THE BLOG
08/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yes to the Office of Public Advocate

Two decades ago, an amendment to the New York City Charter created the
Office of Public Advocate, a unique position with the power and
authority to protect and enhance the rights of all residents of this
great city and, most importantly, to hold government accountable for
its actions. There is not another office in the country with these
unique and important powers.

Perhaps it's a mere coincidence that at the moment in our history that
often finds entries in the press about waste and abuse in government
operations and by elected official, there are editorials, a blog entry
and even a bill being considered by a sitting City Council member to
abolish the office of Public Advocate, the office designed to shed
sunlight on those very abuses and institute procedures to protect the
public.

New Yorkers are rightfully appalled at New York State's dysfunctional
legislature and its inability to get its act together and conduct the
people's business in Albany. The legislative process is at a
standstill at the very instance critical pieces of legislation are
expiring or need to be brought to a definitive vote. Unfortunately,
there is no New York State Office of Public Advocate to intervene in
bringing order and sanity to the out-of -control state legislature.

In New York City, however, we are quite fortunate to have the Office
of Public Advocate with the power to do the people's business and hold
those in power accountable. That being the case, why would a City
Council member, just this past week, propose elimination of the one
office with the power to shine a light on what is really going on in
city government?

The Public Advocate can hold hearings, issue reports, bring media
attention to an issue and recommend, support and initiate corrective
legislation, as well as advocate for judicial hearings where there has
been any showing of government impropriety. The fact that the
incumbent has not effectively used these powers is little reason to
eliminate the office. In fact, I submit, the current political
climate calls for even greater use of the powers inherent in the
Public Advocate's office.

The Brooklyn Councilman proposing elimination of the office isn't the
only legislator to try to eviscerate the Public Advocate's office
prior to the selection of a new office holder in this year's election.
Recently, the Executive and Legislative branches of New York City
government agreed on a 40% budget cut to the office of Public
Advocate. Are those in power concerned that a new day is coming? Is
it possible that those in power may actually be concerned that in the
right hands this office can make serious strides at making government
work for the people as it is intended and be aggressive where
democracy is being threatened or undermined?

The Public Advocate can hold hearings in communities throughout the
city to listen to New Yorker's concerns and complaints. The Public
Advocate can recruit, train and supervise hundreds of volunteer public
advocates to participate in weekly intakes at housing developments,
public libraries and senior centers to identify systemic issues and
recurring grievances that are plaguing city government and then pursue
appropriate remedies. We are fortunate to have an office that can
investigate and help implement constructive change. It's time we took
full advantage of the potential of the Public Advocate's office


www.NormanSiegel.com