By Colby Hamilton
THEATER DISTRICT — Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James won Tuesday’s primary election runoff for public advocate, beating her opponent State Senator Daniel Squadron by 20 points, and making her all but certain to become the first woman of color elected to citywide office in New York City in November.
An emotional James thanked her supporters at her victory party at the Copacabana, crediting them with her success in the protracted, and increasingly negative, campaign.
“I ran for Public Advocate because, all of my life, I have seen New Yorkers preserver,” she said, surrounded by current and former colleagues in the city council. “I have seen the role government can play in helping uplift working people.
“As someone who comes from humble beginnings and who never forgets that fact, I’ve experienced it myself.”
James spoke of the struggles she said face New Yorkers and promised to use the Public Advocate’s office to work on behalf of those in need.
“I will keep fighting for working men and women who need a champion in government,” James said.
In a concession statement, Squadron congratulated James on her victory.
“I know that Tish will be their great advocate for New Yorkers across the city,” Squadron said. “She ran a great campaign.”
James’ historic win was also a victory for the labor unions that rallied to her campaign during the three-week runoff sprint. She has long been a favorite of labor, having won her first election to the council in 2003 on the union-supported Working Families Party line.
“This is an incredible capstone to a thrilling primary season that proves New Yorkers are ready to tackle inequality and come together for a progressive future,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the Working Families Party, in a statement congratulating James on her victory.
“Tish James has been out there, fighting loudly and proudly for working people throughout this city,” said Vincent Alvarez, the head of the New York Central Labor Council, after James’ speech.
“We made sure we communicated with all our members and we told them the importance of getting out there,” Alvarez said. “What it reaffirms is that if we’re talking about issues affecting working people, if we’re communicating with our members and we have effective get-out-the-vote and field campaigns, we can win and be the decisive votes in these elections.”
The victory was also a big win for women’s rights organizations, many of whom supported City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s unsuccessful bid for mayor. James’ campaign represented arguably the last chance of getting a woman elected citywide in 2013.
"The power center of government should not be all white and all male," said Sonia Ossorio, President of the National Organization for Women in New York City, in a statement. "The voters saw to that tonight."
While the nearly 188,000 Democratic voters who turned out on Tuesday were more than many expected, it still represented less than a third of the number of voters on Primary Day three weeks ago.
Initial returns suggest the overwhelming support James received in minority communities, particularly black neighborhoods throughout the city, were the force behind her 60 percent to 40 percent victory over Squadron.