Jumaane Williams Runs for One Office With an Eye on Another
When New Yorkers show up to vote on Nov. 2, they will see a familiar name listed on the ballot for public advocate: Jumaane D. Williams, the …
When New Yorkers show up to vote on Nov. 2, they will see a familiar name listed on the ballot for public advocate: Jumaane D. Williams, the Democratic incumbent.
Because of a quirk in political and electoral timing, this is the third time that Mr. Williams has had to run for public advocate in less than three years.
“I’m so honored to be your public advocate,” Mr. Williams told a crowd at a get- out-the-vote rally on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on Sunday. “I’d be honored if you re-elect me one more time.”
But Mr. Williams, 45, left another political goal unmentioned that day: He is also a potential candidate for governor.
Just a few weeks earlier, Mr. Williams had traveled around the state, meeting with elected officials and potential constituents in Rochester, Syracuse and Hudson, pitching his economic and social vision for the state.
Yet running for one office while publicly eyeing a higher one can be precarious. Just as the race for governor is heating up. Mr. Williams has had to navigate criticism from his opponents that he is not focused on his job as an ombudsman for the public.
“New Yorkers deserve someone who is focused on crime, the economy, the issues that are specific to New York City,” Dr. Devi Nampiaparampil, the Republican nominee for public advocate, said in a debate with Mr. Williams earlier this month. “If you are running for governor, there’s also the fact that you would be distracted campaigning for governor.”
The office of public advocate was created to help diversify the city’s leadership and potentially serve as a launching pad to higher office. Both Ms. James, who became the first Black woman elected to citywide office when she became public advocate in 2014, and Mayor Bill de Blasio held the post.
Antonio Reynoso, a Democratic councilman from Brooklyn who is likely to win election as the borough president of Brooklyn, is on Mr. Williams’s exploratory committee along with Mr. Lander, also a councilman from Brooklyn.
The committee hasn’t met in person, and most of their phone conversations have been focused on Mr. Williams’s re-election effort. “We are doing our best to make sure he does well in the public advocate race,” Mr. Reynoso said. “It’s about timing. He didn’t ask the governor to do what he did and resign.”
Mr. Williams endorsed and campaigned for India Walton, the socialist who won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Buffalo over the longtime mayor Byron Brown. He is expected to return to Buffalo to campaign for Ms. Walton this weekend; Mr. Brown is still running as a write-in candidate.
Mr. Lander said he sees many similarities between Ms. Walton’s race and a potential primary run for governor by Mr. Williams.
“That’s an example of someone who has a background as a courageous, progressive organizer who challenged a moderate incumbent in a race where most of the pundits didn’t give her any chance to win,” Mr. Lander said.
Even if Mr. Williams were to run and lose in a Democratic primary for governor, a good showing could position him to be a leading far-left voice for New York, a local complement to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also a democratic socialist, said Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University.
“There is a progressive wind blowing through the state that Jumaane can capitalize on,” Professor Greer said. “He represents a type of progressive politics that is going to push the conversation to the left.”
A recent Marist poll had Mr. Williams in third place with 15 percent of the vote in a theoretical contest against Ms. Hochul and Ms. James. The governor had 44 percent of the vote and Ms. James had 28 percent among registered New York Democrats. Ms. Hochul also had the highest favorability rating among the three.
In his unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor, Mr. Williams positioned himself as a check on Mr. Cuomo’s leadership. He has continued that message in his potential bid for governor, suggesting that Ms. Hochul was ineffectual as Mr. Cuomo’s No. 2.
Mr. Williams said that became apparent when New York was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. “That might not have happened if we had a lieutenant governor who was more willing to push,” Mr. Williams said.
Ms. Hochul has tackled “low-hanging fruit” since becoming governor, he said, criticizing her for not visiting Rikers Island during a spate of inmate deaths, or seeking more federal resources for the crisis at the jail.
“The bar from Cuomo is pretty low,” said Mr. Williams who declined to offer criticisms of Ms. James. (Mr. Williams also refused to comment about the prospect of Mr. de Blasio running for governor.)
Meredith Kelly, a spokeswoman for Ms. Hochul, declined to comment.
Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said Mr. Williams would have an uphill battle against Ms. Hochul and Ms. James because he would struggle to match their fund-raising and name recognition.
“He probably kicks himself periodically when he sees Hochul on television,” said Mr. Miringoff. “He almost became governor because he was close to becoming lieutenant governor.”