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Advocate candidates meet voters at York

Civic leader Ray Cameron (l.-r.) hosts city public advocate candidates Catherine Guerriero, Daniel Squadron, Reshma Saujani and Sidique Wai at a York College forum moderated by political commentator Roy Paul. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

Voters in southeast Queens got the chance to see four of the candidates for city public advocate on stage together for only a few minutes last week as they came in and out from other engagements, and one hopeful said that is exactly why her campaign is surging.

The Southeast Queens Young Democrats invited all five hopefuls vying for the city’s watchdog office to a forum at York College last Thursday night, but two of the candidates showed up late and one had to leave about half-way through, giving voters just about six minutes to see the field of contenders together.

Catherine Guerriero, whose campaign has flown under the radar so far but surged in a recent poll, credited the surprising numbers to her grassroots efforts.

“I’ve been to 962 meetings in 13 months,” she told TimesLedger Newspapers. “At two-thirds of the meetings, I’m the only one who shows up.”

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist Poll released the day before the forum, 16 percent of registered Democrats polled said they favored Guerriero, putting her just one point behind City Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn), the only candidate not in attendance at York.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn) pulled in 8 percent of votes, Democrat Reshma Saujani got 4 percent and 54 percent of voters said they were undecided, compared to 18 percent in the mayoral race.

Candidate Sidique Wai did not show up in the poll.

Guerriero, a professor of social studies at Columbia University’s Teachers College, said that as public advocate she would create a think tank of graduate students to address constituents’ issues.

Squadron apologized for having to leave the forum about halfway through, and pointed to his record fighting in Albany for affordable housing.

“People say affordability is changing in this city so quickly and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “That’s simply not true.”

Saujani, who previously served as deputy public advocate and heads a nonprofit teaching computer programming skills to young women, said she would use technology to empower New Yorkers.

She spoke of an application she has in the works that will allow NYCHA residents to snap photos of overdue repairs with their smartphones.

“The public advocate really has to think outside the box,” she said. “I think a lot of the times what you have to do as public advocate is name and shame, and that’s what our NYCHA app is about.”

Wai, an NYPD official who works on reaching out to minority communities, said he favored a bottom-up approach to working with constituents.

“Let them identify the issues and collaborate with them,” he said.

At times throughout the forum, Wai was elusive when moderator Roy Paul tried to pin him down to an answer on certain issues, such as whether or not he would ever be in favor of closing struggling schools.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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