While all the attention as of late has been on the mayoral and city comptroller races, due mostly to certain candidates running, there’s a much quieter campaign happening for the second highest-ranking job in the city — public advocate.
According to the New York City Charter, the public advocate serves as the ombudsman between City Hall and the public.
And that job description long ago caught the eye of Staten Island-bred professor Cathy Guerriero.
When she was 22, Guerriero told a professor that she wanted to run the city. The professor told her “good luck” and suggested she run for office. It was then that Guerriero found the office she wanted to hold — public advocate.
“I planned for 20 years to run in this race,” she said. “I think this job is fantastic. The idea that you can be the voice, the counterpoint, the voices not heard is fantastic. It’s a fighter’s job.”
Guerriero was a star athlete at Wagner College, where she graduated and later received an M.A. in public administration from New York University and a Ph.D. in educational administration, also from NYU. She worked for a decade for Cardinal Edward Egan and coordinated Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to New York City. She now teaches education at Columbia University and at NYU.
Guerriero was raised in Staten Island and her father worked two union jobs, as a teacher and a longshoreman. Now retired, he takes home two pensions, which Guerriero said he worked for and earned.
“I exist in the zeitgeist of a New York City body politic that is furious for being excised from their own lives,” she said.
Guerriero is not shy about her pro-labor beliefs and her Catholicism, which is exemplified by the crucifix she wears around her neck.
As public advocate, Guerriero said she would put together a think tank of 50 unpaid research assistants, graduate and Ph.D. students and law students to work in her office. Thirty of them will craft studies on issues to “bring the noise to the next mayor with data.”
Ten of the think tank staff members will populate the office and be on the phones to take in complaints, and another 10 will be lawyers who will help the office bring cases to court.
“I will go directly to institutions of higher education and ask for them,” she said. “You get coauthorship, credit, you get extraordinary experience.”
Guerriero also laid out her positions on a number of issues facing New York City in the next term.
On labor contracts, she said there are givebacks to real estate interests and other tax abatements that could be ended to prevent cuts to union workers.
“There are clearly monied interests in New York City that would be the Peters,” she said, in a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” reference. “If the working man is going to play with their contracts, everyone is going to have to pay, Mayor Bloomberg is sounding the alarm on a fiscal crisis of his own making. I think the drama of ‘where are you going to find money?’ just fits his narrative. It fits the narrative of what he said, which is ‘I’m not going to pay these contracts.’”
On education, Guerriero does not agree with mayoral control and would like to see the system become less test-centric and wants more focus on art, music and athletics.
“The narrow frame of their jobs as teachers is teaching to the test,” she said, which she blamed on the federal government. “Children come at life in the classroom with multiple intelligences and we’re only dealing with one or two pockets of their intelligences, but the other parts play into their ability to succeed in the classroom.”
She said that without art, music, dance or other examples of what she called “periphery” pieces, children won’t succeed.
“That plays into their ability to not do well on the math test,” she added. “You’re not playing into all parts of the child.”
On small business, she criticized the mayor’s overuse of fines.
“If the deli’s dirty, fine them,” she said. “But if you fine them 10 times from 10 different agencies, then you’re not going to get a clean deli, you’re going to get an out-of-work deli owner.”
Guerriero called stop and frisk a “tool,” that has been implemented badly.
“These cops are doing more with less and we’re putting younger cops out of the academy in neighborhoods where they’re less-trained,” she said. “And that’s often a powder keg.”
She also opposes the Community Safety Act, meant to rein in the practice.
The City Charter puts the public advocate next in line to assume the mayoralty if the incumbent mayor should vacate the office for any reason.
Guerriero said she would be ready to assume the job if need be, but only for the interim until a special election is held, which she vowed not to run in.
But she did say she is interested in one day running for mayor in her own right.
Despite her lack of political experience, a Marist poll last month had Guerriero in a statistical tie with Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James for first place, which if no one gets 40 percent on Sept. 10, would put her into a runoff. The Democratic candidate is almost certain to win the general election in November, since no Republican is on the ballot.