The Public Advocate, as the name implies, acts as a voice speaking on behalf of New Yorkers, ensuring that the government is run effectively and truly benefits the people. With no clear guidelines on the role, there is room for every Public Advocate to chart their own path.
The Public Advocate is second in command to the Mayor, and will take on the role if the Mayor is unable to perform his or her duties. However, unlike the U.S. Vice President, the Public Advocate does not serve the Mayor. They are there to provide a check on the Mayor’s power, and hold the administration accountable to the people.
As the “People’s Watchdog,” the Public Advocateresponds to citizen complaints and monitors city agencies, businesses, and others, including landlords. For example, recent public advocates have published an annual Worst Landlords Watchlist to track building and housing violations.
They can also hold hearings, investigate common problems, and file lawsuits on behalf of the people of New York City. Former Public Advocate Letitia James sued the City to provide heating for tenants in NYCHA apartments, rent subsidies for widowers, and other issues.
The Public Advocate introduces and co-sponsors bills in the City Council, but can’t vote on them. They have a seat on all City Council committees.
The Public Advocate appoints members to important commissions and city entities, including the City Planning Commission and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.