Democrat Jumaane Williams wins special election for New York City public advocate

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Democrat Jumaane Williams has won a special election to serve as New York City's public advocate.

The City Councilman from Brooklyn defeated 16 other candidates Tuesday to win an office that holds little power but can serve as a stepping stone to higher office.

Williams is a former tenant organizer who has served on the City Council since 2009.

The seat was vacated by the election of former public advocate Letitia James to the position of state attorney general.

The public advocate functions as city ombudsman. The advocate can investigate citizen complaints about agencies and services but has no subpoena power.

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.

A whopping 17 candidates were in the running, including former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

"Today, I'm very focused on this election," Mark-Viverito said. "It's very emotional right now having cast my ballot for the first time citywide."

Monday evening, a sealed arrest record leaked showing that Williams spent a night in jail 10 years ago after a domestic dispute with his then-girlfriend.

Williams characterized it as a verbal dispute. The charges were dropped and the arrest record sealed.
"I don't want to get into political motivations, it was an important topic, people asked questions, and we answered them," Williams said.

State Assemblyman Michael Blake and City Council Member Rafael Espinal, Jr. are also in the mix, as is the only Republican in the race, Queens City Councilman Eric Ulrich.

The winner will have to compete again in a June primary and a November general election if she or he wants to serve as public advocate past the end of 2019.

The seat, which was vacated by the election of former public advocate Letitia James to the position of state attorney general, functions as city ombudsman. It can investigate citizen complaints about agencies and services but has no subpoena power.

Still, the job is coveted because it has become a springboard to real power.
"So it's a really important job, everyone get out and vote," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "It's not going to take long today. You're not going to have long lines."

The public advocate's office was created out of the previous position of City Council president, which had been a powerful position but was weakened and then abolished in an overhaul of the city charter.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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