Why should I care who is elected Public Advocate? It’s a meaningless job, right?
It’s easy to see why someone would think that.
And that in turn begs two main questions: one, what is the function of a Public Advocate, and two, if the office is important, why have I never heard of it?
- What does a Public Advocate do? According to the City Charter, it is the job of the Public Advocate to “establish procedures for receiving and processing complaints, responding to complaints, conducting investigations, and reporting findings, and shall inform the public about such procedures.” It’s actually a pretty cool job when you think about it. The Public Advocate gets to serve as a go-between, ensuring that the people know what their government is doing, and that the government hears the voices of the people. But the Public Advocate is more than just a messenger. They can also create real change, advocating certain laws, issuing crucial reports, and solving issues on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, person-by-person level.
- Why have I never heard of it? So, if the Public Advocate is such a wonderful position, why have I never heard of it? The main reason you’ve never heard of it is because past Public Advocates have failed the put the position in the public eye. The job carries very little official power. But, it has a lot of potential power, through organizing communities, using the media, issuing reports, etc, etc. So, the power of the Public Advocate really depends on who’s holding the job. Past Public Advocates, particularly Betsy Gotbaum, have been too passive. Norman’s willing and ready to change that. He wants to transform this office. And he’s got a few ways in mind.
The point is the Public Advocate is a crucial position. We need it. We need someone to keep an eye on the mayor. We need someone to investigate city issues. We need someone to keep close tabs on our government. We need someone to answer our questions and listen to our complaints. That’s the job of the Public Advocate. Now, the question is will we actually elect someone this time who’s capable of doing the job right?