Beyond the Results in Letitia James’ Historic Win

Letitia James (Photo by Voices of NY)

Letitia James attended a panel at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in the summer. (Photo by Voices of NY)

Councilwoman Letitia James’ 59 to 41 percent win over state Sen. Daniel Squadron in the public advocate race will give New York its first woman of color in a citywide position.

Pieces in the Amsterdam News and The Jewish Week looked beyond her landmark victory to issues such as reforming funding for the office and James’ relationship with the Jewish community she represents in her current City Council seat.

A column by Amsterdam News‘ political analyst Jonathan P. Hicks hailed not just James’ win but also her track record of progressive politics and championing “affordable housing, job creation and education reform.” Building on that embrace of reform, he called it a “good time to increase the funding for the office of public advocate.”

The runoff election cost taxpayers $13 million for an office whose annual budget is slightly more than $2 million. It would be wonderful for James, as one of her first acts in office, to submit her plan under which the city could avoid these costly runoff elections for races below that of mayor.

Additionally, it would be a good time for Bill de Blasio, as one of his first acts as mayor, to increase the funding for the office of public advocate. That would enable the citizens of New York to get the ultimate benefit of having this dynamic public servant in what would be an even more effective citywide office.

James has been the councilwoman for District 35 in Brooklyn (Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, sections of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant) since 2003 as a member of the Working Families Party. She was the first WFP candidate to win a City Council seat.

In an article on The Jewish Week, Adam Dickter reports on James’ relationship with Jewish Brooklynites. The political action committee of the Crown Heights Jewish community threw their support behind James from the beginning but “her relationship with some chasidic leaders deteriorated in recent years.” Dickter goes on to say:

She appointed a Jewish community laison, Jeffrey Wice, to her staff for about five years but did not replace him when he left. While James provided member item funding from the Council for social services provided by the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, that amount was greatly reduced this year, when she did not plan to run for re-election.

According to the City Council’s database, James applied for and received $16,000 for the Council in 2012, $15,500 in the 2013 budget and $6,000 in the current FY 2014 budget.

However, people quoted in the article – Wice being one of them – had nothing but praise for James.

“I’m happy she won the public advocate race,” said Hanina Sperlin, a board member of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council. “We look forward to working with someone who has the district at heart. And we are hoping that in the public advocate’s office she will have a Jewish [liaison] there as Bill de Blasio did and Mark Green and Betsy Gotbaum did.”

Wice, an attorney now with a Washington firm, says that while he was on James’ staff “she had excellent relationships with the Jewish community and was heavily involved in visiting everything from yeshivas to food pantries and providing direct constituent services.” He said that while no Jewish staff member was hired as a liaison after he left other aides took on his responsibilities.

While James still has to win the general election on November 5, her victory is essentially sealed as there is no Republican opponent and the other candidates running represent smaller parties.

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