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Everything you need to know about NYC’s public advocate special election

The race for New York City’s next public advocate is on

Former New York City public advocate Letitia James has moved on to her new role as the state’s Attorney General and the race to fill her old position is on. We’re now just three weeks away from the special election—it happens Tuesday, February 26—and as of right now, there are 17 candidates who are eligible to run. If you’re not sure why this election is important, or simply want to know how to vote, then read on.

When is the Special Election?

The special election is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, February 26.

What exactly is the Public Advocate position?

According to the the City Charter, the public advocate is responsible for receiving and investigating citywide and individual complaints “concerning city services and other administrative actions of city agencies.” The public advocate presides over City Council meetings, can conduct investigations into agencies where complaints have been made against them, and has the power to introduce legislation, though they can not have a vote. Additionally, the public advocate is next in line of succession if something were to happen to the mayor.

Who’s running in the Special Election?

The initial pool of two dozen candidates has now been winnowed down to … 17!

Yeah, it’s a lot—there isn’t a primary or even strict party lines for candidates to run on (more on that in a second), so there are many hats being thrown in the ring. The roster of candidates includes several City Council members (past and present), a few State Assembly members, and a handful of folks without any political experience—including a Columbia University history professor, several activists, and one “bitcoin entrepreneur.”

The candidates with the most name recognition include former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and current Council members Jumaane Williams, Eric Ulrich, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Rafael Espinal. Ten of the candidates will participate in their first debate—one of two planned before the election—on February 6.

How does it work?

Well, it’s quite different from other elections. The special election is nonpartisan and candidates can’t run on existing party lines; they have the option to form their own party labels. For example, the platform that Rafael Espinal is running on promotes his “Green New City” plan for “expanded funding to develop jobs and skills installing solar panels, roof gardens, and urban agriculture.” Jumaane Williams’s platform, called “The People’s Advocate,” promotes his ability to “serve as a true watchdog for New Yorkers” and Melissa Mark-Viverito’s campaign is called “Fix the M.T.A.”

In theory, people can choose to rally behind candidates that support values most important to them, can support someone who champions who specific local communities, or however else determines any specific candidate would be suitable for the job.

What’s next for whoever wins?

So this is the tricky part: Per the Times, the winner will only hold the position for a few months and will need to run for re-election in the fall. There will be primary and general elections, in September and November, respectively, where candidates can run for the position that will offer a four-year term through the end of 2021.

How can I vote?

Voting is as simple as heading to your normal polling site on February 26. If you’re not sure where your polling site is, you can find it here. For additional information on how to vote, you can check out the city’s Board of Elections website.

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