Cost of New York City's election far exceeds post's budget
The runoff election for New York City public advocate, a little known and frequently misunderstood post, will cost $13 million, more than six times the position's annual budget.
That cost has drawn withering criticism, including from both parties' mayoral candidates, but by law, a runoff must be held between the primary's top two finishers when no candidate reaches 40 percent of the vote.
The winners of the higher-profile mayoral and comptroller primary contests stayed above that threshold, meaning the Democratic public advocate race is the only one on the ballot Tuesday and that turnout will likely be extremely low.
One of just three citywide offices, the public advocate was created in 1993 to be the city's elected watchdog and is next in line to the mayor. Several of its occupants have later become their party's nominee for mayor, including current Democratic standardbearer Bill de Blasio.
Despite that, it has just a tiny $2.1 million budget and holds little real power. And it is expected to draw very few voters to the polls.
In a city of more than 8 million people, only 100,000 to 175,000 voters are expected, sending the primary's top two finishers - City Councilwoman Letitia James and state Sen. Daniel Squadron - scrambling to mobilize a small section of the public.
An endorsement from de Blasio could have put one of the candidates over the top, but he reiterated Monday that he will remain on the sidelines. He said he "admires" the candidates and believes "they both would do a great job."
De Blasio, who barely topped 40 percent in the mayoral primary, said he believes that runoff reform is needed but was leery of instituting a so-called instant runoff. That method, which is endorsed by some good government groups and is already utilized in cities like San Francisco and Minneapolis, asks primary voters to rank candidates by order of preference.
Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota has joked that since the public advocate post has few official powers, it should simply be split between Squadron and James.
The winner of Tuesday's election is all but certain to be elected the next public advocate since there will not be a Republican candidate on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The two Democrats have similar liberal positions on most issues, from the need for school reforms to the creation of more affordable housing.
James, 54, a three-term councilwoman from Brooklyn has the support of most unions, including the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which endorsed her on City Hall's steps Monday afternoon. James, who is black, has argued for the need to have a person of color and a woman in a citywide office, since the leading candidates for mayor and comptroller are white men.
Squadron, who is white, has utilized a larger campaign war chest and has the backing of the city's major newspaper editorial boards and many high-profile politicians, including his former boss, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. Squadron, 33, and Schumer walked together through Brooklyn's large "Atlantic Antic" festival on Sunday shaking hands with would-be voters.
James was also there, flanked by a group of sign-carrying volunteers as she stepped around food vendors and balloon hawkers for some last-minute retail politicking.