Save This Office

If Betsy Gotbaum wins another term, we may lose our only advocate

  • Though Gotbaum has repeatedly said that the ombudswoman role of her office is its "heart," she conceded in a Voice interview that she has no statistical measure of how well her staff handles individual complaints. She's handling fewer than Green, but only marginally. Though Gotbaum didn't post data on complaints since 2002, it suddenly appeared on her website after we asked about it. The numbers suggest that her office is "advocating" on behalf of more complainants than Green, and "referring" fewer complaints to other agencies; but it's impossible to tell if that's helpful or unhelpful. The shift in referral totals also appears to be a statistical aberration, since most of it is due to Gotbaum's closing of Green's child welfare unit, which once took on hundreds of listed referrals. Gotbaum has clearly released far fewer reports, filed fewer suits, and introduced less legislation.
  • Gotbaum can legitimately claim some impact from her work on food stamps, infant deaths in homeless shelters, and rent increase exemptions for seniors. But all she can say, for example, is that she pushed the Department of Aging to get the exemptions out to seniors quicker, or that she got signs installed in shelters warning parents not to sleep with their children. As salutary as these efforts may be, they are not a rationale to maintain an office created in the 1989 city charter as a powerful, independent, vehicle for populist action.

  • Gotbaum: Thinks small, talks big
    photo: Kate Englund
    Gotbaum: Thinks small, talks big

    Betsy Gotbaum said after the 2001 election that she voted for Mike Bloomberg, even though she ran on the Democratic ticket with Mark Green. She revealed in one of the recent debates that she fully expects Bloomberg to be re-elected, promising to "try very hard" to work with him "next term," even though, if re-nominated, she will be running on the Democratic ticket again. Her vote against Green was the first indication of how little she valued what he had made of the office she has so diminished. It is also a measure of how self-serving she can be, calculating no doubt that revealing her vote would help her win the favor of the new mayor, who determines her office's budget.

    Instead, Bloomberg successfully pushed a charter change to require a special election within 60 days should the mayor die in office, chastened no doubt by the prospect that Gotbaum might succeed him for up to 16 months, as the prior charter provided. At a recent debate, Gotbaum declared that she would run for a full term at the end of the 60 days. None of her opponents were gripped by the same hubris. She actually said she'd done a "great" job as Advocate. That's high praise for a hot meal.

    Research assistance: Jessica Bennett, K. Emily Bond, Leslie Kaufmann, and Nicholas Powers

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