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Critics Cite Concerns Over Cost Of Public Advocate Runoff Election

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As Democratic public advocate candidates City Councilwoman Letitia James and State Senator Daniel Squadron prepare for their runoff next week, some critics are expressing concern over the the cost of the election, given the low expectations for voter turnout. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

Next week's contest between Daniel Squadron and Letitia James is the only runoff primary on the ballot.

Because there's no runoff in the mayor's race, voter turnout is expected to be very low.

"I don't necessarily think that we really saw this scenario. We pretty much assumed, with such a crowded field for the Democrats, that there would definitely be a runoff. That's clearly not the case," said Christina Greer from Fordham University.

The office of public advocate was created in 1994, after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the city's old government structure, with its board of estimate, was unconstitutional.

The old system was abolished and the city charter re-written, setting up three citywide elected offices: the mayor, the comptroller and the newly-created public advocate.

"New York City for many decades has had three top officials. The idea is that there are other voices besides the mayor and the comptroller, and it used to be called the council president," said Gene Russianoff from New York Public Interest Research Group.

Russianoff and others lobbied for the public advocate's office, arguing that it gives people a voice by creating an ombudsman for the public.

But critics say it's crazy to hold a pricey runoff election for an office that has only a $2 million budget.

"What a ridiculous waste of money this is for taxpayers," said former Board of Elections President J.C. Polano. "Would you believe that it costs New York City taxpayers $13 million to hold a runoff election?"

Polanco oversaw the last public advocate runoff in 2009, but there was also a runoff for comptroller that year.

"You can hire 400 new teachers, 400 new cops, 400 new firefighters, pay them every single day for an entire year for what this runoff election is going to cost for a one-day event," Polanco said.

Some good government groups favor an idea known as instant runoff voting, where voters would rank the candidates in the order of their preference.

Using this system, there would be no runoff, because a winner would be chosen instantly.

This is a reform that would not actually need to go through Albany, but as of now, the two Democratic candidates will face off in the runoff election on October 1.

Both candidates will also face off in a debate on NY1 Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

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