Juan Carlos “J.C.” Polanco, the Republican political consultant, commentator and former chairman of the New York City Board of Elections, announced his candidacy for public advocate Tuesday. Polanco – who is also a lawyer and an adjunct professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College – is making another attempt at elected office years after a notable but failed bid as a graduate student running against then-Assemblyman Jeff Klein.
City & State reported last month that Polanco was mulling a run against Democratic New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. In an interview this week, he made his case for why he would be an improvement over James, listed his complaints about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and revealed which mayoral candidate he’s supporting. The following is an edited transcript.
C&S: What’s the latest on your candidacy for New York City public advocate?
JCP: I’m running. I announced last night on NY1. I have the Republican, Reform and Independence party lines going into November. So the petitions are out and now it’s just a matter of raising the funds and getting out there. That’s going to be the focus for the next few weeks, just getting everything prepared as far as fundraising and organization.
C&S: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James is running for re-election. Why are you running against her?
JCP: This is going to be a very different type of campaign. This is going to be a positive campaign. I know my kids are tired, I’m tired of seeing negativity, especially when it comes to campaigns and politics. This is going to be a positive campaign, based completely on the issues, nothing to do with personal attacks, although there will be contrasts. So when asked if I’m running against her, I’m really not – I’m running for public advocate, and so is she. Our ideas are going to go up against each other, and we’re going to see who has the best ideas and who do New Yorkers agree with. That’s going to be the goal of my campaign. I think she’s been a fine advocate for the things she cares about and the interests that she cares about. I’ve gone across the city and I have good pulse as to what New Yorkers really care about, and I’m going to focus on those issues. Regardless of your race, your class, your ethnicity, you’re impacted by some of the things that are not being advocated for, and I’d advocate for them differently.
C&S: Can you give an example?
JCP: Charter schools is a very big deal. I was a member of the board of trustees at a charter school. I’ve been an educator for 17 years and I know more than anyone else in this campaign (about) the importance of education as the key to success and achieving the American dream. I know that there are close (to) 100,000 kids, mostly black and brown like me, from the lower economic classes like me, who are waiting on line for an opportunity at a better education. Because the schools are failing them, especially the public schools are failing them, it’s time for an advocate to stand up for these kids and push for more charter schools, to not antagonize charter schools, to not sue charter schools because they want to co-locate. I want (to) be able to make sure that the city has as many charter schools as it needs to satisfy parents across the city. Right now, with close to 100,000 of them waiting in line for an opportunity like this, it speaks volumes to the importance of these charter schools and how they provide for families.
C&S: And beyond charter schools?
JCP: The point is that this public advocate position needs to be a visionary position. If you look at the premise and the intent of this office, it was supposed to be an ombudsman. It was supposed to be a watchdog of the different agencies and city executive branches that we have, and it’s not that. It’s been watered down. So because of that, it lacks a lot of the investigatory powers that it should have. One of the things that bothered me the most about what was going on this last year was the nefarious pay-to-play scheme that the mayor had put together out of City Hall. There was a moment in time when the New York Post and NY1 had to sue to get emails to prove that this mayor was, in fact – look, he may have not been indicted by a court of law, but this mayor has been indicted and convicted in the court of public opinion, and the only reason he’s still in this race is the Democrats have a complete monopoly in municipal government. There’s no other reason for that. If I were public advocate, I wouldn’t wait for the New York Post and NY1 to sue to get those emails. As public advocate, I would have made sure that ethics was a priority for me.
C&S: Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis and real estate executive Paul Massey Jr. are squaring off to be the Republican Party’s candidate to challenge de Blasio. Who do you support?
JCP: Assemblywoman Malliotakis is someone that I’ve worked with for the last decade, is a family friend and someone that I know very well, so I am supporting her. However, it is important to know that this is going to be an exciting primary. I know that my county committee in the Bronx has endorsed her opponent, Paul Massey, so I think that primaries sometimes are good. It allows for us to have an opportunity to discuss the issues, and this primary is going to be no different.
C&S: Any other key campaign issues?
JCP: There’s a lot of discussion about closing Rikers. A lot of New Yorkers are concerned about whose idea is this and why are they thinking about putting jails in our backyards? That’s the fear you get from New Yorkers when you talk about these issues because there’s such a monopoly on the conversation. These are not your parents’ Democrats. These are very far-left Democrats that control City Hall, and there are a lot of reasons why the ultra-far-left has won. But unfortunately the rest of New York does not really identify with that thinking, and they don’t approve of a lot of things, including (closing) Rikers and putting these jails in their backyards. The last thing I’d like is for children on their way to school to see a jail. It sends the wrong message. We had that in the Bronx when I was growing up, and we got rid of it.
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