Monday, January 7, 2008

Public Advocate 2009: The Race Is On

Once upon a time it seemed ridiculous to discuss potential Presidential candidates years before the party primaries, but nowadays candidates are even launching into the City's local races two years in advance. The reason why so many candidates are announcing so early this time around is threefold:

1) They want more time to raise money,
2) There's a lot of term-limited elected officials worried they'll be out of work and a gang of new/oldcomers looking for jobs, and
3) They think that by jumping into the race early they'll stake a credible claim to the position.

The first two reasons make sense to The Optimist, but the third strikes me as faulty, since no one except for the most maniacal political junkies (like yours truly) pays any attention to who is running for local offices until a few weeks before the election - if ever.

But, hey, since everyone else is doing it, The Optimist thought he'd throw his two cents into the race. Feel free to ignore this post and check back with me in 18 months when you start to care.

The question on many people's minds last night at the Norman Siegel fundraiser was what made him think he could win the race for Public Advocate after already being defeated twice for the job - especially since the last time out against Betsy Gotbaum he fell 20,000 votes short. His answer was that he could build upon the coalition of voters he put together in the past and since he would likely be the only non-elected official seeking the office on the Democratic side (Guardian Angels' founder Curtis Sliwa has expressed interest in running as a Republican), the other candidates would split their constituencies, thus letting Siegel slip past them.

In addition, Siegel, who confesses to having been an unenthusiastic fundraiser in the past, is determined to bulk up his coffers this time. With the help of 6 to 1 matching funds, his goal is to bring in $2.5 million (the fundraising cap for Public Advocate is $3.85 million), primarily to spend on television and radio ads.

The Optimist thinks it likely that Siegel will reach his fundraising goal, but I am not as certain if he can hold onto the bulk of voters who supported him in the past. Since in the last election Siegel was Gotbaum's only credible opponent, it is unclear how many of the votes he received were pro-Norman or anti-Betsy. We shall see.

But Siegel has other obstacles too in the form of a host of better known - though not necessarily better qualified - prospective candidates for Public Advocate. Queens Councilman (and media darling) Eric Gioia is already off and running. According to a recent Observer article, Gioia had raised almost a million dollars as of July, thus positioning himself, for the time being, as a frontrunner for the job.

Among the other big(ish) names rumored to be in the hunt are Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson, Queens Councilman John Liu, and State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, who perhaps has the most well-known name of all. Except for maybe Sliwa.

Expect some of these guys to drop out and others to take their place as the far-off primary inches closer. Any way you look at it, though, the field is bound to be full. Too many politicians will calculate the Public Advocate's job as a stepping stone to Mayor.

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