Last September, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams surprised experts but fell short in his progressive campaign for New York state lieutenant governor.
A few months later, in an election much closer to home, he coasted to victory in a field with more than a dozen opponents.
Williams was elected Tuesday to one of the city's highest-ranking offices — the person who takes over if the mayor cannot complete his or her term.
"I ran this campaign to be the voice of the people and I promise to raise my voice to be the voice of the people," Williams said at his victory speech in Brooklyn.
As of 12:40 a.m. Wednesday, with 99.5 percent of all precincts reporting, Williams had a third of the vote — 133,802 ballots — to Republican Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich, who has 19.2 percent of the vote (77,026 votes). Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was in third with 11 percent (about 44,145 ballots).
17 candidates ran in the special election for public advocate, a non-partisan election in which any registered voter could cast their ballot. Candidates were vying for the seat left vacant by Letitia James, who was elected state attorney general last year.
The election was believed to be the first midwinter, citywide special election without a runoff, as candidates weren't allowed to run on traditional political party lines such as the Democratic Party or Republican Party. That led to some interesting ballot line names, such as "Fix the MTA," "No More Delays," "Pay Folks More," and "It's Time Let's Go."
WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC ADVOCATE DO?
On the one hand, the public advocate is one of the city's highest-ranking jobs. It's one of just three citywide elected offices (the others are mayor and comptroller) and second-in-line of succession should something happen to the mayor.
On the other hand, it's a job with little real power and a vaguely defined mission. Essentially, the office functions as a city government watchdog and an ombudsperson for the public.
The public advocate investigates complaints and issues reports, and can also introduce legislation in the City Council, although he or she cannot vote on it. The public advocate can also preside over Council meetings, though not all have exercised that option.
In practice, the job is what the office-holder makes of it. It's a soapbox and widely viewed as a springboard to higher office. The public advocate is a highly-visible perch that allows its occupant to raise his or her profile without the messy complications of real governing. That makes it a good place for people who have their eyes on the mayor's office.
Williams won't have much time to settle into his new job, though; he will have to run for re-election in a June primary and the general election in November.
About 360,000 people — a little less than 9 percent of the New York City electorate — cast their ballots in the special election.
FOLLOWING UP ON A SURPRISE STATEWIDE CAMPAIGN
The win follows up on Williams's Democratic primary challenge for lieutenant governor in September. The incumbent, Kathy Hochul, ended up winning by a little less than 100,000 votes, but Williams still secured more than 669,000 ballots across the state, surpassing expectations, and more than 400,000 New York City Democrats voted for him that day. The lieutenant governor is first in line to succeed the governor if the governor cannot complete his or her term.
Like many of his opponents, mostly Democrats, Williams positioned his bid for public advocate as a grassroots progressive campaign supporting criminal justice reform, affordable housing, and other platform positions for a Democratic Party moving to the left nationwide.
Eight former or current elected officials ran, but Williams appeared to be viewed as the front-runner after NY1's second debate, when his opponents questioned his commitment to women's rights, his driving record, and if he was a political insider.
The decisive win came a few days after news came out that Williams was taken into custody in 2009 for a domestic dispute with his then-girlfriend. Williams was never charged and denied any physical altercation, but some of his opponents tried to capitalize on the news Monday, denouncing Williams for not coming out about the incident.
Williams calls himself an activist politician and also has a personal battle with Tourette syndrome. He's fought to reform the NYPD and to protect tenants. He was emotional on stage Tuesday, surrounded by family and supporters.
Williams joins a small list of citywide-elected officials who are black, including his predecessor James and former mayor David Dinkins.
Ulrich, meanwhile, was hoping he could squeak through in a deep blue city, counting on a splintered vote because of the crowded field of Democrats. No Republican has won citywide office since Mike Bloomberg secured the mayor's office as a Republican in 2001.
Ulrich won his home borough of Queens, as well as Republican stronghold Staten Island, but Williams took Brooklyn and Manhattan. Michael Blake won the Bronx, part of which he represents in the state Assmebly. Blake finished fourth with about 8.3 percent of the total vote.
