By Jillian Jorgensen
Former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is running for public advocate — launching her bid with a video touting her progressive bona fides and accomplishments.
Her former perch atop the Council makes Mark-Viverito among the highest profile contenders among a crowded field of candidates who are hoping fill the seat that will be vacated when Public Advocate Letitia James is sworn in as attorney general on January 1.
In the video announcing her bid, she rattled off achievements from her tenure — including several that put her at odds with Mayor de Blasio.
“I said we had to close Rikers Island and the mayor said it was impossible. I said we had to stop putting people in jail for low-level offenses, and the police commissioner said it was too dangerous. I said every single undocumented immigrant deserves a free lawyer and the mayor said it couldn’t be funded,” she said.
“But every time we brought community leaders, elected officials and activists to the table and got it done,” she added.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the public advocate’s historic role as a foil to the mayor, those accomplishments highlighted areas where she’d opened a rift with de Blasio — who had been an ally and had a heavy hand in helping her to become City Council speaker in 2014.
Mark-Viverito had called for the closure of Rikers Island long before de Blasio came around to the idea, creating a commission headed by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on the subject. After a year of talks, she was able to pass legislation providing the option for civil penalties rather than criminal ones for violations like public urination. And when Hizzoner refused to fund lawyers at deportation hearings for undocumented people accused of certain crimes, Mark-Viverito secured the funding elsewhere.
Her video also highlighted her gender — notable because, should James be replaced by a man, there would be no woman holding citywide office in New York.
“I’m Melissa Mark-Viverito and I’m running to be your public advocate,” she began the video.
A man’s voice off-camera asked: “Can you say it again but a little less intense?”
She went on to rattle off complaints about her public persona.
“Every day someone tells me I’m too harsh, too brutally honest, too confrontational,” she said. “And would they say that to a man? I don’t think so. You know what this city needs? Someone who tells New Yorkers the truth.”
The race to be the next public advocate will be a sprint — the mayor will call a special election in January, once James vacates the post, and the non-partisan election will be held in late February or early March.
Among those already in the ring are Councilman Jumaane Williams, who made an impressive showing in a long-shot bid to become the state’s lieutenant governor, Assemblyman Michael Blake, who has less name recognition but considerable fundraising prowess, and Nomiki Konst, a progressive organizer and journalist.
Mark-Viverito has a balance of $389,794 in a city campaign account, according to Campaign Finance Board records.