November 18, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Public Advocate-elect Letitia James happily calls the city’s next mayor “a very good friend and an ally,” – but should Bill de Blasio stumble along the progressive path voters overwhelmingly supported on November 5, the former public defender for the Legal Aid Society says she will be right there pushing him along again.
“On election day, the City of New York made a left turn,” James recently said in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. “And we have to continue on that path of progressive policies in the City of New York. We need to make sure that Bill de Blasio honors his commitments – the same commitments he made on the campaign trail.”
The current city councilwoman representing Brooklyn’s 35th District, enters her new role as public advocate with a deep and abiding belief that the city of her birth has been heading down the wrong path for far too many years, resulting in growing income inequality, wage stagnation and the erosion of basic human rights.
Now, James says, immediate action on the part of a fully engaged citizenry is needed to truly turn things around.
“We can’t be lulled into this false sense of security and we can’t be lulled into complacency,” James says. “Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Now is the time to get involved and hold elected officials accountable. Including myself.”
James stops short of calling the NYPD’s stop & frisk policy inherently racists as other outspoken critics have done, but she supports the passage of two bills currently before the City Council that are designed to curb the practice.
“I don’t want to describe it,” James says. “The bottom line is that we can agree on the outcomes. And the fact is that the current practice needs to change.”
The ultimate fate of United States District Court Judge’s Shira Scheindlin’s decision in August calling on the NYPD to change its stop & frisk policy after finding the tactic violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of minority citizens – is still in question.
The current administration efforts to squash Judge Scheindlin’s findings have resulted in a court-ordered stay and the removal of the jurist from the case.
But James has already answered back, championing Judge Scheindlin and calling for her to be put back onto the pivotal stop & frisk case.
Progressive members of the City Council, meanwhile, are expected to advance the two reform bills which James supports – even if one of the bills calling for NYPD oversight puts the power of appointing a monitor in the hands of the police commissioner.
The public advocate-elect lobbied against that particular feature of the bill, fearing that it weakens its intended purpose, and now hints that a stronger piece of legislation may still be possible.
“There will be members of the City Council who will advance these to bills, and hopefully, we can bring these two bills to the floor,” James said. “As public advocate, I will not have a vote, but I will have the ability to introduce legislation. And I would hope that at some point and time, these two bills can have a hearing and can be aired before the public.”
James, who as a member of the City Council chairs the Contracts Committee, would also like to hire more city attorneys to aid underserved New Yorkers and push to raise the minimum wage. In the future, the independently-inclined public-advocate-elect believes that the city needs more autonomy from the state in order to address the concerns of everyday New Yorkers.
“Albany has too much control over New York City,” James says.