Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
When Bill de Blasio was sworn in as public advocate on the first day of 2010, he described an office that would amplify the voice of the people.
De Blasio said he would also help, “organize communities to play a more meaningful role in our city government.”
Indeed, his first move on his first full day in office was a step toward that goal: he created a department of community organizing. Staffers were known to go door-to-door to build support for his causes.
As for the advocate himself, a review of his 2012 public schedules shows long days with very few weekends off. He would meet with advisers and constituents before unveiling new messages. It was an office that operated like a series of campaigns, helping de Blasio hone his issues and messages before he ever officially joined the mayoral fray.
There have only been two other public advocates. Mark Green was the city's first and served from 1994 through 2001. He made headlines with high-profile lawsuits like one battling Joe Camel tobacco ads and another suing the city for data on the NYPD's use of racial profiling. After a failed mayoral bid, he ran unsuccessfully against de Blasio in 2009.
Betsy Gotbaum, who served from 2001 through 2009, focused more on the ombudsman function of the job, helping people address issues with city agencies. She was also often criticized for not being visible enough. Her office held town halls, but she told WNYC that was the extent of her outreach.
“Bill’s a community organizer. I’m not,”said Gotbaum.
Gotbaum said the public advocate has been consistently constrained because of its small budget, which was cut more as she exited office after she came out against extending term limits. It went from $3.1 million dollars in 2008 to around $2 million for most of de Blasio's term.
But de Blasio made the most of limited resources. In 2012, before he was an official mayoral candidate, he held more than 50 press conferences, showed up to nearly 160 scheduled media appearances and held regular calls with high-profile editors.
Then there were the issues he took on, like fighting hospital closures and the overuse of stop-and-frisk.
In May 2012, de Blasio held a press conference calling for the Bloomberg administration to immediately cut back on stop-and-frisk. But it was more than a press conference. It was the start of an “organizing campaign.”
In the weeks leading up to the event, de Blasio met with former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton and New Haven police chief Dean Esserman.
De Blasio also scheduled time with The New York Times, so a preview story was already published before the press conference. In the subsequent days, he did a half dozen broadcast interviews and a media-wide conference call.
In the weeks and months that followed, he was at rallies, marches and more press events.
As he transitioned into the 2013 campaign, de Blasio stuck with a now well-honed message criticizing the overuse of stop-and-frisk.
For primary voters, those believe the use of stop and frisk is excessive by and large voted for de Blasio. It's an issue that resonates for general election voters, too: a Quinnipiac poll last month showed 52 percent of voters surveyed agree that stop-and-frisk is excessive.