Public Advocate Candidates Debate, On-Air and Off

In what is likely the only televised Public Advocate primary debate, five Democratic candidates jousted on-air last week.  (Video of the full debate is available here from NY1.)  The race remains both close and out of the public eye, with the most recent public poll (from NBC 4 NY/WSJ/Marist) reporting that 49% of “likely” Democratic primary voters are undecided.  Of the likely voters who have a preferred candidate, it’s 16% for Tish James, 12% for Cathy Guerriero, 12% for Daniel Squadron, 3% for Reshma Saujani and 2% for Sidique Wai.

We spoke with all five candidates after the debate.  Exclusive video, and a short account of each candidate, follows:

Cathy Guerriero:

Cathy Guerriero is a first-time candidate who says she’s been thinking about running for Public Advocate for 20 years, essentially since the office was created.  (Here is a link to her campaign website.)  She has accumulated a surprising 45+ union endorsements, primarily from uniformed services.  She’s raised only a limited amount of money, however, about $250,000, with a current negative balance of approximately ($50,000).

After the debate, we asked her several questions, including: how she viewed her debate performance, what she expects the remaining three weeks of the campaign to focus on, for a more detailed discussion of her unexpected answer that she doesn’t see herself as prepared to be mayor and for more about her statement that she’s thought about running for Public Advocate for the past 20 years.

Letitia James:

Letitia “Tish” James is a member of the New York City Council, representing Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn.  An attorney, she’s served in the council for 10 years with prior experience including as a state assembly staff member and an assistant attorney general in the NYS Attorney General’s office.  (Here is a link to her campaign website.)  James has substantial labor support, with both 32BJ and DC 37 endorsing her.  She is also the Working Families Party nominee.  With less money on hand than Daniel Squadron and Reshma Saujani (James reports about $1,000,000 on hand), labor support is her prospective path to victory in the Democratic primary.  Watch for two of the biggest remaining labor endorsements, 1199SEIU and the UFT – if James gets them, she’ll be in a very strong position.

After the debate, we asked her about the pointed questions among the candidates during the debate about their fundraising and contributors, and how, as a soon-to-be former Council member, she would deal with potentially contentious issues with her current colleagues.

Reshma Saujani:

Reshma Saujani is an attorney.  Her professional background includes primarily private sector experience, but she also ran for Congress in 2010 (against Carolyn Maloney) and was Deputy Public Advocate under Bill de Blasio, the current Public Advocate.  Her private sector experience includes working for the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell and Fortress, a major hedge fund.

She has raised a significant amount of money (reporting $1.5 million on hand), but has very limited labor support.  She is endorsed by the Queens County Democratic Organization.  (Here is a link to her campaign website.)

After the debate, we asked her about her low poll numbers, whether people on the street are tuned in the race and what she sees as the pluses and/or minuses of her private sector experience.

Daniel Squadron:

Daniel Squadron is a New York State Senator, representing a district that stretches along the Brooklyn waterfront from Williamsburg to Cobble Hill and includes Manhattan south of Houston Street.  Squadron was elected to the state senate in 2008, defeating a 30 year incumbent in the Democratic primary.  Squadron has raised the most money among the candidates, reporting about $1.8 million on hand.  He has limited labor support, although that support includes the Hotel Trades Council, one of the most politically active unions.  He’s also been endorsed by his one-time boss, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.  (Here is a link to his campaign website.)

After the debate, we asked him about a frequent topic of discussion among the mayoral candidates: mayoral/city control of the MTA.  (It’s an under appreciated fact that the governor, not the mayor, primarily controls the MTA.)  With his Albany experience, Squadron may have a more realistic view of the challenges of actually accomplishing a change in control of that state agency.

Sidique Wai:

Sidique Wai describes his current professional role as a “Community Relations Specialist and Adviser on police-community relations to New York City Police Commissioner Honorable Raymond W. Kelly.”  Wai is a native of Sierre Leone who immigrated to New York in 1972, and his bio includes an extensive list of community affairs roles, both governmental and non-governmental.  He’s the least funded, least known, least likely candidate, having raised about $50,000 and having a negative campaign balance of ($15,000).  (Here is a link to his campaign website.)

After the debate, we asked why he decided to run and about the challenge of running as a  first-time candidate.

N.B.  Thanks to for their endorsement tracker.