Queens Leaves Its Mark on Feverish Race For Advocate

Voters head to the polls to elect the next public advocate, a position once held by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo via the Mayor’s Office/Flickr.

Voters head to the polls to elect the next public advocate, a position once held by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo via the Mayor’s Office/Flickr.

By David Brand

Whatever happens when polls close today, Queens, the city’s most diverse borough, has no doubt left a distinctive mark on the feverish race for public advocate.

The borough is home to the two most ideologically opposed candidates and two others who fall somewhere in between.

Ozone Park Councilmember Eric Ulrich is the lone Republican elected official* on the ballot and reporter Nomiki Konst is the only member of the Democratic Socialists of America running for the seat. Assemblymember Ron Kim helped lead the outspoken opposition to Amazon and Helal Sheikh once tried to challenge Ulrich for his council seat — though he endorsed him for that same seat a few years later.

To add to the quirkiness of the public advocate race, special election rules prevent candidates from running on a traditional party line. Instead, Ulrich will run on the “Common Sense” line — he said he will serve as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “worst enemy” and called the other candidates staking out progressive positions as the “polit buro.”

“The next Public Advocate has to be someone who is independent of the mayor and is a check on the mayor,” Ulrich told the Eagle. “If they love the mayor and think the city is fine, then I’m not their candidate.”

Konst is running on the “Pay People More” line. She has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $30 an hour and said she would “decentralize” the Public Advocate’s office to create a public advocate in every community district.

Konst, an outsider, has also spent significant energy ripping her peers and attempting to peel off members of their base, especially supporters of Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams. Williams has been named by several experts as the front runner in the race because of his strong showing in last year’s Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor and his citywide name recognition.

Kim announced his candidacy in December by tapping into the progressive zeitgeist. He repeatedly condemned the Amazon deal and even ran on the “No Amazon” line. He is now running on the “People Over Corporations” line.

In an interview with the Eagle last year, Kim said he wants to reshape the public advocate’s office to focus on private sector abuse and prevent corporate welfare

“There has never been an action plan to transform this office,” Kim said. “I’m focused on transforming this office to be the nation’s first and largest debt cancellation body dedicated to lowering people’s debt.”

“I’ve been focused on the corporate welfare issue and eliminating our giveaways to mega corporations and before the deal was struck I called out Amazon,” he added.

Sheikh, a former school teacher, is a community activist focused on improving conditions for senior citizens.

Despite the presence of various Queens candidates, the Queens Democratic Party looked outside the borough for its official endorsement earlier this month. The party leadership threw its support behind Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell, the first openly gay assemblymember.

O’Donnell is a former Legal Aid lawyer and championed the state’s landmark Marriage Equality Act, which became state law in 2011.

“The Public Advocate race is a crowded field but I can tell you right now there’s no better choice than Danny O’Donnell,” said former Queens County Democratic Party chairperson Joseph Crowley in an email soliciting donations for O’Donnell’s campaign. “Danny is already an advocate for LGBTQ New Yorkers, for women, for people of color, and for the working families across our city. As New York's Public Advocate, he'll have the chance to do so much more.”

The endorsement angered several county committee members, especially individuals who have formed the progressive New Queens Democrats (NQD) and said they were excluded from party decision-making. NQD members endorse Konst.

To further complicate things, at least six Queens district leaders, including acting Party Commissioner June Bunch, have endorsed Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake.

Check out a full list of candidates and their party lines. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

*Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Ulrich as the lone Republican in the race. Manny Alicandro is also a Republican.