NEW YORK – Democratic City Council member Jumaane Williams won a special election on February 26 to serve as New York City’s public advocate, a position that holds little authority but offers access to a bully pulpit that can be used to scold more powerful officeholders.
Williams defeated 16 other candidates to fill a vacancy created by former Public Advocate Letitia James’ victory in the race for New York State Attorney General. The unofficial results from the Board of Elections in the City of New York showed a very low voter turnout with Williams receiving 133,809 votes and 33.22% of the vote, while the next closest candidate, Erich A. Ulrich received 77,026 votes and 19.12% of the vote.
Among the crowded field of candidates, Greek-American Democrat Nomiki Konst received only 9,339 votes, just 2.32% of the vote. The Arizona-born New Yorker with roots in Northern Epiros, Kefalonia, and Kalymnos (the family name was originally Konstantakis) was profiled in The National Herald twice before, in 2016, during the election campaign as a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter featured on numerous national television networks throughout that race, and in 2018, following her announcement that she would be running for Public Advocate.
Konst, 35, spoke with TNH contributor Constantine E. Scaros about her campaign. She said, “The office of the NYC Public Advocate was created to be the independent voice for all New Yorkers; an important check on the lawmakers of New York. We know that effective city government is accountable city government; it is not a matter of intentions, but a matter of results. This is not a job for machine-owned politicians or a stepping stone to Gracie Mansion. This is a watchdog position tailor-made for a communicator who knows how the levers of power work, but doesn’t stand to benefit from pulling them. It’s vital – given the history of corruption in this city – that the office of public advocate be removed from political machines and special interests. Through my career as an advocate against corruption, investigative reporter, and activist, I have proven my ability to pursue truth, accountability, and justice in face of influence peddling and machine politics. I have the courage and the ability to exercise the unique office and powers of the Public Advocate’s office to its fullest abilities and to create meaningful positive change. I hope to make my campaign a model for how I would develop the position of Public Advocate and show, not tell, the changes we need to make life better for all New Yorkers.”
The son of Grenadian immigrants, Williams highlighted his Tourette Syndrome in his campaign, saying in a TV ad that “many dismissed me” after he was diagnosed with the neurological disorder that causes involuntary jerks and tics.
Williams will have to compete again in a June primary and a November general election if he wants to serve as public advocate past the end of 2019.
Williams’ campaign was shaken over the weekend by reports of a decade-old arrest stemming from what he called a “verbal disagreement” with his girlfriend at the time. He was never prosecuted in the January 2009 incident and the arrest records were sealed.
Konst and former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito held a joint news conference on February 25 to call attention to the arrest.
The public advocate functions as city ombudsman and can investigate citizen complaints about agencies and services but has no subpoena power. The office comes with a $165,000 salary a $3 million budget.
The election attracted a crowded field of current and former elected officials, lawyers and activists, partly because the position can serve as a stepping stone to higher office.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.