Seven candidates for a special election for one of the city's highest ranking offices clashed live on NY1 on Wednesday night, and one seemed to have a target on his back.


Multiple candidates for Public Advocate pointed their criticisms at Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams, at the debate at the Borough of Manhattan Community College that NY1 sponsored in conjunction with the city's Campaign Finance Board, Politico New York, and several other co-sponsors.

Three out of the seven questions in the cross-examination round went to Williams, which indicates his opponents view him as one of the front-runners in the race.



At one point, many on the debate stage had criticized the deal to bring Amazon to New York City in exchange for $3 billion in tax subsidies. Remorse that the company backed out was fleeting from the field.



Candidates did find consensus, however, in bashing Mayor Bill de Blasio for his tenure at City Hall and considering a run for president.


"No, he is not qualified to run for president. He shouldn't be running for president," Assemblyman Michael Blake said.

"I do also take issue with him saying Bernie Sanders's time has come and gone," Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal said.

"I think he is completely delusional," Assemblyman Ron Kim said about the mayor not ruling out a run for the White House.


The debate stage was less crowded Wednesday, at least somewhat. Instead of 10 in the first debate, just seven candidates qualified for this so-called leading contenders debate under rules set by the city's Campaign Finance Board. Each candidate must have raised and spent about $171,000 and received an endorsement from an elected official or major organization. Three candidates from the first debate didn't make the cut this time: Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, and Councilman Eric Ulrich.


On the one hand, the Public Advocate is one of the city's highest-ranking jobs. It's one of just three citywide elected offices (the others are mayor and comptroller) and second-in-line of succession should something happen to the mayor.

On the other hand, it's a job with little real power and a vaguely defined mission. Essentially, the office functions as a city government watchdog and an ombudsperson for the public.

The Public Advocate investigates complaints and issues reports, and can also introduce legislation in the City Council, although he or she cannot vote on it. The Public Advocate can also preside over Council meetings, though not all have exercised that option.

In practice, the job is what the office-holder makes of it. It's a soapbox and widely viewed as a springboard to higher office. The Public Advocate is a highly-visible perch that allows its occupant to raise his or her profile without the messy complications of real governing. That makes it a good place for people who have their eyes on the mayor's office.


The seven candidates in our debate don't even make up half of the list you'll find on your ballot — 17 names in all, seen below.

The special election will be Tuesday, February 26.

Whoever wins won't have much time to settle into their new job; they will have to run for re-election in a June primary and the general election in November.

Debate candidates

Michael Blake

Current job: Assemblyman for 79th District in the Bronx, and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Background: Worked for the Obama Administration.

One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate to have a permanent seat on MTA Board .


Rafael Espinal

Current job: City councilman for 37th District in Brooklyn.

Background: Assemblyman for 54th District in Brooklyn from 2011 to 2013.

One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate to introduce legislation to create more housing .


Ron Kim

Current job: Assemblyman for the 40th District in Queens.

Background: Worked for the City Council speaker and Spitzer and Paterson administrations.

One Thing to Know: Wants to transform the Public Advocate's office to cancel, monetize, or write down debt.


Nomiki Konst

Current job: Reporter for The Young Turks.

Background: Surrogate for Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign.

One Thing to Know: Wants New Yorkers to have a $30 minimum wage by 2020 .


Melissa Mark-Viverito

Current job: Senior advisor to the Latino Victory Fund.

Background: City Council Speaker from 2014 to 2017.

One Thing to Know: Says she would be willing to sue city agencies as Public Advocate.


Dawn Smalls

Current job: Partner at Boies Schiller Flexner law firm.

Background: Worked in the Clinton and Obama Administrations.

One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate's office to shine a spotlight on homeless women and kids.


Jumaane Williams

Current job: City councilman for 45th District in Brooklyn.

Background: Former executive director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors advocacy group.

One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate to be able to subpoena city government and vote in the City Council.


Non-debate candidates on the ballot


Manny Alicandro

Current job: Attorney.

Background: Previously sought state attorney general position.

One Thing to Know: President Donald Trump supporter who has vowed to reform homelessness in the city, NYCHA, and the MTA.


David Eisenbach

Current job: Historian, author, and professor at Columbia University.

Background: Ran in the Democratic primary for Public Advocate in 2017.

One Thing to Know: Wants to use the Public Advocate office to push for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to, in part, create an arbitration system to help small businesses struggling with high rents in the city.


Daniel O'Donnell

Current job: Assembly member for 69th District in Manhattan.

Background: Served as a public defender in New York City for seven years.

One Thing to Know: Wants multiple revenue streams to fund transit repairs.


Tony Herbert

Current job: CEO and chairman of the Multi-Cultural Restaurant & Night Life Chamber of Commerce.

Background: Former special assistant to former City Councilwoman Priscilla Wooten and Rep. Edolphus Towns.

One Thing to Know: Wants to use the Public Advocate's office to pressure the city to improve living conditions for NYCHA tenants.


Jared Rich

Current job: Attorney.

Background: Has practiced solo law in Brooklyn.

One Thing to Know: Wants revenue from potential marijuana legalization and congestion pricing to be given to city schools.


Ydanis Rodriguez

Current job: City councilman for 10th District in Manhattan.

Background: Co-founded a Washington Heights school and taught there for 13 years.

One Thing to Know: Supports bringing e-bikes and e-scooters to New York City.​


Helal Sheikh

Current job: School teacher and advocate.

Background: Former City Council candidate.

One Thing to Know: Supports helping homeowners pay any city liens and tax bills so they can keep their houses.


Eric Ulrich

Current job: City councilman for 32nd District in Queens.

Background: Former member of Queens Community Board 9.

One Thing to Know: Member of the Republican Party.


Latrice Walker

- NOTE: Latrice Walker will remain on the ballot despite ending her campaign and asking to be removed, the New York City Board of Elections ruled on January 29. Under law, the only way someone can be removed from the ballot is to die, be convicted of a felony, or move out of New York City.


Current job: Assemblywoman for 55th District in Brooklyn.

Background: Previously worked as counsel to New York Rep. Yvette Clarke.

One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate to have subpoena and investigative powers, and be able to sue.


Benjamin Yee

Current job: Secretary for the Manhattan Democratic Party and State Committeeman of Assembly District 66.

Background: New York State digital director for Obama's 2008's presidential campaign in the general election.

One Thing to Know: Pushing for a citywide initiative to teach New Yorkers about civics.