The Stifling of the Public Advocate

The Mayor and the Council Speaker don't take kindly to criticism. That's apparently why they've decided to slash Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's budget by 40 percent. It will make it difficult for her to operate -- and that is obviously the idea.

She has a small staff and limited facilities to pursue her job now, and this compounds the problem.

Ms. Gotbaum opposed Mayor Bloomberg on the issue of term limits and he obviously believes she did him wrong. He wanted to run for a third term so he got Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council to go along with it. When it comes to persuading people to vote his way, our multi-billionaire mayor makes full use of his monetary resources. Ms.Gotbaum, who has virtually no fund for campaigning, had opposed the third-term bill on the grounds that the voters had already, twice, by referendum, endorsed term limits. She had the guts to stand up to power, but she lost.

For more than seven years Ms. Gotbaum has been New York City's Public advocate, tirelessly hunting down wrongdoing or inadequacies in city government and recommending reforms.

She has managed to do this with a limited budget and a small staff. She has fought for better educational services for school children, aided the elderly in getting better transportation and hot meals, pushed for safe houses for victims of domestic violence. She has campaigned for food stamps for the needy, improved health care for women and increased protections for abused and neglected children.

Ms. Gotbaum isn't running for re-election. She believes it was wrong for Bloomberg to do away with term limits. The law the Mayor pushed for would enable her to run again, but she fought against the passage of this law and doesn't want to take advantage of it to stay in office.

The office of the public advocate was created to do just what the name implies -- to advocate for the public -- and that's what she has tried to do. In a statement, Gotbaum said of the budget cut: "I believe this is political payback from Speaker Quinn for my spirited opposition to extending term limits without a referendum. It's anti-democratic, bad government and politics at its worst."

Quinn called Gotbaum's charges "just ridiculous." Quinn said the real question was why did the Mayor cut the budget for the public advocate's office. To which a spokesman for the Mayor said the financial crisis caused City Hall to reduce spending at every city agency. He added: "You will have to ask the Council why they decided to restore funding  for some elected offices and not others."

This is a classic example of buck passing, back and forth. The Council boss blames the Mayor, and he blames the Council. And then the public advocate's office gets slashed, and nobody takes responsibility for the dirty deed.

The taxpayers will miss Ms. Gotbaum for the scrutiny she gave City Hall. If this episode represents a preview of things to come, we are in deep trouble.

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