Since the Office of the Public Advocate was created in 1993, skeptical taxpayers, elected officials and editorial writers have questioned its purpose and even doubted that it should continue to exist.
The three people who have occupied the office, Mark Green, Betsy Gotbaum and currently, Bill de Blasio, have all brought different approaches, from doing constituent service work and backing up 3-1-1, to bringing lawsuits and using the office's bully pulpit to challenge Republican/conservative mayors on various issues of public policy.
I believe this office can -- and must -- do much more for New Yorkers. We should be taking up the fight to solve the problems that New Yorkers face, not waiting to deal with their consequences. New Yorkers deserve a Public Advocate that will fight for them and lead their charge, not just pick up their phone call. Instead of just serving as an awkward middleman in the daily brawls between the Mayor and other elected officials, the Public Advocate needs to be an independent voice who advocates for all New Yorkers and works to hold government accountable. That can't be done by someone borne out of and currently in the system; it requires an outsider, someone with a fresh perspective that knows how to get things done.
To give the people of New York a Public Advocate that delivers real results for them, the office needs a new structure and vision, built around a corps of Deputy Advocates who are each tasked with developing innovative ideas and implementing workable solutions for the challenges that are stagnating city government.
But let's be honest: those challenges are not small. Our communities are plagued by high unemployment; and many small businesses are struggling. Our Department of Education is graduating kids who are unprepared for college and careers. The City has failed to develop the housing stock needed for middle class families. Senior centers, firehouses and other vital services have not been properly prioritized and are frequently targeted for cuts. Immigrants and their children, who are two thirds of our population, have difficulty accessing city services.
These problems fundamentally undermine New Yorkers' opportunities for a better future, and I believe that the Office of the Public Advocate, with the right structure, can take the lead in addressing these challenges and producing results for working families.
To make this work, I plan to redesign this office to focus it on issues that directly affect New Yorkers. I will establish four Deputy Public Advocates, each of whom will be a leading voice speaking out for New Yorkers on the issues that impact our City and its residents: education initiatives; affordable housing; women and the elderly; and jobs and the economy. Each Deputy would be an experienced policy leader, charged with developing innovative solutions that can usher in a new era of government administration. Restructuring the office in this way would cost the taxpayer not a penny more.
This office can take on a new level of relevance for City residents. Imagine having a Deputy Public Advocate for Women and the Elderly that can identify and streamline service delivery or recalibrating how the City addresses these issues; using new technology, collaboration and updated means of communication. Or a Deputy Public Advocate for Education, examining the practices of the Department of Education and the Department of Youth and Community Development -- calling for more accountability, more transparency and responsiveness.
In the coming weeks and months, I will be laying out the specifics on how each of these Deputy Advocates will shape this office to make it a strong foundation for creating and protecting opportunities for every family in our City.
My work as a Deputy Public Advocate and as a non-profit leader have been built around bringing together partners from different spheres, finding innovative solutions and creating real opportunities. As Public Advocate, I will bring that entrepreneurial spirit to government - calling on all City agencies to come into the 21st century through the use of technology and innovation.
For too long, as the American Dream has crumbled for so many of New York's middle class families, the Public Advocate's Office has been limited to merely plugging holes and pointing out problems. My plan changes that, and takes the kind of action that delivers real results for all New Yorkers. What we have done up until now has not been enough. I believe if we can do more, we must do more. And, I will.