Monday, October 27, 2008

Good Riddance, Betsy Gotbaum!

Not that public statements mean anything any more (like Mayor Bloomberg calling the extension of term limits a "disgrace"), but if Betsy Gotbaum holds true to her word that she won't seek reelection as Public Advocate in 2009, it's good news for New Yorkers.

It means we might finally get a Public Advocate, who, well, advocates for the public. The Public Advocate position, created originally to give Mark Green something to do, theoretically is supposed to be a check to the Mayor's power. The Advocate is the City's watchdog, the person who makes a ruckus for the people when they are being railroaded by their elected officials.

Where was Betsy last week when our City's government was stolen away from the people? Sitting docilely in the presiding officer's chair of Council chambers, urging our Council Members to be polite as they subverted the system.

Of course, for anyone following Gotbaum's horrendous seven year tenure, this was no surprise. Our City's ferocious "watchdog" curled up on the Mayor's lap on day one of the Bloomberg Administration and hasn't moved since. Can anyone come up with a single instance where Gotbaum even so much as whimpered token opposition to the Mayor? Even her own website can't come up with anything to boast except vague platitudes.

We need a real Public Advocate now more than ever. As impotent as the position has been to date, one of the only chances our City has to protect itself from its incumbents at this point might be the Public Advocate.

Fortunately, we already seem to have two promising candidates, who would make something of the job if elected. The first is Norman Siegel, a lawyer who has made his career crusading of behalf of the downtrodden and disenfranchised.

The second is Queens Councilman Eric Gioia. Gioia is a young, fiercely ambitious politician, who understands how to command the media's attention. He was on the right side of the term limits battle and has generally shown himself to be a populist. He might not have the track record of taking on "The Man" that Siegel can rightfully claim, but I could see him zealously amassing political points while beating down injustice in the way Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo have wielded the State Attorney General job.

Whoever the people's ultimate choice may be, New York can't afford another Betsy Gotbaum. We need a fighter, not a lover.

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