for service done and accomplishments achieved, that is still exposing more people to functions of the city government. And in the long term, despite what Gary Johnson and libertarians say, we need government to maintain a civil society. Pay attention to what goes on around you, folks.