AN EASIER DAY AT THE POLLS
Back in November, voters across the city were stuck in long lines, some waiting for hours at a time:
But poll sites were much quieter Tuesday:
EXTRA INTERPRETERS AT THE POLLS
Extra interpreters were available at 48 polling sites in Brooklyn and Queens after a judge ruled election officials have to let them in. The Board of Elections had asked for an injunction, arguing the interpreters could engage in campaigning. The board wanted them kept 100 feet away from polling sites.
But the judge said election law does not prohibit the city from offering interpreter services to voters.
The board currently provides interpreters who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Korean, and Bengali. The extra interpreters will speak Russian, Haitian Creole, Yiddish, and Polish.
THE FULL LIST OF CANDIDATES WHO WERE ON THE BALLOT
Current job: Attorney.
Background: Previously sought state attorney general position.
One Thing to Know: President Donald Trump supporter who has vowed to reform homelessness in the city, NYCHA, and the MTA.
Current job: Assemblyman for 79th District in the Bronx, and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Background: Worked for the Obama Administration.
One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate to have a permanent seat on MTA Board.
Current job: Historian, author, and professor at Columbia University.
Background: Ran in the Democratic primary for Public Advocate in 2017.
One Thing to Know: Wants to use the Public Advocate office to push for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to, in part, create an arbitration system to help small businesses struggling with high rents in the city.
Background: Assemblyman for 54th District in Brooklyn from 2011 to 2013.
One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate to introduce legislation to create more housing.
Current job: CEO and chairman of the Multi-Cultural Restaurant & Night Life Chamber of Commerce.
Background: Former special assistant to former City Councilwoman Priscilla Wooten and Rep. Edolphus Towns.
One Thing to Know: Wants to use the Public Advocate's office to pressure the city to improve living conditions for NYCHA tenants.
Current job: Assemblyman for the 40th District in Queens.
Background: Worked for the City Council speaker and Spitzer and Paterson administrations.
One Thing to Know: Wants to transform the Public Advocate's office to cancel, monetize, or write down debt.
Current job: Reporter for The Young Turks.
Background: Surrogate for Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign.
One Thing to Know: Wants New Yorkers to have a $30 minimum wage by 2020 .
Current job: Senior advisor to the Latino Victory Fund.
Background: City Council Speaker from 2014 to 2017.
One Thing to Know: Says she would be willing to sue city agencies as Public Advocate.
Current job: Assembly member for 69th District in Manhattan.
Background: Served as a public defender in New York City for seven years.
One Thing to Know: Wants multiple revenue streams to fund transit repairs.
Current job: Attorney.
Background: Has practiced solo law in Brooklyn.
One Thing to Know: Wants revenue from potential marijuana legalization and congestion pricing to be given to city schools.
Current job: City councilman for 10th District in Manhattan.
Background: Co-founded a Washington Heights school and taught there for 13 years.
One Thing to Know: Supports bringing e-bikes and e-scooters to New York City.
Current job: School teacher and advocate.
Background: Former City Council candidate.
One Thing to Know: Supports helping homeowners pay any city liens and tax bills so they can keep their houses.
Current job: Partner at Boies Schiller Flexner law firm.
Background: Worked in the Clinton and Obama Administrations.
One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate's office to shine a spotlight on homeless women and kids.
Current job: City councilman for 32nd District in Queens.
Background: Former member of Queens Community Board 9.
One Thing to Know: Member of the Republican Party.
- NOTE: Latrice Walker will remain on the ballot despite ending her campaign and asking to be removed, the New York City Board of Elections ruled on January 29. Under law, the only way someone can be removed from the ballot is to die, be convicted of a felony, or move out of New York City.
Current job: Assemblywoman for 55th District in Brooklyn.
Background: Previously worked as counsel to New York Rep. Yvette Clarke.
One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate to have subpoena and investigative powers, and be able to sue.
Current job: City councilman for 45th District in Brooklyn.
Background: Former executive director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors advocacy group.
One Thing to Know: Wants the Public Advocate to be able to subpoena city government and vote in the City Council.
Current job: Secretary for the Manhattan Democratic Party and State Committeeman of Assembly District 66.
Background: New York State digital director for Obama's 2008's presidential campaign in the general election.
One Thing to Know: Pushing for a citywide initiative to teach New Yorkers about civics.